Review: ISO's Opening Night Gala

Stellar violinist Hilary Hahn

The Friday festivities preceding and

following the ISO's first concert of 2013-2014 -- all constituting the

orchestra's Opening Night Gala -- exuded a special flair. The large

yellow-and-beige bulbs festooned above the stage and scattered throughout the

lobbies like oversized Christmas ornaments, plus the hall's brand new seats

and carpeting, proclaimed, "We have recovered from last year. We are moving

onward and upward."

Adding to that sense of optimism, Krzysztof Urbański has

extended his contract as music director from four years, beginning in 2011, to

six years, ending in 2017. And to lend a special celebratory

character to this short concert, starting at an unusual 9 p.m., Urbański featured as guest soloist, Hilary Hahn. At 33,

she sits atop the pantheon of stellar violinists having visited Indy's environs

over the last generation.

And once again Hahn, a native of Lexington,

Va. who grew up in Baltimore,

confirmed her exalted stature with Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 46 (1880). A

four-movement work based on Scottish folk songs and cast in a

slow-fast-slow-fast format, the fast movements especially are filled with

Scottish-like rhythms, with the Finale indeed exuding a Scottish "burr." Still,

this was German music, harmonically conservative for its era.

Hahn wove her way throughout the piece with that ease, agility, and tonal perfection she gave us in her three

previous ISO appearances--and in her Palladium recital a year ago. She is one of

the few string players I could savor just hearing her draw her bow across a

string for a perfect vibrato. In the Bruch, however, Hahn varied her vibrato on

occasion to playing nearly "white," which seemed to work well where she

employed it. She did the same for her encore, following a thundering, standing

ovation: Bach's "Sarabande" from his D Minor Partita for solo violin. (She

announced it as "from Bruch to Bach.")

Urbański concluded with a concert favorite of

most everybody's, Brahms' Symphony No. 2

in D, Op. 73. The most genial and pastoral of Brahms'

"famous four," it is certainly equal in musical depth to his other three.

Indeed, of all composers who adorn the standard repertoire, Brahms is the most

consistently masterful in all his Classical forms: symphonies, concertos,

chamber music, etc.--while casting them in a Romantic idiom. Others who wrote

greater music also wrote much more lesser music (Bach

being excepted, of course).

Urbański's nuances in each of the four movements were

chiefly dynamic; he kept a steady tempo, with the Allegretto grazioso-marked

third movement on the fast side. But he had his players in lock step from start

to finish, with well nigh perfect balances and precise playing. Robert

Danforth's solo horn work deserves special mention. This excellence in

conducting and playing of a concert warhorse marks a good beginning for the

ISO's upcoming season. Sept. 20; Hilbert

Circle Theatre