NEW YORK – The Munich Philharmonic under the direction of Music Director and Conductor Valery Gergiev was joined by renowned Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos for a wonderful, sold-out concert at New York’s renowned Carnegie Hall on October 26. The concert which was broadcast live on New York’s classical music radio station WQXR and in a live webcast on medici.tv, is the first of four this season at Carnegie Hall which will feature the gifted Kavakos.
The program included three pieces, beginning with Jorg Widmann’s Con brio, followed by Kavakos joining the Munich Philharmonic and Gergiev to perform Johannes Brahms’ gorgeous Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77. The third piece, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47, offered a dramatic conclusion to the concert. The popular and controversial piece, showcased the talents of the Munich Philharmonic and led to a prolonged standing ovation.
Brahms’ Violin Concerto, according to the program notes by Jack Sullivan, was “written in 1878 for violinist Joseph Joachim, it eschews grandstanding solo effects, making the violin an integral part of Brahms’s typically intricate architecture.”
“Joachim, Brahms’ longtime friend, made numerous suggestions, but the composer ignored most of them,” Sullivan continued in the program notes, adding that “the solo part is notoriously treacherous, but doesn’t sound it—a paradox that led more than one commentator to complain that the concerto was written not for but against the violin.”
Kavakos enchanted the audience with his performance, playing the challenging piece effortlessly, and demonstrating once again his great artistry and technique beautifully. The audience responded with enthusiastic applause, cheers, and a standing ovation which continued until Kavakos returned to the stage and performed a delightful encore, the first movement of Romanian composer George Enescu’s Impressions d'enfance. The audience again erupted in thunderous applause and cheers for the Greek soloist.
Widmann, composer of concert’s first piece, is the holder of the 2019–2020 Richard and Barbara Debs Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall, and wrote Con brio in 2008 inspired by Beethoven. The influence of Beethoven was also evident in the Brahms piece and in a touch here and there in the Shostakovich, which also features a touch of Mahler, though in a uniquely Shostakovich manner. Folk influences are also clear in the Brahms and the Shostakovich.
The Russian composer’s dramatic Symphony No. 5 is a fan favorite though critics have called the piece conservative, viewing it as capitulation to Soviet censorship. Shostakovich, however, may have intended the work to be played with irony. In any case, the piece was expertly performed by the Munich Philharmonic and provided a powerful conclusion to the concert.
Born and raised in Athens in a musical family, Kavakos was named Gramophone Artist of Year in 2014 and was awarded Denmark’s Leonie Sonning Music Prize in 2017. Previous winners include Igor Stravinsky (1959), Leonard Bernstein (1965), Benjamin Britten (1968), and Anne-Sophie Mutter (2001). He plays the “Willemotte” Stradivarius violin of 1734.
By age 21, Kavakos had already won three major competitions: the Sibelius (1985), the Paganini (1988), and the Naumburg (1988). This success led to his making the first recording in history of the original Sibelius Violin Concerto (1903–04), which won the 1991 Gramophone Concerto of the Year Award.
He has since appeared regularly as a soloist with the Vienna, Berlin, New York, and Los Angeles philharmonic orchestras; London, Boston, and Chicago symphony orchestras; and the Leipzig Gewandhaus and Philadelphia Orchestras. As a conductor Kavakos has worked with the Atlanta, Boston, London, and Vienna symphony orchestras; Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin; Maggio Musicale Fiorentino; Chamber Orchestra of Europe; Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France; and Budapest Festival Orchestra.
Kavakos will be returning to Carnegie Hall in 2020 with upcoming performances scheduled for March 4, 6, and 8.
More information about Leonidas Kavakos, the Munich Philharmonic, and upcoming concerts at Carnegie Hall is available online: carnegiehall.org.