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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 6, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 18
Seattle Symphony offers shocking program of utter genius
Arts & Entertainment
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Seattle Symphony offers shocking program of utter genius

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Seattle Symphony with Pietari Inkinen
April 28
Benaroya Hall


Never in my imaginary life as a conductor would I ever think to program Sibelius' 7th symphony as a concert opener! Who makes up these programs? The official answer from Seattle Symphony: 'Season planning is a very collaborative process. The music director works with the artistic department and several other departments in our administration on putting together the repertoire for the season. Guest conductors are always asked for input on their programs and, of course, the soloists are also consulted on choosing their repertoire as well.'

Actually, the Sibelius worked very well in what turned out to be an extraordinarily well-designed and executed program. The young Finnish conductor, Pietari Inkinen, elicited gorgeous sounds from the Orchestra, with balances just so. It is perhaps not surprising that his Sibelius seemed idiomatic and right, but what was surprising was the level of orchestral clarity. With no sacrifice of Sibelius' characteristic 'atmospheric' qualities, the usual muddiness created by the lower strings was replaced by beautifully balanced and open sonorities. Tempi were brisk without being rushed, with the rather brooding feeling of a von Karajan transformed into a more positive, almost ecstatic sense of possibilities, which I found altogether appropriate, given the generally ascending harmonies of the closing moments. (Mr. Inkinen has recorded all the Sibelius symphonies on the Naxos label.)

The biggest gift of the evening, however, came with the 'Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 15' of Benjamin Britten, played by Dmitry Sitkovetsky. Between the soloist's intensely focused sound and Inkinen's control of the brilliant orchestration, one could not hope for a more satisfying performance. But the shock was that we were hearing a work of incredible genius that almost no one had ever heard before! Why is this work not in the regular repertoire of every great violinist? I met with four friends during the following intermission, all of us with our jaws wide open in amazement. The Concerto was not just astoundingly original; it was also a magnificent showpiece for the soloist. Like the Sibelius violin concerto, it was a virtuosic piece that could not be played on anything but a violin. (The great concerto by Beethoven, on the other hand, has been successfully transcribed for other instruments.) Many thanks to Inkinen and Sitkovetsky for bringing this great work to our attention. There are CDs of it available, although not apparently by Sitkovetsky. For an excellent sample of the intensity and brilliance of this score, check out www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj2TaQD_Ij4.

After intermission, an equally brilliant work, Bartók's 'Concerto for Orchestra' (1943) further demonstrated Inkinen's superb sense of orchestral balances and beautiful sonorities. His emphasis seemed to be more on beauty of sound than catching the jazzy moments. Thus, I found this performance gorgeous but a little tame. His was certainly a valid way of treating the piece; I'd just like it to have a little more kick. It is a work that of course gives the individual sections of the orchestra each its moments to shine, and the Seattle Symphony was more than up to the task. The players seemed to like playing for Inkinen, and I for one would love to see him back in future seasons.

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

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