The Vancouver Symphony turned in one of its finest performances ever on Sunday evening (January 26) with Gerard Schwarz on the podium at Skyview Concert Hall. Schwarz, the former music director of the Seattle Symphony, elicited a polished sound from the ensemble that resulted in a glowing Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony, a vibrant Tower’s Sixth Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, and a poignant Dvořák Cello Concerto with his son Julian as the soloist.
It is extremely rare to have a conductor and his offspring at the professional level as featured performers in a concert. I cannot think of another example. In any case, the Schwarz duo was a real treat in and of itself, because they collaborated so well with the orchestra in the Dvořák. Schwarz fils commanded a strong opening and deftly made the theme softer when it came around a second time. He played the second movement with loving attention to detail. He wonderfully expressed the emotional heart of the piece, and his beautiful cadenza seemed to reach deeper even though it was accompanied by a heavy rainfall that pummeled the roof.
The orchestra accompanied Julian with terrific sensitivity. Orchestral entries were focused. Ensemble efforts were well-balanced, such as the woodwind choir in the second movement.
Julian acknowledged the tremendous applause with an encore, Dvořák’s Silent Woods. Its somber and dreamy melody resonated well – without interference from the stormy weather.
The orchestra delivered a thrilling performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. The horns radiated a golden, majestic sound. The strings created a lively ensemble sound. The woodwinds contributed brilliantly, and the percussion added plenty of vim and vigor to wrap things up in the final movement. The reoccurring “fate motif” was stirring. Schwarz’s firm and crisp directions summoned the superb playing, and there were a lot of smiles on the musicians faces after the finale.
The concert opened with Joan Tower’s Sixth Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman. The orchestra fearlessly dug into the piece and made a striking, bold statement even though it lasted only five minutes. Glissandos, wiggly brass sounds, snapping tones, a chime-like tones, and an unrelenting motoric drive combined to make a forceful and positive impression. I’d like to hear another one of her fanfares. And it would be great to see both Schwarzes return some day in the near future.