After Augustin Hadelich’s performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto in Milwaukee last fall, the Shepherd Express conjectured that he “well may be the best violinist in the world. [His] gorgeous sound is ample and rich always. Every detail is played with perfectly clear intent.” It's not the first time that sentiment has been expressed about Hadelich, nor will it be the last.
Sibelius got off to a great start when composing the work, giving the violinist a delicately dissonant entrance which is one of the most beautiful in all of music. He himself referred to this “marvelous opening idea.” Then things took went awry as he drank and misbehaved all during the rest of his time composing the work. His struggles may have been a reflection of his relationship to the violin, which he began to play at fourteen. In his words, “the violin took me by storm, and for the next ten years it was my dearest wish, my overriding ambition, to become a great virtuoso.” After an unsuccessful audition for the Vienna Philharmonic, he went back to his room and wept. The Violin Concerto can be seen as a sort of “requiem for a dream.” It’s filled with both his love for the instrument and the loss of that “dearest wish.”
When Mahler’s First Symphony was premiered in 1889, some listeners thought the 29-year-old composer was crazy. The use of folk melodies, the spooky funeral march with klezmer touches based on “Frere Jacques,” and the elongated, stormy finale, were all unprecedented, and a lot for a Viennese audience used to Beethoven and Brahms to take in. It took 50 years after Mahler’s death for his music to catch on, but his statement “My time will come” did prove prophetic. His First Symphony is one of his most-performed works and a perfect introduction to Mahler. After its premiere in Budapest left people angry or scratching their heads, Mahler revised the symphony and finally published it four years later. The opening movement is a celebration of nature, with depictions of shimmering sunshine and even the sound of a cuckoo. The mood is one of cheery optimism. In the second movement, the cellos and basses seem to warn of something ominous, but the positive mood returns in the thrilling climax. The third movement funeral march was inspired by a painting of forest animals escorting a hunter to his grave, and is full of irony and ghostly effects. The loud brass at beginning of the fourth movement may startle you; Mahler called it “the cry of the wounded heart.” This gives way to a lush theme and eventually a glorious, soul-stirring finale in which all darkness is banished.
One superb soloist and two of the most stunning works in the entire repertoire—you won’t want to miss this electrifying concert.