Violinist Stefan Jackiw's solo soars for PSO

Stefan Jackiw
Pittsburgh Tribune

By Bob Karlovits

Violinist Stefan Jackiw quickly established Friday night why he has been a sought-after soloist since he was 12.

With energy that equaled his lyricism, he performed Felix Mendelssohn's well-known violin concerto in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's “Debussy and Ravel” concerts at Heinz Hall, Downtown.

The program included the world premiere of “Supplica” by Christopher Rouse, a piece co-commissioned by the symphony and the Pacific Symphony in California. Guest conductor Juraj Valcuha conducted the concert.

Rouse, born in 1949, is on the composition faculty at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, can go from the tonal to the atonal in his works, and this one took a melodic, sweeping approach that came close to matching the sound of the French impressionists in the concert's title.

The piece was dominated by the strings of the orchestra, and was filled with lush, shifting harmonies. At one point, the strings built a melody that was lifted by the French horns and trumpets, but then quickly returned to the strings.

Its slow melody created a sound that suggested the supplication hinted in the title.

It was far removed from the classicism of the violin concerto.

The searing performance of Jackiw was the obvious highlight of the evening. The 29-year-old Boston native and New York City resident attacked the faster movements with zest and gave the beautiful andante second movement the singing sound it demands.

His accelerando after the cadenza in the first movement was blistering, as was his aggressive third movement.

Valcuha conducted the work with no stops between the first and second movements and only a slight pause before the third. It gave the work a feeling of wholeness.

The works of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy in the second half of the concert were orchestral standouts. Debussy's “La Mer,” a three-movement look at the sea, is a large-orchestra showpiece, demanding, for instance, three trumpets and two cornets.

The strong brass sections also gave Ravel's “La Valse” the powerful accents he wrote. Some say “La Valse” is Ravel's musical depiction of the decline of European culture after World War I, and the piece certainly has its moments of threatening decadence, which Valcuha brought out well.