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Talent and Depth – Wang and Kavakos Perform at Lincoln Center

February 15, 2017

By Fotios Kaliampakos

NEW YORK – Just a few days after receiving the prestigious Leonie Sonning Music Prize 2017 in Denmark (which the National Herald reported extensively on with our correspondent in Copenhagen) Leonidas Kavakos arrived in New York to continue his appearances in the city as The Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra this season.

In this framework, the New York Philharmonic and the series “Great Artists” of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts organized a concert with Kavakos and the young talented pianist Juja Wang. The Chinese-born artist has also just received a prestigious award, as she was selected as The Artist of the Year by the renowned Musical America. The two artists have been cooperating in the last years, not only on stage, but also in the studio, where they have records Brahm’s sonatas for Decca, and it is obvious that they have a great artistic relationship.

Musical America’s prize is especially important in North America, and the list of recipients of the Leonie Sonning one is admirable too, including giants of classical music such as Stravinsky and Shostakovich themselves, Leonard Bernstein, and Yehudi Menuhin among many others. But even without these distinctions, the two artists have captivated audiences in New York, where Kavakos has regularly appeared for decades now, so that David Geffen Hall was full, with a long line formed before the concert for any last tickets. Many of the late comers were only allowed to enter the hall after the first piece to experience a very demanding program was one, challenging not only the artists, but also the audience.

The concert started with the Sonata for Violin and Piano by Leos Janacek (1854-1928), written by the composer during World War I (1914-15) and resized later in 1921, followed by Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) Fantasy in C-Major (D. 934), a very virtuosic piece, the most “classical” of the whole program. Following the intermission were two works again from the 20th century – Claude Debussy’s Third Sonata for Piano and Violin (1916-17) and Bela Bartok’s First Sonata (ΒΒ84, Sz. 75, 1921).

The two artists demonstrated an excellent technique and synchronization in an obviously very well prepared program. Juja Wang who turned 30 the day after the concert – something we learned when an ebullient audience member shouted Happy Birthday, is one of the most talented artists of her generation. She has exceptional technical abilities, a lovely touch, and brings out beautifully and clearly the dynamic lines. She is able to differentiate the styles, and gives the impression that she is more familiar with the 20th century repertoire.

She actually has demonstrated that very convincingly in the same hall last year, as she performed the solo part of Symphony-Turangalila by Olivier Messiaen (1908–92) with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Esa Pekka Salonen. She gave a great performance, especially in Bartok’s piece, in the virtuosic parts, where the composer is known to include and transform Hungarian folk tunes and she played very atmospherically in Debussy’s sonata. She seemed to have consciously chosen a more contained approach to Schubert than other famous interpreters of older generations, and the only remark one could make is that she was not able all of the time to follow Kavakos’ astonishing interpretive depth, something of course that the young and talented artist will have much time and opportunity to achieve with many years ahead of her.

Kavakos, for his part, was this time fully devoted to his Stradivarius without the pressure and the double role of his conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic as a few months ago, and seemed to live every instant of the concert, in some parts of Schubert’s Allegro Vivace and Bertok’s pieces almost to dance on stage, without of course losing for a second the control of his violin and not only the music but also an intellectual and absolute mastery of the pieces. The dreamy Andantino of Schubert’s Fantasy, the passionate (Allegro Appassionato) in a modernistic idiom beginning and the breathtaking violin solo part, with the piano silenced for a while, of Bartok’s sonata were in our view the most valuable moments of a memorable musical experience.

The astonishing technique of Kavakos, with his rich expressive sound, and above all his musicality and interpretative depth, even after so many performances continues to astonish, as of course he also matures and changes and revisits as an interpreter the divine legacies of the great composers of the past.

Still, Kavakos is also known for his relationship with the composers of the present. In his next appearances in New York, on March 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, Kavakos will take on the task of bringing a new piece to life – the Fourth Concerto for Violin and Orchestra: “NYx: Fractured Dreams” by Lera Auerbach with the New York Philharmonic who commissioned the work. Alan Gilbert will conduct. The evening before the world premiere, the Greek soloist will meet the Russian-born American composer and pianist to discuss the work in a panel moderated by the orchestra’s Vice-President, Theodore Wiprud.

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