With a bang, not a whimper

07.19.10
Stefan Jackiw
Entertainment News NW

By Dr. Mitchell Kahn

The final performance of the 17th Bellingham Festival of Music continued the extraordinary virtuosity that has been the hallmark of this season.

The concert opened with Vaughn William’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for string orchestra. As with Aaron Kernis’ Musica Celestis performed last week, the string playing was ethereal with a rich tonal tapestry produced by the juxtaposition of the octet of muted instruments seamlessly woven into the fabric of the piece. Solos by concertmaster Richard Roberts and violist Brant Bayless were eloquent. Incredible though it may seem, I really enjoyed hearing two 20th century pieces for string orchestra in less than a week.

This was followed by an absolutely stupendous performance by violinist Stefan Jackiw, playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, one of the most popular and most performed violin concertos of all time. For the second time in less than a week, “virtuoso” seems too mundane a word to apply to the performance. Like Joshua Roman, the wunderkind cellist who performed at the festival last week, Mr. Jackiw has had a well-justified and meteoric rise to the top of the international music scene. Still in his mid-twenties, he has performed with almost every major orchestra in the world and has been compared to Issac Stern and Itzhak Perlman.

Although this may lead to picketing outside my house, I felt he was channeling Jascha Heifetz. His playing, more emotional and introspective than Mr. Roman’s easy brilliant flamboyance, combined flawless technique with impeccable musicianship and an incredible sense of musical line. Although lithe and fluid in his movements on stage, he had the intensity of a Rodin sculpture come to life.

The opening movement of the Mendelssohn, Allegro molto appasionato, was indeed molto allegro and appassionato from the sweetness of opening theme to bravura ricochet bowing in the cadenza. The second movement continued the sweet legato lyricism of the opening theme of the first movement but with dramatic depth. The final movement, Allegro Molto Vivace, was a total show-stopper. While often played as look-at-me show-off piece, Mr. Jackiw used his amazing technical prowess to honestly present the emotional excitement of the music. He performed a single encore, the Largo from J. S. Bach’s Violin Sonata in C major. Absolutely exquisite.

It would be hard to follow that performance: anything would just seem pedestrian. Perhaps that’s why Beethoven’s Symphony No 4, despite its sterling performance, made me think of Macbeth: “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” But unlike with Macbeth, there were no poor players here. Worthy of note were clarinetist Laura Arden’s melancholic song in the adagio and the wicked lick to open the finale by bassoonist Robert Williams. As well played as it was, it just wasn’t an adequate coda for the Mendelssohn performance.

Thus ends the 17th Bellingham Festival of Music. The performances by Joshua Roman and Stefan Jackiw were unforgettable and will be spoken of in hushed tones by Bellingham classical music lovers in years to come. This festival was truly a celebration of classical music of the highest caliber: night after night of magnificent and magical performances. Those of you that attended can attest it is no hyperbole. Those of you who didn’t missed something very special.

(Note to Bellingham concert goers: why does every piece get a standing ovation? What do you do for a really stupendous performance? Tear down the goal posts? Let’s save the standing ovation for the real thing. It might add years to my knees.)