Pinchas Zukerman with the IRIS Orchestra
Michael Stern wanted the IRIS Orchestra’s 15th season to kick off in spectacular style, and, oh boy, did it ever.
Stern, the orchestra’s artistic director and conductor, knew there would be lots of reasons why Thursday evening’s concert at the Germantown Performing Arts Center would be a success, but most of it could be attributed to the performances of violin superstar Pinchas Zukerman.
His performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major was a testament to the ways virtuosity can be expressed. There is technical wizardry, which often is a strong suit with up-and-coming performers. There is the sort of sublime performance that pulls all the elements together, much as one experiences with Yo-Yo Ma.
Zukerman’s playing acknowledged all that, but there was something more richly organic in his performance that went beyond those notions. It is a maturity that imbues every passage with remarkable emotion and intelligence. He plays with a confidence that does not brag — he just puts bow to strings and leads you on his tour of Beethoven’s complex intent. There is rawness in what you hear, but don’t think of it as unrefined. Through his violin, he is sharing a long conversation of love, hope, disappointment and lessons learned. He’s counting his losses as well as his blessings, and it is like hearing a robust, articulate voice sharing a lifetime of wisdom .
The IRIS season is focusing on Beethoven, not just his works but the influences that moved him and the composers he influenced (practically everyone thereafter).
Earlier in the program, IRIS started with a performance of Mozart’s Overture to “Don Giovanni” (performed, coincidentally, at GPAC in the last week with Opera Memphis’ staging of the opera). This was the orchestra in fine form, crisp and expressive under Stern’s baton.
The third piece of the evening was Brahms’ Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, performed beautifully by Zukerman and his wife, cellist Amanda Forsyth. Beethoven’s influence on Brahms is well documented, but Brahms fearlessly struck out on his own and this double concerto is chock full of other elements, from Gypsy music to majestic passages to wispy phrases.
Before the second half of the program, Stern gave a tribute to violinist and violist Marshall Fine, a long-time player with IRIS as well as the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, who died in August after a traffic accident. Stern’s short but moving words were followed by a heartbreakingly beautiful version of Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3.
The Commercial Appeal, October 18, 2014