April 2018

by Joseph E. Morgan

Esa-Pekka Salonen; Photograph by Nicolas Brodard

On March 8–10 the Nashville Symphony presented a two-part concert consisting of a contemporary Violin Concerto by the living Finnish composer Esa-Pekka Salonen and performed by Chicago-born Jennifer Koh as well as Gustav Mahler’s epic Fifth Symphony. The evening was marvelous, and with the Mahler especially, played to the strengths of Nashville’s great orchestra.

When Salonen wrote his Violin Concerto for Leila Josefowicz, he was determined to “cover as wide a range of expression as I could imagine . . . from the virtuosic and flashy to the aggressive and brutal, from the meditative and static to the nostalgic and autumnal.” In all, he was quite successful at this with a work that is an essay in color, topic, and style but still remarkably virtuosic. Koh’s interpretation was nuanced but employed a great deal of technical skill. From the opening movement’s “mirage” of agitation and technical brilliance to the final movement’s extended, intimate, and beautiful “adieu” her performance was vivid and extraordinary.

Jennifer Koh; Photograph by Jürgen Frank

Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is perhaps best known for its opening trumpet fanfare, reminiscent of the “fate motive” from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Principal Trumpet Jeffrey Bailey is perhaps one of the Nashville audience’s favorite orchestra members. On Friday he delivered with a clear, remarkable tone and a relaxed virtuosity that justified his acclaim. Leslie Norton on horn deserves special mention, too.

All together in the third part, in the famous Adagietto, Maestro Guerrero led the ensemble through a riveting interpretation of what is said to be Mahler’s love song to his wife, Alma. However, the best part of the evening, in my opinion, was Guererro’s ebullient yet delicate direction of the final movement where several of the themes emerge from ideas heard in the second and fourth movement. As Guerrero brought the piece to its incredible conclusion, the audience leapt to its feet and rewarded him with multiple ovations; another excellent night at the Schermerhorn.

For more information, visit www.nashvillesymphony.org.


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