Friday night at Helzberg Hall, the Kansas City Symphony opened its Classical Series with defiant bravura, emotionally laden programming, and an exceptional soloist in violinist Stefan Jackiw. The ensemble mightily impressed the audience, with applause punctuating the performance and a hearty, prolonged ovation at its conclusion.
Music director Michael Stern conducted, beginning the season by leading the orchestra and audience in a vigorous performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Vigorous, too, was Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, the cornerstone of this concert. The work presented a spectrum of emotions in a daring display, coming out of Tchaikovsky’s personal turmoil.
There was slight reservation during the first movement, especially the fanfares, though the winds and strings balanced their prominence effectively, with beautiful connectivity in the lines.
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In the subsequent movements, however, the orchestra played at a different level, starting immediately with oboist Kristina Fulton’s solo line, rounded and beguiling. The primary melody in the strings was wrought with an aching, bittersweet wrench. Clarity and dynamic control of strings’ pizzicato made for a joyous Scherzo, along with excellent wind playing and the dry staccato in the brass.
The final movement was a full-fledged celebration, energy sustained and extrapolated into wild flourishes: timpani rumbling, a trio of crash cymbals, and the ensemble exuberant. Meditative moments on the folk melody were brief, but polished, leading into a finale of heightened enthusiasm.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concert in D Major featured Jackiw in a commanding role. Korngold, who emigrated from Vienna, was a successful Hollywood film composer in the 1930s and ’40s. His themes and timbral choices trigger intense associations that invite a narrative. Jackiw navigated technical demands and character changes with a lively presence, sturdy, nuanced harmonics, ferocious runs, evocative tone quality and even a twangy, bow-rattling fiddling excursion.
The orchestra maintained a responsive interplay with Jackiw, allowing space during transition points and reveling in the cinematic grandeur.
Like Korngold and Tchaikovsky, Patrick Harlin’s “The Rapture” aimed for deep emotional terrain: courage, dread, relief, confusion, release. Inspired by the tales of cave explorers, this 21st century American work opened the concert. The work included an echoing effect of repetitive rhythmic layers in a descending arc, and highlighted luminescent timbres, projecting a shimmery, hidden landscape inside the more furious tumult.
This performance sets the tone for the season. With this as a starting point, exciting but not without flaws, the anticipation of artistic growth is heady.