The Seattle Symphony Orchestra with John Fiore, guest conductor, and Stefan Jackiw, violin soloist

11.07.08
John Fiore, Stefan Jackiw
Seattle Times

Author Thomas Wolfe famously declared that "You Can't Go Home Again," but conductor John Fiore has just proved him wrong. Fiore returned this week to his boyhood home of Seattle, leading the Seattle Symphony in a program that amounts to a personal triumph for this gifted young maestro. Hired as a late replacement for Andre Previn when Previn cancelled a short time ago, Fiore stepped up to the Benaroya Hall podium with a firm artistic concept of his middle-European concert lineup, one that evidently inspired the orchestra.

It didn't hurt that the concerto soloist, violinist Stefan Jackiw, is the sort of player who could make any orchestra look good. The lucky listeners who heard Jackiw in the Beethoven Violin Concerto heard a performance of exquisite sensitivity and delicacy, with a wonderful variety in phrasing - no two repeated phrases ever sounded quite the same. Jackiw's tremendous bow control spun out long, long lines of perfect evenness even at an impossibly low end of the volume spectrum.

Head tilted back and eyes closed, Jackiw appeared to perform in a state of bliss, one that was rapidly induced in the audience as well. Only 23 and already a frequent repeat visitor here, this is a young star of astonishing gifts, whose musicality and technical finesse place him at the top of his peers. Jackiw was partnered with equal sensitivity by Fiore, whose unhurried, attentive approach with the orchestra gave the soloist every opportunity to work his magic.

The Seattle Symphony's Masterpiece Series audience isn't given to clapping between the movements of symphonies and concerti, so it was disconcerting to hear applause punctuating the carefully established moods of the Beethoven concerto. Jackiw met the surprise applause with aplomb, and rewarded the final ovation - a great outpouring of appreciation - with a single encore, the Largo movement of Bach's Solo Violin Sonata No. 3.

Fiore opened the program with a stately reading of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" Overture, and closed it with the Dvorak Symphony No. 7 in D Minor. Both works displayed a decided gravitas, but it was in the Dvorak that Fiore had the scope to show what he can do to shape orchestral balances, phrases, and the big picture of a full-scale symphony. It was an impressive performance. He has a clear concept of this mercurial and stormy work, and he gives equally clear direction to the orchestra. Fiore led the Dvorak with verve, discipline, and an obvious enjoyment in the process. He is an intensely musical conductor; the players responded remarkably well, especially the horns and brass.

The warm ovation must have made an especially nice homecoming for this conductor, who has long been based in Germany (he is former General Music Director of the Düsseldorf Symphony, and current Chief Conductor of the Deutsche Oper-am-Rhein, as well as a frequent guest elsewhere, notably at New York's Metropolitan Opera). Let's hope we find him disproving Thomas Wolfe's dictum more often here in Seattle.