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With Mendelssohn's ubiquitous Violin Concerto and Brahms' almost as ubiquitous Third Symphony as the mainstays of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra concert Thursday night at Benaroya Hall, there was the ever-fatal hint of routine and safety.
Safe the program was -- even with an unjustly neglected piece of Aaron Copland for the opening gambit -- but never a suggestion of routine: in the conducting of Gerard Schwarz, the playing by symphony musicians or the soloist for the night, Stefan Jackiw.
Premiered in 1925 by the Boston Symphony, Copland's "Music for the Theatre" is not heard very often in the concert hall.
With its enticing jazz rhythms and " 'blue' intervals," Copland devised a clever and evocative piece of Americana. It has a bold spirit and outlook that is as fresh today as it was more than 80 years ago.
SSO musicians played with verve and appreciation for what Copland was trying to accomplish, among them David Gordon, trumpet; Stefan Farkas, oboe/English horn; Susan Gulkis, viola, and Maria Larionoff, violin.
The 20-year Jackiw was astonishing. Get out the superlatives and take your pick: huge technical resources; dead center pitch, even at the highest register of the instrument (the "Kiesewetter" Stradivarius, on extended loan); a tone both silky and steely; a bow arm of great strength and control; breathtaking clarity, even in the fastest passages; a myriad of colors and dynamic values.
For someone so young, his talent is remarkably complete, his musicality strikingly mature. Like many young virtuosos, he likes fast tempos, and he took the final movement very quickly. But he made sense of the speed.
For once, the standing ovation was deserved, with shouts ringing throughout the house. Schwarz and the band were with him every bar of the way.
The audience's reward was an encore: a transcription of a Chopin nocturne, played with limpid beauty.
Brahms' Third is the least performed of the composer's four symphonies because it does not succeed as readily as the others. It did Thursday night.