Violinist Philippe Quint delivers fiery advocacy with Litton, Utah Symphony

Sat Oct 27, 2018 at 11:24 am
By Gregory M. Walz

Phillipe Quint performed John Corigliano’s “Red Violin” Concerto with Andrew Litton and the Utah Symphony Friday night. Photo: Kathleen Sykes

The Utah Symphony and guest conductor Andrew Litton have a decades-old relationship that  goes back over thirty years. Litton debuted with the orchestra in November 1987 as a young and up-and-coming maestro and has appeared several times since. The Utah Symphony musicians, and the local audiences seem to enjoy his unostentatious conducting and interpretations, as well as his direct and approachable personality.

Friday night’s Utah Symphony concert led by Litton in Abravanel Hall revealed the fruits of his current position with New York City Ballet Orchestra as well as his experience in crafting dramatic performances.  It was an exciting evening, albeit with some performances more successful than others.

The evening began with the “Three Dances” from Leonard Bernstein’s Fancy Free.The Utah Symphony has performed the complete 1944 ballet several times over the decades, most recently in 2015.  The more commonly excerpted “Three Dances” include a Waltz, Danzon, and Galop, which showcase some of Bernstein’s most intuitively natural and convincing art.  

The Waltz’s lush and piquant textures and colors emerged vibrantly, the Danzon’s sultry buildup was captured with lucid passion, and the Galop’s insistent rhythms were delineated with richness and clarity.  While not the last word in an idiomatic performance, they were performed with thoroughly convincing point, especially by the low brass.

Friday’s concert marked the Utah Symphony premiere of John Corigliano’s Violin Concerto “The Red Violin.” It also marked the debut of soloist Philippe Quint, this season’s Artist in Association.

The Utah Symphony has played very few of Corigliano’s works, with the exception of his Symphony No. 1 in the early years of Keith Lockhart’s tenure.  This is unfortunate–American orchestras need to perform more compelling but unheralded American music.

The composer expanded the Chaconne that he composed for the 1998 film, The Red Violin, into a half-hour Violin Concerto. A tour de force of truly exciting dramatic and lyrical arcs, the concerto is varied in its use of orchestral color and textures.  

Playing his 1703 “Ruby” Stradivarius, Quint was dazzling in his colors and textures at all dynamic levels, especially the softer ones in the first and third movements.  While he does not have a big sound, he projected with a natural and pinpoint accuracy.  In the last movement, sections of the orchestra accelerate at different tempos, and here Quint’s rip-roaring “crunches” at high speeds and multiple dynamics sealed  a magnificently compelling performance.Quint performed an encore, also by Corigliano, the Caprice No. 5 from The Red Violin. 

Andrew Litton conducted the Utah Symphony Friday at Abravanel Hall. Photo: Kathleen Sykes

Litton’s concept for Tchaikovsky;s Symphony No. 4 was, in many ways, more balletic than symphonic. That approach worked best in the two inner movements, with their dreamy atmosphere and emphasis on orchestral color mixed with surging and receding drama. Less successful were the more dramatic outer movements, with the music sounding too relaxed, especially in the first movement.  

As is often the case, the two, shorter, inner movements were most convincing.  The swirl of implacable textures in the final movement was balanced by graceful strings and winds. The accelerando in the final moments was breathtaking in its lithe rhythmic drama, and the audience rewarded the performance with hearty and sustained enthusiasm.

The Utah Symphony musicians’ skill and passion were evident throughout the performance. Lori Wike’s bassoon solos were consistently full of character and color. Principal flute Mercedes Smith unveiled her gently radiant and luscious phrasing. Principal oboe James Hall’s solos found the necessary sweetness of tone and limpid articulation, while principal clarinet Tad Calcara found an appropriately suave, folk-like character.

The program will be repeated 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Abravanel Hall.; 801-533-6683.

Gregory M. Walz is a native of Bitburg, Germany, and lived in Germany for almost two decades. He trained in the field of history — principally European — at the University of Utah, and now resides in Millcreek.

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