Young violist’s debut sparks Ars Viva’s season finale

Mon May 03, 2010 at 3:24 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Matthew Lipman performed Walton’s Viola Concerto Sunday with Alan Heatherington and the Ars Viva Symphony Orchestra.

Local audiences heard two significant debuts by young string soloists this past week. And, surprisingly, neither were violinists.

One was the Russian cellist Pavel Gomziakov, who made a sensational U.S. debut in Haydn’s C-major concerto last week with Trevor Pinnock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (and can be heard again Tuesday night).

And the other was Matthew Lipman. Just turned 18, the violist is the first winner of the Music Institute of Chicago’s Young Artist Concerto and Aria Competition. The young man turned in his own hugely impressive performance Sunday in Skokie in what was, in essence, his professional debut, with Alan Heatherington and the Ars Viva Symphony Orchestra.

As the loquacious conductor noted Sunday, it’s rare for a violist to best out three violinists and two cellists in a juried competition, but in his terrific account of Walton’s Viola Concerto, the young man from Crete-Monee High School showed he is the real thing.

Displaying the relaxed poise of a seasoned professional, Lipman showed himself fully in synch with the work’s shifting moods, encompassing the searching introspection of the opening Andante and tackling the mercurial middle section with fine clarity and rhythmic precision.

The myriad challenges of the central movement were surmounted with ease and technique to spare, Heatherington and the orchestra providing playing of whirlwind vivacity in support. The reflective nostalgia and edgy restlessness of the closing movement were surely and sensitively etched by Lipman as well.

One might quibble that some of the solo work could have used a bit more bite and intensity, but this was an auspicious debut by a young musician who clearly has the potential for a successful career. Matthew Lipman performed on a remarkable 1700 Gofriller instrument made available by the Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation.

The afternoon began with a stately yet muscular account of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, which managed to be spacious and gleaming while avoiding rhetorical overkill.

Alan Heatherington

Heatherington’s introduction to John Corigliano’s To Music may have been longer than the work itself, yet any attempt to make classical music less forbidding to new and younger audience members should be applauded. Besides it’s hard to fault the conductor’s verbal notes when done with such engaging humor, knowledge, and clear love for the repertoire—including singing, in an admirably even baritone, a stanza of Schubert’s An die Musik (Max Reger arrangement), which Corigliano utilizes in the coda.

The ensuing performance gave this offbeat miniature first-class advocacy, the Ars Viva strings conveying the pensive Barber-like rumination of the opening theme. The antiphonal brass, placed in the balcony of the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, provided the necessary contrast in the more complex and dissonant middle section, before Schubert’s song appears to bestow consoling solace at the coda.

After the interval Heatherington was presented with the Cultural Leadership Award by James Setapen of the Illinois Council of Orchestras, for his work promoting music to young audiences, as well as his longtime professional associations with Ars Viva , the Lake Forest Symphony, and other organizations.

But despite the many words said Sunday, it was the music that spoke most eloquently. Heatherington’s affinity for Brahms is well known and the afternoon closed with an urgent, tautly dramatic account of his Symphony No. 1. Most chamber orchestras sound thin in this repertoire but with its CSO-heavy string section, Heatherington and the Ars Viva members delivered a fiery and propulsive performance, a fine close to the concert and Ars Viva’s season.

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