From May 3 through 6, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) featured guest conductor Dima Slobodeniouk and violin soloist Ning Feng in a program that gave the best of contemporary and classic classical music. From Finnish to end, as I will explain, the program was licensed to thrill.
Sebastian Fagerlund’s “Isola,” in its premiere performances for NJSO, began the program on the gray Sunday at Mayo Performing Arts Center, in Morristown, perfectly highlighting this Finnish composer’s brooding tone poem, written about an island in the Turku archipelago, in Finland, which was originally the site of a leper colony and later used to house the mentally ill. The site is an ecological research station now and Fagerlund’s work gives us the austere beauty and the Götterdämmerung that could be right around the corner, with the unrest of a seventh, rising for a bit, only to return like the bitter light of a foggy sunrise, a meditative unrest—the music resolves, yet still leaves the question unanswered. The contrasting second movement is only a wee bit lighter, yet seems to be fraught with the dark energy at the heart of this existentially haunting piece.
Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, Opus 64, in Ning Feng’s hands, was a gossamer piece of blazing beauty. The Allegro molto appassionato featured an immediate appearance by the soloist in clear and arresting, delicate as butterfly kisses, with beautifully articulated extended solo passages played superbly fast. The first movement was a showstopper, as it felt like the return of Spring in an instant–you could feel the smiles in the hall! The famous motif, played with such delicious articulation, was breathtaking. The Andante was graceful and, connected with a single bassoon note, especially after the first movement, that breath was most welcome, as Feng exhibited agility of a different variety, with his phrasing–rising and falling of the statement leading to the future with a come-hither directness, bringing us to the Allegretto non troppo-Allegro molto vivace, where the energy returned and sent us forth with the fruition of all that had gone before. Feng then treated us to the most delicate of desserts, with his encore of Francisco Tarrega’s “Recuerdo de la Alhambra,” transcribed for violin. Pure delight!
The entire second act was Jean Sibelius’ Symphony Number Five in E-Flat Major, Opus 82–the one with the Swan motif! The majestic first movement, Tempo molto moderato-Allegro moderato-Presto, began with a regal mien, seguing to heraldic to call and response conversation, returning to regal and measured, with the Presto giving us some dynamic energy to carry through. The Andante mosso, quasi allegretto, provided an aching pastoral feel, full of the energy of life. The final movement, Allegro molto-Misterioso, was back to big sound for a big finish–energy, range, climbing and expansive. The exotic feel was broodingly so at times, but what is it about Fifth symphonies that make them so popular? This was a delightful way to send us back into the gray afternoon with a lighter heart, changed, for the experience.
NJSO has it all! Visit www.njsymphony.org
Plan to subscribe for next season–the best is yet to come!