The Houston Symphony Shines with Mendelssohn's "Scottish"

Categories: Symphony

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Abby Koenig
This weekend the Houston Symphony presented three pieces in its classical series including Sibelius's "Violin Concerto in D minor" and Mendelssohn's famous composition "Scottish."

The crowd was fortunate enough that violinist Leila Josefowicz served as the main attraction for the Sibelius concerto. Josefowicz, a 2008 MacArthur Fellow, has been performing nationally and internationally since her Carnegie Hall debut in 1994. Her performance was astounding. The "Violin Concerto" came in and out in waves and Josefowicz never missed a beat nor string. At various stanzas she bowed so intensely that if she had broken a string, no one would have been surprised. The third movement shook you wide awake (especially the elderly woman sitting next to me) and concluded with a bang. It has previously been described by the famous musicologist Sir Donald Tovey as a "polonaise for polar bears" which sounds super exciting, although I'm not sure what that means.

After the intermission, the Symphony returned to perform Mendelssohn's
famed "Symphony No 3. In A Minor" or often called, simply, the "Scottish." According to its history, Mendelssohn gathered up a bunch of pals in 1829 and headed over to Scotland, a 20-year old composer searching for meaning and maybe some inspiration. Unlike some of us who take self-seeking road trips with our buddies, this trip was less "Señor Frogs" and more abbey hopping. In the ruined chapel of Queen Mary Stuart, Mendelssohn found his Scotch Symphony.

Led by Houston's semi-permanent conductor, Kirill Karabits, the Scottish is immediately recognizable. Whether you are familiar with the piece or not, the underlying melody brings to mind a "highland-fling," almost folk in its sound. Each movement purposefully leads into the next, and you find yourself wishing that you had worn a long, flowy skirt so that you could dance around a Maypole (you also wish there was a Maypole to dance around). You know you're in the midst of a lively piece of music when you are watching symphony goers bobbing their heads as if they were at a rock concert.

Karabits also did an excellent job of bringing the piece to life and emphasizing the highs and lows. If you've never seen him in action before, go check him out. He is amazing to watch (and pretty easy on the eyes too) and the lively tempo of the "Scottish" gave him reason to jump around enthusiastically on his post. Karabits made the experience that much more enjoyable because he seemed to be having so much fun, you just wanted to join him in it. And it really was fun.

Whether you are a classical music fanatic or a novice like myself, the Houston Symphony brought nothing but pure joy and completely deserved its multiple standing ovations.


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1 comments
George
George

Interesting that you didn't mention Silvestrov's "Elegie for String Orchestra", which was easily the high point of the concert for me. It was inspired by Ivan Karabits, Kirill's father, in part from a sketch Ivan took with him a the hospital stay which preceding his death. IMO, this is an excellent work of music (very emotionally moving for me). Perhaps Kirill will be able to record it some day. Wouldn't it be nice if it were with the Houston Symphony?

It was great to see a work of a living composer done so well, well rehearsed and with such committment. I hope to see many more performances like this one. But if most of the focus by critics continues on war-horses like the Mendelssohn and Sibelius, I'm not hopeful.

--George

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