Saturday, October 20, 2018

Nesterowicz and the Oregon Symphony raise a glass to Finland, Poland, and Russia

The second classical concert of the Oregon Symphony’s season featured an up-and-coming conductor Michał Nesterowicz, who is the principal guest conductor of the Basel Symphony Orchestra, and violin virtuoso Karen Gomyo in a program that traversed through Finland, Russia, and Poland. The attendance at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Saturday, October 13, was rather thin, which was disappointing, considering the fact that Gomyo is a familiar artist for Portland audiences. She has appeared with the orchestra several times to great acclaim, starting in 2010 with Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto, continuing in 2011 with Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, followed by 2015 with Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

This time around, Gomyo turned in a sterling performance of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, conveying its wide range of dynamics and virtuosic demands and many nuances with impeccable technique. She expressed the many moods of the piece – whether brooding, frenzied, majestically soaring, or rhapsodically lyrical – with a firm commitment that delivered all of the goods. The audience loved her playing so much that it brought her back a couple of times. She complimented the applause with an encore, a “Tango Etude” by Astor Piazzolla.

In a nod to his homeland, Nesterowicz conducted music by Polish composers Witold Lutosławski and Wojciech Kilar that were grounded in folk tunes. Lutosławski’s “Little Suite,” a four-movement work inspired by melodies from the southeastern part of Poland, opened with a delightful piccolo solo that was played with Zachariah Galatis. The second movement featured a snappy, polka-esque pulse, and the third had an intense lyricism shaped initially by the woodwinds and then the embraced by the orchestra. The last movement seamlessly juxtaposed a bouncy dance tune against a rhapsodic and slightly melancholic song.

Kilar’s “Orawa” for string orchestral cast a hypnotic spell with its subtle rhythmic shifts and simple melodic lines. The piece, reflected the harvest-time music of the Polish Podhale region, suggested colors that were open and expansive then switched closed on denser textures. As the piece became faster and faster it got technically more difficult with sounds skittering in all directions. The final, striding chords was followed by a joyous “Hey!” from the musicians. The audience responded with enthusiasm and Nesterowicz signaled Concertmaster Sarah Kwak and principal cellist Nancy Ives for their solo contributions.

The orchestra concluded the concert with a robust performance of Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony. That’s the one that he wrote after WWII, snubbing the Soviet authorities who expected him to create a weighty, monumental work. Instead, the piece, even with five movements, was relatively brief and joyful.

Urged on by Nesterowicz, the musicians launched into the perky, busy, and cheerful first movement with relish. The second movement, with sensitive contributions by clarinetists James Shields and Mark Dubac and the solitary piccolo sound of Galatis was plaintively somber. The third offered a crazy quilt of drama with outstanding playing by principal trumpeter Jeffrey Work and the forceful brass. Of the fourth and fifth, I can attest to the amazingly evocative playing of principal bassoonist Carin Miller Packwood. She created a soulful sound that was unforgettable even after the orchestra wound the piece up in the galloping, spirited finale.

Because Nesterowicz is a very tall he chose not to use the podium, which allowed him a large area in which to move. His gestures were very natural and graceful, which connected well with the orchestra and soloist. I would like to hear him with the orchestra again but with a program that extends outside the boundaries of his homeland, the Baltics, and Russia. Hey!

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