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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 5, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 45
Baltic States of ecstasy
Arts & Entertainment
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Baltic States of ecstasy

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Kremerata Baltica
October 30th
Benaroya Hall


The 'Visiting Orchestra Series' presented by Seattle Symphony is almost always a good bet, and never more so than with this appearance by Kremerata Baltica. Founded by the Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer, these 27 young musicians from the Baltic States embodied such intensity and unanimity that they seemed like one extremely focused artist. It was a pleasure to see such involvement by each player. The fact that they were without a conductor never crossed one's mind!

The program began with one of my favorite 20th-century compositions, Bartók's 'Divertimento for String Orchestra' (1939). Entirely tonal, it nonetheless sounded utterly fresh and modern. The Kremerata Baltica made the most of its wildly varied moods and dynamics. Again, each player told the same story with devotion and energy. The spooky, ascending trills of the second movement seemed especially appropriate to the season, at the same time resonating with far broader emotional content than a silly holiday like Halloween. In fact, everything they played this evening communicated very clear emotional content, all the way from horror to lovely repose, from ecstasy to anguish. There was not a dull moment.

This evening's program alternated pieces of dramatic emotional intensity with those of less stressful, happier feelings. And this took the form of inserting lovely Viennese works by Schumann and Schubert between the more eastern European and Baltic works. Thus, after the Bartók came Robert Schumann's 'Concerto for Violin and Orchestra' (originally for cello). Gidon Kremer played the solo part with an under-stated delicacy and grace that kept the audience hushed in attention; not a cough was heard! His tone was indeed special: a spun softness, as though his bow were scarcely touching the strings. This, like everything else on the program, seemed utterly unlike anything you would ever hear from any other players.

After intermission came a 1998 work by Lithuanian composer, Raminta `werkanyte?, called 'De Profundis' for String Orchestra' (1998). Of a similar folk-based intensity as the Bartók, it struck this listener as a work in which one could immediately recognize profundity and lasting appeal. (One of the many CDs by Kremerata Baltica includes the `werkanyte as its title piece.) In fact, I cannot think of another composition by a woman that ever appealed to me more. Like the Bartók, it was full of dramatic contrasts next to moments of lyrical beauty.

Then, almost like an aural palette-refresher, Kremer and the orchestra played Schubert's 'Minuet in D minor' from Five Minuets and Six Trios. From the searing intensity of the 'De Profundis' to grace and loveliness! And then we traveled north to the great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, with his 'Passacaglia for Violin Solo and String Orchestra,' which was dedicated to Kremerata Baltica. In this, the group was joined by Adrei Pushkarev on the vibraphone. After an initial adjustment to its super-soft, ethereal sounds, I found it added a special patina to the orchestra: a kind of quiet glow that was quite attractive.

I throw up my hands at the task of trying to describe Pärt's music: modern, yet harkening back to the Renaissance; minimal and spare, yet rich and emotional. I can't imagine a better performance than this one. That Andrei Pushkarev was a master could not be doubted. Poetry infused every stroke. In fact, his manner of hitting the keys reminded me of how Michael Crusoe, surely one of the greats, plays the tympani in our own Seattle Symphony.

Next came a program change: a single piece by Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer was replaced by a different work by Tickmayer, a fragment of his transcription from Bach's 'St. John's Passion,' and by Georgs Pelécis' 'Flowering Jasmine,' played in a duet between Kremer and Pushkarev. These were lovely, song-like pieces & sweet almost to the point of being saccharine.

We finished with a marvelous tango by Astor Piazzolla and two short encores, the last of which was entirely a lively vocal chant complete with physical gestures not unlike those of a rap singer! The audience, many of whom spoke in Slavic languages, made up in enthusiasm for the fact that the hall was scarcely half full.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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