The Nova Philharmonic Channels the Power and Fun of Beethoven
Isn’t it fun when an orchestra goes deep into the music and absolutely, completely gets it? Yesterday evening at the edge of the Lincoln Center complex, conductor Dong-Hyun Kim led the Nova Philharmonic through a richly robust performance that absolutely nailed every bit of liveliness, and joy, and intensity in two iconic Beethoven works, the Symphony No. 1 and the Violin Concerto, Op. 61.
Other orchestras can be seduced by the comfortably familiar, Haydnesque pillowiness of that symphony, but not this one. Although it had its pillowy moments, notably in the second movement’s underlying nocturne, Kim’s interpretation was meticulously rhythmic, taking it almost but not quite to the point of a stampede as the final movement kicked in. Throughout the orchestra, individual contributions were strong: vivid low-versus-high tradeoffs, bright accents from the high strings and brass, lithely swooping motifs in the final movement and perfectly synched exchanges between the high and low strings in the second.
Because there’s so much angst in Beethoven, sometimes we forget how funny his music can be. This ensemble didn’t. Guest violinist Daniel Phillips (of the Orion String Quartet) found the corny inner core of the famous little country waltz theme that percolates throughout the final movement of the Violin Concerto and with just the hint of a wink or something like that, handed it off to the orchestra – who made it clear that they knew this was a buffoon’s theme, following its permutations all the way to a deadpan slapstick swing. It made for cruelly amusing portraiture without being over the top, something other orchestras should dare to embrace.
The ride getting to that point was often flat-out exhilarating. For one, the piece has symphonic length and bulk, clocking in at a tad under 45 minutes, even with Kim driving the orchestra through its more upbeat passages with the same kind of brisk purposefulness of the Symphony. Phillips played its cruelly difficult voicings (dating from a time before Beethoven knew how to tailor an arrangement to a violinist’s fingers) from memory with a radiant, overtone-tinged old-hardwood resonance and jaunty elan. He’s fun to watch: when he’d pulled off one particularly grueling rapidfire round of chromatic triplets in the suspenseful second movemenet, he raised his bow from the fingerboard with a defiant flourish as if to say, “Take that, you sadist.” A little earlier, when the orchestra got the chance to switch roles with the violin and echo a tensely trilling pedal motif as Phillips spiraled down from the stratosphere, they had the inflections down to a split-second. Beethoven’s music is full of moments where soloists and ensemble players can revel in them equally: this was a perfectly executed example. The audience – including three of New York’s finest violinists – rewarded them with a roaring ovation. Much as the big orchestras tend to get all the press, it’s hard to imagine a more exciting, and insightful, and true-to-form performance of these two pieces than this. Watch this space for upcoming Nova Philharmonic concerts.
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