Strung Out

This week I saw a particularly incredible performance of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto and the only way to describe it is in sports terms.  (Fitting, I think, since at least one critic has described the piece as “athletic.”)  Anywho, when I was younger I was a real Olympics junkie.  It didn’t matter what event was on.  If I could find a way to be home, then I was glued to the tube.  I particularly liked the ‘pretty’ sports – figure skating, gymnastics, diving, etc.  And more than the sports, I liked the human interest profiles of the athletes – especially if they were orphans from the Soviet bloc.  But my biggest thrills came from those rare athletes who sacrificed victory to push their bodies and their particular sports to the very limit.  I think of those figure skaters who suffered through disastrous rehearsals in the days before their competitions.  Any one of them stood a chance to win if she just avoided tricky combinations and performed cleanly on safe, boring, judge-pleasing routines.  Instead, she bucked safety and went right for those ill-advised triple lutzes – often late in her program after she’d already fallen.  The medal was gone, but glory was hers.

This is the only comparison that seems worthy of the moxie on display by 21-year-old violinist Nadir Khashimov on Wednesday night.  The Curtis student strutted a musicality that was just unimaginable – especially in someone so young.  I’ve been consumed by this piece for the past several months, spending too much time searching for recordings of different soloists and repeatedly listening to those that I prefer.  What I’ve learned is that this is a piece in motion.  It is utterly ruined by a purely technical interpretation; it is propelled by passion.  None of its ideas or emotions are communicated when it is played politely and the notes are merely hit.  Khashimov’s interpretation was a curious mix of skills and thrills.  I was expecting something polished, yet a little too safe.  What else could be expected from an eager student making his debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra?  Instead, I was led to new revelations about the familiar piece; I profited from the discoveries of a true and intrepid musician.

For string players, it was a gratifying listen in just about every way. He danced through his double stops and made his harmonics sing.  And when he jumped down to his lowest notes, he landed on the velvet tones of a well-built cello.  My ears couldn’t quite keep up with the piece; they wanted to catch and savor every last particle of sound, but they kept falling just a few beats behind.  I was constantly reminded of that serious question from THE SOUND OF MUSIC: “How do you pin a wave upon the sand?”  How, indeed!  How do you truly enjoy any time-bound experience?

This was not a flawless performance, but a performance that was better for its flaws (and not in spite of them).  I greatly admired Khashimov’s willingness to take chances and to let a few details sour so that the major part of his performance could soar.  Hats off, sir!

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