The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
A Bernstein Celebration

Date and Venue Monday, March 19, 2018, 8pm | Orpheum Theatre

Conductor Bramwell Tovey Featured performers Joyce Yang - piano, Augustin Hadelich - violin

Programme Leonard Bernstein's Candide: Overture; Serenade; Symphony No. 2, The Age of Anxiety

Reviewer John Jane

A Bernstein Celebration is the second of four concerts in this year’s VSO Spring Festival and the first of two concerts to feature the music of Leonard Bernstein. This concert also features guest musicians Joyce Yang on piano and Augustin Hadelich on violin. The pair attended Juilliard School at the same time and have been friends ever since. Last year, they toured together as a musical partnership. In this evening’s concert however, they performed separately.

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra led by Maestro Bramwell Tovey began with, what else, Bernstein's jauntily optimistic Candide Overture. The overture is the only part of Candide which Bernstein orchestrated entirely on his own. Inspired by Voltaire’s Candide, a satire of philosophical and religious theories, Bernstein's 1956 musical embraces just about everything from operetta to Latin American rhythms.

Bernstein's Serenade, which also boasts the awkward subtitle after Plato’s Symposium, brought to the stage virtuoso violinist Augustin Hadelich. Still only in his early thirties (he looks younger), he has established himself as a natural musician able to perform anything from Tchaikovsky to Takemitsu.

Originally written as a violin concerto, Serenade calls for an orchestra composed of strings, harp and percussion. Bernstein drew inspiration from Plato's Symposium, a dialogue in praise of love. The five movements are named after Greek philosophers.

Hadelich displays remarkable poetic sensitivity and impeccable tone. His accurate interpretation of one of Bernsteins most serious compositions underscores the musician’s true emotional feeling as he places himself in the character of the rhetorician. The final movement: Socrates; Alcibiades certainly had an easily identifiable “little jazz breathed into the texture” as Maestro Tovey put it. Hadelich was obviously moved by the audience’s appreciation as he returned to the stage for a generous encore of Paganini's Caprice no.21.

Scored for orchestra and solo piano, the orchestral work The Age of Anxiety is titled after British poet Wystan Hugh Auden’s poem of the same name. One of the movements in Part 2 incorporates a blues theme that Bernstein was famous for including in many of his works. Joyce Yang demonstrated superb tone and nuanced structural control anchoring the symphony with agility and subtlety. She played the delicate passages with finesse and the forceful passages with authority.

Festival concerts have a way of bringing musicians and audiences closer together. Ms. Yang ended the evening with a delightful surprise - a jazz inflected interpretation of George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love." After the performance, Tovey, Yang and Hadelich took part in a Q & A session with those in the audience that wished to stay behind to ask questions on matters both musical and personal.

© 2018 John Jane