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Leonidas Kavakos

Review: Violinist Leonidas Kavakos performs, conducts with the Minnesota Orchestra

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune

The Greek virtuoso showed why he’s considered one of the world’s best violinists, and also spent time conducting the orchestra in a Friday night performance.

By Rob Hubbard

“What I really want to do is direct” is a cliché among actors. But it seems to be happening with many of the world’s great violinists, too. Joshua Bell now conducts London’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (and is bringing that chamber orchestra to Winona’s Minnesota Beethoven Festival this summer). And flamboyant Finn Pekka Kuusisto is now artistic director of two European orchestras.

So why not the great Greek violin virtuoso Leonidas Kavakos? He’s been soloing with most of the world’s top orchestras throughout this century, and perhaps he has some ideas about how he’d like to approach the symphonic repertoire.

Such as Johannes Brahms’ First Symphony. Kavakos led the Minnesota Orchestra in a finely crafted performance of it Friday night, urgent but never overwrought, as some Brahms interpretations can be. The orchestra responded to the master violinist’s leadership with some simply beautiful Brahms.
And that likely would have been what audience members were discussing on their way out of Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall Friday night — had they not also experienced Kavakos displaying why he’s among the world’s most celebrated violinists. As he’s demonstrated on every Twin Cities visit of the past two decades, Kavakos is an awe-inspiring player, one who goes to disarmingly deep places with whatever music to which he applies his mind, heart, fingers, bow and Stradivarius.

On this night, the D-minor concerto by J.S. Bach was the conduit for his gifts. Accompanied by an ensemble of 21 Minnesota Orchestra musicians, Kavakos led a fast, fluid first movement full of exuberantly expressive phrases. But even more impressive was a slow movement that he played as if it were one long, uninterrupted line. His tone was bright and clear, but a soft grief emerged in this absorbing Adagio, which faded to a whisper near its conclusion.

Speaking of nonstop, the violinist seemed in perpetual motion on the concerto’s finale, his approach a paradoxical combination of technically precise and a bit rough and rustic. So impressed was the audience that they stood and cheered throughout three bows, Kavakos finally offering an engrossing encore with a meticulously well-executed take on a movement from one of Bach’s works for solo violin, expressing a captivating combination of mourning and yearning.
I’m certain that very few among those standing and applauding were thinking anything like, “Yes, but how is he as a conductor?” Yet rest assured that the orchestra responded extraordinarily well to his direction. It’s clear that Kavakos has a lot of interpretive ideas about how to approach Brahms, bringing forth lines that can sometimes be buried beneath bombast in some performances.

Read the full review.