Sunday, August 19, 2007

No Sherpas On This Everest

Qing Li (violin) & Hou-Fei Yang (piano) @ An Die Musik, Baltimore, MD - Saturday, August 18, 2007

Performing Ludwig van Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Major op.61

Beethoven's Violin Concerto is a fiendishly virtuosic work - initially deemed "unplayable" in Beethoven's day - and Qing Li seems to be familiar with every facet of this work. With the entire piece memorized she was clearly playing from inside the music as she deftly navigated several tricky passages with an expressive edge that was a pleasure to hear. While Hou-Fei Yang proved to be an able accompanist for this performance, I became increasingly curious about witnessing Qing Li perform this feat with a full orchestra. The second movement was particularly well executed.

The Beethoven signature technique of sequencing a melodic fragment while modulating the harmonic movement underneath it seemed more pronounced than in many of his other works. I don't recall hearing his other pieces use this procedure so frequently as it became an interesting focal point through much of this music.

The marketing of Beethoven's music is an interesting curiosity. This piece was hailed as "the Mount Everest of Violin Concertos." And while An Die Musik was packed to capacity (perhaps this tag line does sell the experience), I have some reservations about this particular pitch. The act of conquering the tallest mountain on Earth isn't as exclusive as it once was as global warming continues to raise the snow line. Anyone who can afford a climbing permit and some Sherpas can make their way to the summit these days. Learning to play this concerto seems much more challenging. And unless a piece of music is by Alan Hovhanas or is otherwise literally about mountains (like Richard Strauss's Eine Alpensinfonie tone poem) there needs to be a moratorium on comparing classical music to mountains. The fact that this is a virtuosic work by the great master performed well is all it takes to get my attention.

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