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Concert review: Midori and the Minnesota Orchestra

03.09.12
Minnesota Orchestra
Orlando Sentinel

By Matthew J. Palm

Don't think that violinist Midori is the equivalent of a rock star in the classical-music world?

In his opening remarks at Friday night's concert featuring Midori and the Minnesota Orchestra, an exuberant David Schillhammer couldn't resist shouting that "superstar Midori is in the house!" The pronouncement was greeted with hooting and hollering from the crowd that made me wonder if someone would next intone, "Let's get ready to rumble!"

Thankfully, the rumbling was left to the timpani.

Schillhammer is executive director of the Orlando Philharmonic, which presented the concert at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre.

Midori, who came to fame for her prowess three decades ago at age 11, tackled the notoriously difficult Violin Concerto in D minor by Jean Sibelius. The work is a showcase of virtuosity for the violinist, and Midori ploughed through it with vigor. Technically precise leaps between notes, lightning-speed runs and a pleasing tone while playing extended segments in the violin's highest register showed why her accolades are deserved.

The Minnesota Orchestra, under the direction of Osmo Vanska, was the perfect counterpoint: steady where Midori was fiery, supportive where she needed to soar to the stratosphere.

The orchestra boasts more musicians than the Orlando Philharmonic, and that helped create a richer sound than we usually hear in the Bob Carr, especially in the opening work, Brahms' "Variations on a Theme by Haydn."

Vanska conducts with his whole body, rocking back and forth like a metronome, bouncing on his feet to increase the tempo — he may have lifted himself off the podium a time or two.

His attack on Beethoven's famed Symphony No. 5 began before the audience had finished applauding his arrival. But the mighty orchestra's "short-short-short LONG, short-short-short LONG" — arguably the most famous motif in classical music — cut through the clapping, a perfect combination of precision and drama.