Utah Arts Review » Blog Archive » Brazilian Gem and Swedish Phenomenal Strike Sparks with Fischer, Utah Symphony
Utah Symphony music director Thierry Fischer is on a roll. Perhaps the five months he was away from the symphony in the first half of this season gave both parties a chance to grow and appreciate each other more. Or maybe it’s just programming. Whatever the reason, Fischer’s three gigs since his return have been among the best in his 12 years in office.
The first half of Friday’s concert at Abravanel Hall featured two highlights of the orchestra’s season to date: the US premiere of Brazilian composer Paulo Costa Lima’s original Ojí — Chegança e Ímpeto and the triumphant Utah Symphony debut of rising star violinist Daniel Lozakovich playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. With excerpts from Prokofiev’s ballet Cinderella, the second half of the concert showcased the rich, full sound that Fischer cultivated in the orchestra.
Ojí — Chegança e Ímpeto, (“Arrival and Impulse”) brutally juxtaposes European art music, Afro-Brazilian rhythms and pastoral sounds to take the listener on a post-modern, post-colonial journey intended to depict what Lima called “the metaphor crossing the Atlantic”. Born in 1954 in Bahia, a Brazilian state where African, European and indigenous cultures juxtapose, Lima belongs to an alliance of Bahian composers with an inclusive aesthetic and a Dadaist manifesto: “In principle, we are against any asserted principle. “Regardless of his group’s brazen belief, Oji demonstrated Costa Lima’s mastery of harmony, counterpoint and orchestration to create a unique musical language.
The piece, just 8 minutes long, includes open consonant chords in brass and strings reminiscent of Aaron Copland’s soft ballets, moments of atonal chaos reminiscent of Pierre Boulez, and sections that sound like a line of samba drum in a parade during carnival. Oji keeps six percussionists busy playing a total of 12 instruments including marimba, vibraphone, xylophone and glockenspiel as well as timpani, tam-tam, whip and rattle. The heavy percussion also gives way to moments of startling intimacy, including a serious and nostalgic oboe passage towards the end.
Fischer, who is music director of the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra in addition to his post in Utah, conducted the piece’s world premiere in Sao Paulo in 2020, and his performance on Friday underscored its many styles and contrasts. He was at his best in moments when percussive chaos instantly gives way to warm, reassuring chords, and he showed a sense of phrasing and piece architecture.
As unique as the Lima is, it was 20-year-old Lozakovich’s brilliant rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto that had the audience talking during intermission and after the concert. The piece is designed to showcase a soloist’s musicality and technical skill in equal measure, and many of the world’s great violinists have put their personal stamp on it. What sets the young Swede’s performance apart is his natural connection to music – and his ability to get out of his way.
His first entry was tender and soft, rather than imposing, and he played with a light touch that tilted the listener. Its variations in tone and articulation accentuated the beauty of the melody and favored a strong repartee with the string section, each reacting to the phrases of the other.
The orchestral entries were glorious, with full sound, seductive rhythm and perfect intonation, and they beautifully set up the captivating cadenza of Luzakovich’s first movement. Taking his time and using his full technical toolbox, he explored music as if experiencing it for the first time, with the audience allowed to watch it in a private reflection scene.
Luzakovich approached the second movement calmly and earnestly, his vibrato deepening as the melody shifted from mournful to pleading. Its tone became lighter as the melody resolved into a more hopeful and even lighter major key when the galloping third movement broke out. Here Luzakovich was clearly having fun showing off his dazzling technique and giving the strings a playful strum in the main theme. . Its shimmering vibrato accentuated the emotion in the darker passages of the movement, and it went wild in the last passages of the concerto.
His encore was a superb Sonata No. 5, Rustic Danceby Eugène Ysaye, who gave the piece a mystical and supernatural quality by exploring its varied sonorities.
In his ballet score for Cinderella, Prokofiev said his goal was to make the main character a “real person” and that his music brings out the darker and more ambivalent aspects of the story. The ball is beautiful, but also stressful and the approach of midnight is terrifying.
In the eight selections they played from the score, Fischer and the orchestra captured the shimmering, emotionally charged world of the story with charm and grace. Highlights were the ravishing “Waltz Melody” and the ecstatic “Amoroso” which concluded the piece. These had the feel of a Strauss waltz, but with more interesting harmonies and counterpoint, set off by Fischer’s beautiful phrasing and string swells. Fischer plumbed the emotional depth of the piece without sacrificing elegance or rhythm, and the sound the orchestra achieved was breathtaking.