Tchaik rarity and violin prodigy take Lake Forest Symphony by storm

Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 6:03 pm

By Dennis Polkow

Alan Heatherington led the Lake Forest Symphony Friday night.

This weekend’s Lake Forest Symphony concerts are the penultimate performances that music director Alan Heatherington will conduct in that capacity before stepping down after the 2012-13 season, citing artistic differences with the LFS board.

The program, “Stormy Tchaikovsky,” was vintage Heatherington, combining the familiar with the not-so-familiar, challenging the orchestra and audiences alike.

The unfamiliar work on the program was Tchaikovsky’s tone poem after Shakespeare, The Tempest, Op. 18. Unlike Tchaikovsky’s popular warhorse Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture, The Tempest is not as well known nor performed as often.

That’s a pity for it is a wonderfully evocative piece, full of orchestral color that manages to encapsulate the essence of the Bard’s last play in miniature. Of course, the storm is given a descriptive section complete with wavering strings representing restless waves and the bass drum indicating thunder.

But the real genius of the tone poem is the way Tchaikovsky effectively evokes the various characters in the play, from the wise and magical Prospero via a brass choir, to the enchanted spirit Ariel in the upper winds, to the grotesque protagonist Caliban in the lower strings. Even the love of Miranda and Ferdinand is represented, as is Prospero’s finale forgiveness of those who had stole his Dukedom after banishing and exiling him.

The Lake Forest Symphony played the 25-minute work with considerable attention to nuance and the variety of moods and orchestral colors that the piece calls for and under Heatherington’s direction, became remarkably persuasive storytellers.

Less successful was the orchestra’s attempt at a much broader Tchaikovsky canvas, the Fourth Symphony, which at least in the opening pages seemed beyond the reach and grasp of the players.

The opening movement was ponderous and disorganized and dynamically ambiguous, and the second movement’s poignancy evasively eluded. Many of the work’s concerto-like details proved to be stumbling blocks for some of the players.          

By the third movement, however, which called upon the strings to play pizzicato in a playful fashion and be answered by the winds, the orchestra came to life and, happily, were able to sustain that stretch into the finale, which was rendered with considerable aplomb.

Gallia Kastner

Sandwiched between the Tchaikovsky works was a performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto by 16-year old violinist Gallia Kastner. Her appearance was the result of her winning the 2013 Blount Slawson National Concerto Competition in Montgomery, Alabama.

Wearing a florescent-pink and studded ball gown with a pony tail hair ribbon to match, Kastner made her way to the end of the stage with Heatherington behind her to polite applause.

Her account of the first movement was so beyond expectation that the audience went crazy standing and cheering before she ever had a chance to get to the other two movements. 

Kastner did have some intonation issues, especially with her octaves, but nonetheless was able to get quite an unusually expressive sound for someone so young out of her modern Guarneri copy.

Technically quite impressive, she drew a muscular string tone and uses vibrato sparingly and with good judgment. Her cross bowing is very good her mid-range sound poignant. She plays sweeping lines with great lyricism and confidence and rendered the daring Heifetz cadenza quite capably.      

Kastner’s ability to sustain long notes expressively is still a work in progress but her sense of swagger and playfulness, especially in the third movement, were astonishing given her age.   

The program will be repeated 8 p.m. Saturday at the College of Lake Forest’s Lumber Center for the Performing Arts, 19351 W. Washington St., Grayslake;; (847) 295-2135.

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