Review: Stefan Jackiw and Benjamin Zander return to the Mendelssohn Concerto, 20 years later
By Jeremy Eichler
I was delighted for the many young musicians of Benjamin Zander’s youth orchestra to have had the opportunity to work with the violinist Stefan Jackiw this weekend. Jackiw grew up right here in Boston and those with long memories may recall his local performances at earlier stations of his own artistic journey. In fact, as a teenager Jackiw played in the ensemble Zander then directed at New England Conservatory, the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. Back then, the conductor asked Jackiw to perform as soloist in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and he did so in November 1999. This Sunday afternoon, almost exactly 20 years later, he returned to Zander’s current ensemble, the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, with the same work.
Since that first performance Jackiw, now 34, has grown to become one of the most insightful violinists of his generation. Every ambitious young fiddle player learns the Mendelssohn Concerto as a student, and the work of course is played often in concert, a bit too often, so it can be hard to make a distinctive impression with this particular score. Yet there was nothing routine or canned about Jackiw’s fiercely alert music-making on Sunday. Every phrase had its own distinctive shaping. Forward-leaning tempos in the outer movements conveyed a rhapsodic intensity. And Jackiw’s navigation of the work’s hurtling virtuoso runs demonstrated a more basic understanding, one that is shared by the finest singers when they navigate florid coloratura passagework: that these musical gymnastics are not ends in themselves — fireworks to wow the crowd — but an externalization and heightening of the expressive arc at the center of the music itself. They are only a means to an end. When they are played as the end in itself — as they often are — we feel the difference, whether we realize it or not, in the unity and depth of the performance, the places it is able to reach. In this case, Jackiw, simply put, made the music his own. And Zander and the orchestra were there to meet him at every turn.
As an encore Jackiw turned to the Largo from Bach’s C-Major Sonata, floating the music off the stage in a delicate and beautifully inward-drawing performance that bore out his own relationship to the koan mentioned above. Let’s hope Jackiw returns to Boston soon — both with the Boston Philharmonic’s ensembles but also with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.