Music Review: Violinist Simone Porter and the NSO play Paganini with a vengeance

Simone Porter

By John Pitcher

Midway through violinist Simone Porter’s rendition of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra on Friday night, a jazz concert threatened to break out. No, Porter didn’t give a spontaneous performance of improvised music. Rather, her fiery, impassioned account of Paganini’s fiendishly difficult score prompted one concertgoer to forget his classical decorum, causing him to shout “yeah” in the middle of the first movement.

A Seattle, Wash., native who now studies at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles, Porter is still a teenager. But on Friday night with the NSO under the direction of Giancarlo Guerrero, she played like a seasoned professional. It’s hard to put a finger on what was most impressive about her performance, but I think it was the sheer joy she obviously derived from being onstage.

A charismatic performer, she approached her performance the way an opera diva might approach a role. As Guerrero led the orchestra in increasingly agitated music, Porter struck a dramatic pose, tossing her head back during climactic sections, brandishing her bow like a fencing saber.

She complemented her theatrics with dazzling playing. She has a technique that seemingly knows no difficulty, which allowed her to race through complex passages with accuracy and velocity. Her tone was silvery and her intonation was dead on. Guerrero and the orchestra, to their credit, kept pace with the soloist, providing accompaniment that was colorful and electric.

This weekend marks Porter’s debut with the Nashville Symphony. Violinist Itzhak Perlman once noted that any soloist with a medium degree of talent can make a debut with an orchestra, but only the gifted ones get invited back. I hope we hear Porter again.

Read the full review here.