with videos: Preview: Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra opens season with Beethoven Festival
Hear Ilya Kaler play the devilishly difficult Paganini Caprice No. 1:
Though there’s no arguing that the works make for a festive start, the 'Festival' title, Lipsky said in a recent phone call, comes from the orchestra’s plan to devote at least one concert per season, over the next two years, to an all-Beethoven program.
And why not? After all, as Lipsky notes, “Beethoven was the man who continued in the path of Bach and Haydn and Mozart and then took musical expression to new heights. In doing so set the standard for every composer who followed him. We’ve looked to him for good music ever since. And it’s amazing how many composers after Beethoven looked back and felt him just behind them. He’s this giant who we can compare to the Shakespeare of music. He’s the prophet who realized the past and found the path to the future.”
For Lipksy, the works on the program are part of his own path to the future. “I’ve never conducted any of them,” he said, adding that the Fourth Symphony is the only one of the Beethoven symphonies he hasn’t yet led.
Of course, Lipsky has played the works before as a cellist; and you can bet on the guest soloist’s familiarity with the Beethoven Violin Concerto.
“I started to play the Beethoven concerto early in my career, around 1980, in Russia,” said Kaler by phone from Chicago, just before setting off for a European tour last week. “In my culture, it’s a sacred piece.
“People say it’s impossible to play it well when you are young, and there’s a grain of truth in that. But if you don’t play it early, it’s hard to play. You develop more insecurity in music as you grow older, so even though it’s not as perfect as it will be in 10 or 15 years, you have to live with it to make it grow.”
Kaler, who enjoys an international career as well as a teaching career at Chicago’s DePaul University, says the Beethoven, often considered the king of the violin concertos, is one of the works that he feels close to. “I prefer to play pieces I really identify myself with, as opposed to what I have to play,” he said. Still, asked if it is his favorite, he responds like most musicians.
“I could easily say yes, but then there’s the Brahms, the Sibelius, the Mendelssohn and so forth. My usual answer is that my favorite concerto is the one that I play presently. It has to be. I have to live with it, give all of myself to it, and then I have to go on to other repertoire. But I am glad to be doing the Beethoven again.” University of Michigan musicologist Steven Whiting talks about Beethoven:
Saturday’s concert marks Kaler’s second Ann Arbor Symphony appearance (He played the Bernstein “Serenade” here a few years back). He’s back because he enjoyed playing with the orchestra and because of a long and fruitful musical acquaintance with music director Lipsky — “it’s another wonderful excuse to see him again,” Kaler says. But the Ann Arbor links don’t stop there. Kaler and his violinist wife are longtime clients of Ann Arbor master luthier Joseph Curtin. And it’s entirely possible that the violin he’ll play on Saturday will be the new Curtin violin he just acquired. He’ll bring the Curtin violin along as well as another new instrument: a 1735 Guarneri del Gesu violin the Stradivarius Society of Chicago just loaned him.
The Curtin violin is in its infancy. “It’s just opening up,” he said. The Guarneri, of course, has lots of age on it. “It will be fascinating to play on Joe’s instrument and this Guarneri del Gesu,” Kaler said. “You put them back to back, and its not bad or good, but just so different. Like a very young and delicious table wine and an older vintage wine.”
We’ll find out what he’s drinking on Saturday.
Who: The Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra with Ilya Kaler, violin. What: “Beethoven Festival” When: Saturday, 8 p.m. Where: The Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St. How much: $6-$49, online at Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra web site and by phone at 734-994-4801.