Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kansas City Symphony, "Women With Issues"

I almost went to another function with a friend last night instead of attending the Kansas City Symphony subscription concert. The coin flipped "heads" and thus I braved the pouring rain and threat of sleet and heard what I feel is the best concert the Kansas City Symphony has performed this season.

Music Director Michael Stern quipped towards the end that since this was St Valentine's week the concert theme was "strong women, all, with the exception of Kanako Ito (the KCS Concertmistress and tonight's solo), with issues". Fitting as the works included Wagner's Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, Samuel Barber's Suite from Medea, and Richard Strauss' "Dance of the Seven Veils" from Salome.

Ito certainly did not have any issues with the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Flawless technique, tone and power approaching that of some more well known violinists, and a superb understanding of the work, her electric performance thrilled the capacity audience. The orchestra gave its all for their leader and provided dramatic and even tender support to the solo. Especially delectable were the darkly Russian figures for the clarinet in the slow movement and the spot on tuttis of the first movement and finale. The finale was taken at a brisk, yet not rushed, tempo forcing the orchestra to scramble a bit to keep up.

Having recently heard young sensation Stephan Jackiw and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg a few years ago doing the Tchaikovsky in concert plus adoring the classic Isaac Stern/Ormandy recording, I would be quite comfortable in saying Ito's galvanizing yet musical performance could compare quite nicely.

I am now afraid that our secret is out and that big bad orchestras with need of a good Concertmistress or Associate will snap her up.

Opening the concert was a sensuous and well executed Prelude and Liebestod. Missing only for me the soprano, the orchestra only version just can't match the visceral thrill of the voice arching over the huge sound of the orchestra. The melody gets buried too often, as was the case last night; the fault of the arrangement, not the orchestra in this case. Still an incredible thrill and a fine performance.

It took me a while to warm up to Barber's music. Samuel Barber occupied the middle road in American music, less spacious and folksy sound than Copland or Diamond, and less arcane and serial than Sessions or Carter, thus never pleasing the advocates on both sides. It was a performance of Vanessa that did it for me. Next up was the classic Thomas Schippers' Columbia recording of Barber works including the Medea Meditation and Dance of Vengeance, beginning my long admiration of Barber's works. The Medea suite is not often performed or recorded (outside of the mentioned Dance of Vengeance) but should be. Barber's characteristic subtle blend of tonal lyricism and complex harmonies and an always imaginative orchestration makes for a satisfying musical outing. Stern led the orchestra with conviction and care.

Our final woman with issues, the sultry and evil Salome was represented by a seductive and luminous Dance of the Seven Veils, highlighted by some wonderful wind work, and (finally) well tuned and balanced brass.

Bravo to all, and to Miss Ito especially. (Don't you go leaving us now....hear?)

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