Bedecked in tails and a scarlet vest for the Oregon Symphony’s final show of the season, Maestro Carlos bounded out of stage right last night and picked up a mic to welcome the crowd and give props to Steve Price (a 41-year veteran of the viola section!) who was only a couple hours away from his retirement. The crowd cheered in appreciative admiration for this amazing musician, and the raucous applause segue-wayed perfectly into a rousing overture composed by Franz von Suppé. My apologies in advance for dropping an F-bomb so soon in this review, but there’s just one word, and one word only, that can adequately describe this opening number… a word that more conservative and learned reviewers usually avoid: FUN!
The joyous sounds of Suppé subsided and the stage was set for an utterly different kind of musical experience featuring 2012/13’s last guest soloist. Jennifer Koh’s elegant, strapless, floorlength gown of billowing indigo belied what was about to go down: Béla Bartók’s utterly primal Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra. The plucked harp strings that open this composition apparently conjure up some ancient gypsy curse, because without warning Ms. Koh was instantly possessed for the next 36 minutes by an untamed frenetic spirit. Her black bob cut bounced wildly atop her convulsive head as her fingers and her hands and her arms danced with supernatural speed and unearthly technique. Her fiddle shrieked and wailed as she shredded it with a bow that somehow did not break under the pressure of such vicious virtuosity. The mutual gratitude between Koh and the band was almost palpable following the concerto’s conclusion, as though everyone was relieved to have survived, unscathed by the brutal spell of Bartók. WOW!