Vancouver Symphony welcomes guest violinist, conductor

By

Published:

 

Sarah Kwak

What: Vancouver Symphony concert with violinist Sarah Kwak on Beethoven's Violin Concerto, plus the U.S. premiere of Gregory Vajda's "Orlando's Awakening."

When: 3 p.m. Nov. 10 and 7 p.m. Nov. 11.

Where: Skyview High School Concert Hall, 1300 N.W. 139th St., Vancouver.

Cost: $50 for reserved seats, $35 for general admission, $30 for seniors and $10 for students.

Information: Vancouver Symphony Orchestra or 360-735-7278.

What: Vancouver Symphony concert with violinist Sarah Kwak on Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, plus the U.S. premiere of Gregory Vajda’s “Orlando’s Awakening.”

When: 3 p.m. Nov. 10 and 7 p.m. Nov. 11.

Where: Skyview High School Concert Hall, 1300 N.W. 139th St., Vancouver.

Cost: $50 for reserved seats, $35 for general admission, $30 for seniors and $10 for students.

Information: Vancouver Symphony Orchestra or 360-735-7278.

This weekend, violinist Sarah Kwak and conductor Gregory Vajda will make their debuts with the Vancouver Symphony.

Both artists have ties to the Oregon Symphony. Kwak is its new concertmaster, and Vajda was the orchestra’s resident conductor from the fall of 2005 through the spring of 2012. Now they will collaborate with the VSO on Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, with Kwak in the soloist spotlight. Other highlights of the concert will be the U.S. premiere of Vajda’s “Orlando’s Awakening” and a performance of Zoltan Kodály’s zesty “Dances of Galánta.”

Kwak brings substantial credentials to the stage. She was the First Associate Concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra, a founding member of the Rosalyra String Quartet, and is a former member of music faculty at Princeton University. She was born in Boston and raised in Lawrence, Kan., before entering Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute at age 12. She can be heard on the Oregon Symphony’s newest CD, “This England,” because she was the guest concertmaster when it was recorded last spring.

Since arriving in Portland, Kwak has been busy with her regular job, but she has also found time to practice the Beethoven piece every day.

“I’ve played Beethoven’s Violin Concerto before, but it was a long time ago, with the Princeton University Orchestra, when I was teaching there,” Kwak said. “It’s still in the fingers, but I’m constantly trying to find new and better fingerings. Fingerings are individualized, because everyone’s hands are so different in terms of size, shape, and preferences.”

Like many concertos, Beethoven’s contains cadenzas (solo spots) where the featured soloist can flash her virtuosic powers. Many famous violinists have written their own cadenzas for this work, and

Kwak will be using those composed by Fritz Kreisler.

“The cadenzas are amazing,” Kwak said. “That’s when a lion is unleashed, and it’s pretty ferocious.”

Vajda, a native of Budapest, Hungary, has made quite an impression as a conductor and composer. He is the music director of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra in Alabama and the Music in the Mountains concerts in California, and appears regularly with the Hungarian Radio Symphony. His compositions run the gamut from chamber pieces to opera and symphonic works.

“Orlando’s Awakening” is Vajda’s most recent piece, and it received its world premiere during a performance by the Hungarian Radio Symphony in September. It’s based on Virginia Woolf’s novel “Orlando,” which was made into an acclaimed movie in 1992.

“The most memorable scene in the book and in the movie is when Orlando turns into a woman,” Vajda said. “From that point on, he lives as a woman. So he goes from being a lord to a lady, and the whole scene is written in a way as if it were a Baroque allegory. In the book, you have three trumpets who are always telling him that he has to face the truth, because the truth is the most important. Then there are three allegorical ladies who tell him to keep sleeping and not face the truth. While he is asleep, nobody can wake him. In my piece, the trumpets play from offstage, and they try to wake him up.”

The concert will open with Kodály’s “Dances of Galánta,” a lively piece that was inspired by folk tunes. Kodály spent part of his childhood in Galánta, a market town in northern Hungary, now Slovakia, where he sang in choirs and heard Gypsy music. About 40 years later, after he became a composer and a leading scholar of Hungarian musical traditions, Kodály found some of this folk music in a published collection.

Inspired by these tunes and those of his childhood, he wrote the “Dances of Galánta.” It features five dances that use different modes, themes and rhythms. Kodály strung them together in such a way that the final measures of one dance serves as an introduction to the next.

“There is such great unity in this piece,” Vajda said. “It has a great groove and melodies that you always remember.”