By McLaren Harris
In the late classical and early romantic eras, three composers – Mozart, Schubert and Mendelssohn – stood out for two things: their early-flowering musical genius, and their unfortunately short lives. After leaving large catalogues of brilliantly composed works in several genres, all three died in their 30’s.
On Saturday night (November 14) at the Littleton High School Performing Arts Center, the Orchestra of Indian Hill, under the direction of conductor Bruce Hangen, presented three works by Felix Mendelssohn – the Violin Concerto with soloist Juliette Kang, a “Trumpet” Overture and the “Scottish” Symphony No. 3 — with the classic-romantic themes, harmonies and dramatic forms that have endeared him to audiences for the better part of 200 years.
The E minor Violin Concerto is a favorite of violinists and audiences alike, full of musical felicity, albeit with less dramatic weight than other concertos by Beethoven, Brahms or Tchaikovsky. It has long been hailed as a perfect vehicle, technically and musically, for its solo instrument.
Soloist Juliette Kang is first assistant concertmaster for the Philadelphia Orchestra, having come from the Boston Symphony a decade ago. She has soloed with many of the world’s major orchestras under as many well known conductors in as many famous concert halls – a true musical celebrity and, may we say, violin virtuoso. Her performance was as close to perfect as one could hope, with exquisite phrasing, flawless intonation in all contexts and a secure, beautiful tone from the first note to the last. She was rewarded with cheers and a standing ovation that could have stretched through the following intermission.
The opening work was a concert overture, curiously dubbed the “Trumpet Overture” by Mendelssohn’s family apparently because, yes, it has trumpets. No program, no solo parts, just a lively and cheerful piece which showed that, at age 16, Mendelssohn had already achieved compositional maturity and mastery. A year later he composed another overture that, 18 years afterward, he incorporated flawlessly into his Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream – a feat of true genius. The “Trumpet Overture”, misnomer or not, was given a fine reading by the orchestra.
Conductor Hangen and the orchestra did equally well with the A minor “Scottish” Symphony No. 3, which echos some Scottish musical idioms especially in the second movement’s principal theme and in the first movement’s rise-and-fall evoking the wind off the Hebrides. Principals Steve Jackson, clarinet, Melissa Mielens, flute, and Nancy Dimock, oboe, sparkled in the tuneful second movement, the strings proved dynamic throughout, and the brass gave triumphal force to the final bars.