Sunday at the George Mason University Center for the Arts saw talent from across the Atlantic in the form of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra led by guest conductor and violinist Pinchas Zukerman. With a varied program of Bach, Schoenberg, and Brahms, the afternoon concert was an absolute classical delight as audience were treated to a collaboration between the Royal Philharmonic, violin virtuoso Mr. Zukerman, and famed cellist Amanda Forsyth.
The Royal Philharmonic, known as Britain’s national orchestra and based in London, was formed in 1946 by Sir Thomas Beecham and has been lead by some of the world’s most talented conductors. Currently, the ensemble is headed by principal conductor Charles Dutoit, but in this performance is led by principal guest conductor Mr. Zukerman. Zukerman has been the principal guest conductor of the Royal Philharmonic for the past five years, and has taken the orchestra on numerous international tours. The Israeli-born Zukerman, a graduate from the Juilliard School, is an acclaimed violin celebrity for many decades and remains today one of the top masters of the instrument. The professional violinist, violist, conductor, and pedagogue gave a rare performance as both conductor and solo violinist in this performance.
The evening began with the Baroque work: J.S. Bach’s Concerto in A minor for Violin and Orchestra BWV 1041. A traditional three-movement concerto with a fast-slow-fast movement tempo organization, the work was composed at the prime of Bach’s career and embodies prominent motif phrasing and interweaving of the solo violin part. The performance was, in all manner of speaking, perfectly exquisite. Mr. Zukerman’s reputation as a one of the world’s leading violin virtuosos is undoubtedly without question. The balance and connection between himself and the orchestra reveals the synchronization and familiarity between the two, but more importantly, the orchestra’s quality of talent in being able to perform faultlessly without a conductor’s direct and focused instruction is beyond impressive.
The evening continued with a strings-only performance of Verklarte Nacht, Op. 4, by Arnold Schoenberg. A German composer, Schoenberg was influenced directly for this piece by compatriot artists composer Richard Wagner and poet Richard Dehmel. The piece, translating to “Transfigured Night” in English, is a programmatic piece imbued with romanticism and melodic idioms meant to be a musical interpretation of Dehmel’s poem Weib und die Welt (Woman and the World). The Royal Symphony Orchestra shined in this performance. Zukerman, in only the role of conductor for this piece, led the ensemble into a stylistically and emotionally moving performance that conveyed perfectly the musical imagery inherent in the work. Verklarte Nacht filled the hall with both enormous sound and power, often with an almost back-and-forth rocking pace as the piece went through its different lyrical scenes.
Finally, the evening concluded with cellist Amanda Forsyth joining Mr. Zukerman, her husband, and the Royal Philharmonic on stage for the final piece, Johannes Brahms’s Concerto in A minor for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra, Op. 102. Ms. Forsyth, a Canadian child prodigy who began studying cello at the age of three, is an acclaimed solo performer and the principal cellist of the National Arts Center Orchestra as well as the chamber group the Zukerman Chamber Players. The Double Concerto featuring Ms. Forsyth and Mr. Zukerman in the parts of solo cello and violin, respectively, was described by Brahms as “a strange flight of fancy”. After an orchestral opening leading into the cello entry, the first movement features a friendly rapport between the cello and violin parts; one would present a theme or a variation on a theme, and the other would repeat, as if in a musical dialogue. Indeed, this trend plays a prominent role in the second, slower movement, before the two soloists take on different themes in the final third Vivace movement.
It was rare treat and a pleasure to be able to experience such a talented and lauded international orchestra, featuring the solo performances of some of the world’s most renowned instrumental stars. This concert brought to the DMV area by the GMU Center of the Arts is by far and away one of the most special, and most appreciated, classical performances of this season.
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra feat. Pinchas Zukerman and Amanda Forsyth was performed for one-night-only on January 12, 2014 at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts – Braddock Road and Route 123 in Fairfax, Virginia. For upcoming events, and to purchase tickets, check their calendar.