Violinist Jackiw mesmerizes audience with Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy in Oregon Symphony concert

02.06.12
Stefan Jackiw
Oregon Music News

By James Bash

Stefan Jackiw isn’t a household name, but given his exceptional artistic abilities, he very well could be. The 26-year-od violinist has enjoyed a major career since his acclaimed European debut in London in 2002. On Saturday evening (February 4), Jackiw a delivered a sublime performance of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy with the Oregon Symphony at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert hall. But it wasn’t just a matter of playing all of the notes perfectly (which Jackiw did), at the right tempi, and with all of the dynamics anyone can image (including the tenderest pianissimos). In this concert, Jackiw found that extra spark that allows an artist of the highest caliber to communicate with everyone who is listening as if he were playing only for each one of them individually. This was quite an achievement, since most of the audience was probably fairly familiar with the Bruch and could’ve zoned out. So the after he completed the dizzying series of runs in the last movement, the audience came unglued and raised a ruckus of applause, bravos, and cheers. Jackiw then gave an encore, a beautiful, interpretation of the Largo from Bach’s Violin Sonata in C major.

But Jackiw wasn’t the only young artist to make a mark at this concert. That’s because it was the last concert on the regular schedule for the orchestra’s Resident Conductor Gregory Vajda. Next season Vajda will devote most of his energies to leading the Huntsville Symphony and the Music in the Mountains festival (located near Sacramento), guest conducting, and composing.

The concert began with an engaging performance of Benjamin Britten‘s Suite on English Folk Tunes, which was the last orchestral work that he wrote. This piece consisted of five short numbers that featured various sections or instrumentalists in the orchestra. In the first one, “Cakes and Ale,” had a rough yet lighthearted mood. Principal harp, Jennifer Ironside gave “The Bitter Withy” a touch of elegance, and “Hawkin Booby” relied on just a few instruments to generate an odd fanfare. “Hunt and Squirrel” evoked a rustic dance and contained a wicked duet for concertmaster Peter Frajola and assistance concertmaster Erin Furbee. Kyle Mustain and his English horn secured a languid and melancholy atmosphere for the final number, “Lord Melbourne.”

Under Vajda’s direction, the orchestra mined all sort of nuggets in Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony. The beginning of the piece had a wonderful sense of mystery and intensity. In the second movement the orchestra executed several nifty changes in tempo and volume. Principal clarinetist Yoshinori Nakao created dreamy-smooth passages, and principal flutist Jessica Sindell executed long, beautiful phrases with terrific breath control, but the French horns struggled a bit. The choir of woodwinds enhanced the beauty of the third movement, and the final movement featured a flurry of notes that principal bassoonist Evan Kuhlmann and the strings played with elan.

The orchestra finished the concert with a rambunctious and good natured performance of Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture. The brass section made the hymn-like theme sing. The pizzicatos of the strings and the joking duet of the bassoons were just a couple of highlights that helped to set the stage when the student anthem (and drinking song) Gaudeamus igitur rolled in.  Brahms wrote this work as a mischievous thank you for an honorary doctorate that he received from the University of Breslau. In much the same way, it was a fitting piece for Vajda who came to the Oregon Symphony as a seasoned conductor who just needed his own orchestra. Now he has two.