Violinist James Ehnes Prepares to Play a “Turkish” Treat with the MET Orchestra at Carnegie
By Brian Taylor, Contributing Writer, May 25, 2018
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra continues their series of appearances at Carnegie Hall in a exciting upcoming concert on Wednesday, May 30 at 8:00 p.m featuring Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, the “Turkish,” with soloist James Ehnes, as a prelude to Mahler’s dramatic Symphony No. 5, under the baton of Gianandrea Noseda.
Noseda has had a long relationship with the MET as conductor, fondly remembered by audiences for leading the new production of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette in 2016, as well as the popular production of Les pêcheurs de perles in 2015. Highly in demand around the world, the Italian maestro holds posts with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Teatro Regio Torino. With the latter group, he has recorded Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 on Fone Records, hence, he has some experience leading operatic forces into the work of this great symphonist.
Grammy-winning Canadian virtuoso James Ehnes is one of today’s most versatile and sought after violinists. He joins the MET Orchestra in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219. It’s nicknamed the “Turkish,” referring to the finale’s brief detour into a minor-keyed bit of indelible exoticism that was novel in Mozart’s time. Listeners will know a more famous example, the finale of the Piano Sonata No. 11, K. 331, referred to as the “Turkish” Rondo.
Key to any performance of a concerto is the collaboration between soloist and conductor, and James Ehnes sounds excited for this partnership, describing Gianandrea Noseda as “a very dear friend, someone I’ve known for about 15 years now, and one of the conductors I’ve worked with the most. So it’s a very special thing…”
Ehnes also looks forward to playing with the MET Orchestra, which he hails as not only “one of the great opera orchestras, of course, but they are also one of the great symphonic orchestras. Their experience with opera makes them extremely flexible and responsive, which is really a very special quality to have.”
In Mozart’s spacious, eloquent A Major Concerto, which he composed in 1775 at the astonishing age of 19, the violin enters, following the typical orchestral introduction, with an ethereal adagio passage. “Even though it’s an early work, with the fifth concerto, in a way, it was as if he finished off what he had to say with the genre. It’s a piece that’s remarkable in so many ways. It’s remarkable for it’s unexpected twists and turns, it’s remarkable for its form, for its textures, for its fun, unexpected Turkish-style episode in the last movement.”
Ehnes frequently plays the concerto without conductor, but relishes the “really fun conversation” that it is to play Mozart with his friend Noseda. “This is an orchestra that’s so wonderfully flexible, I think it’s going to be like a really fun chamber music performance with my friends!”
Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor from 1904 is considered a break-through work in his output, as he strived to untether his creations from nonmusical subject matter and compose a work of pure instrumental expression. The Fifth, one of his showiest for the orchestra, is a great introduction to Mahler for audiences who might be new to his symphonies, and a great piece for the exceptional MET orchestra to sink their teeth into.
Typically lasting over an hour, in three large parts, and five movements, Mahler was painting on a huge canvas, and the emotional range in this piece is formidable. The famous conductor Herbert von Karajan is credited with saying of the symphony, “you forget that time has passed” and that it should be “a transforming experience.”
The dark, dramatic first part begins ominously with a funeral march, the spirit of Beethoven always hovering above, and brims with Mahler’s signature brand of extreme contrast, adventurously developing a plethora of themes. The second part is a substantial scherzo opening with a thrilling horn solo, and marvelous interplay between the various sections of the orchestra. The MET orchestra is sure to glow brightly in this music full of dynamic surprises. Mahler said of this movement “There is nothing romantic or mystical about it; it is simply the expression of incredible energy. It is a human being in the full light of day, in the prime of his life.”
The fourth movement, the Adagietto, might be one of Mahler’s most familiar pieces of music. Thought of as a love letter to his wife Alma, it has taken on an air of reverence in interpretations such as Leonard Bernstein’s wrenching account of it, for example, at Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1968. Over the years, it has been performed in a wide variety of tempos, but it never fails to move the audience emotionally. It will be interesting to see what Noseda and the MET Orchestra do with this touchstone movement, but the finale is one of Mahler’s most climactic creations, and no orchestra is better equipped to bring it off as the great MET Orchestra. This concert promises to be a rewarding journey.
Cover: James Ehnes; photo: Benjamin Ealovega.