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With soloist and on its own, symphony soars

01.14.08
Stefan Jackiw
Wichita Eagle

Stefan Jackiw made a powerful and riveting debut with the Wichita Symphony this past weekend, performing Barber's Violin Concerto magically.

Every note he played at Saturday night's performance was clear even at the back of the hall, including some daringly soft ones. His musical alchemy found in Barber's notes a connection with places deep within, where fear and hope contend, fanned by love.

Nowhere was this more powerful than in the andante: Jackiw listened for two minutes to the introduction of the main melody in the oboe and then the strings before he gave voice to his exploration of the lonely depths, culminating in his playing of the same melody.

Beautiful music is supposed to please, to amuse, to gratify. The orchestra, with Andrew Sewell's clear guidance, created the perfect context for the whole experience. This was not just a fine performance for the Wichita Symphony; I have never heard this concerto performed so well before.

The program opened with pizzazz: Rossini's Il Signor Bruschino Overture, a mix of freewheeling fun with speed and precision (perhaps the 1813 version of the action-flick car chase?) and the repeated spectacle of the second violins using their bows like drumsticks. Rossini may have feared that the latter could lead to trouble, for he wrote in his score, "God save their souls."

The evening ended with Dvorak's 1889 Symphony No. 8. Sewell sculpted the sounds with imagination, fluidity and grace. For all its wealth of melodic invention, this piece has seemed longish to me at times in the past. By his attention to detail in the service of captivating the listener, Sewell did not reinforce those impressions.

I think of the pure tone of the trumpet fanfare in the last movement -- or the swelling of a climactic suspension and resolution in the principal trombone. No time for ho-hum here.

This orchestra has always been remarkable, but it only seems to be getting better and better.