Violinist Hagen lights up Illinois Philharmonic’s Tchaikovsky night

Sun Feb 09, 2020 at 9:51 am

By Tim Sawyier

William Hagen performed Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra Saturday night in Palos Heights. Photo: Matt Clayton

On Saturday night the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra offered an all-Tchaikovsky program at Trinity Christian College’s Ozinga Chapel, the orchestra’s southwest suburban home base in Palos Heights. The playing under music director Stilian Kirov was capable and committed, as one has come to expect from the ensemble, but soloist William Hagen stole the show with his dynamic reading of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

Hagen is the real thing. He elicits a glowing tone from his 1732 “Arkwright Lady Rebecca Sylvan” Stradivarius, and plays with a poise and maturity beyond his 27 years. He and Kirov took a particularly expansive approach to the opening Allegro moderato, with Hagen incisive and articulate in the movement’s abundant runs. His virtuosic pyrotechnics always had direction and shape, never lapsing into mere showmanship, and his sound consistently projected without ever sounding forced.

Tchaikovsky’s written cadenza sounded aptly improvisatory, and Hagen dispatched its perilous harmonics with ease. The first movement was so impressive it received an extended standing ovation after the rousing coda, leading Kirov to announce from the stage, “As an encore, we will perform the second and third movements,” garnering laughs.

The Canzonetta had a gently mournful quality and Hagen’s tone did not suffer from being muted as he sung the movement’s wistful melody. The closing Allegro vivacissimo was thrilling from top to bottom, Hagen taking the composer’s tempo indication seriously and barreling through the movement’s demands with aplomb. Here as throughout Kirov kept the orchestral accompaniment supportively in sync with his stellar soloist, bringing out details in Tchaikovsky’s familiar score but never in such a way as to distract from Hagen.

The second half was devoted to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, “Little Russian,” Op. 17. In the 19th century Russians often referred to Ukraine as “Little Russia,” and the work received its moniker because of the prominent Ukrainian folk songs in its melodic material.

The work opened beautifully with principal horn Lee Shirer’s bardic solo launching the introductory Andante sostenuto. Kirov drew ample fire in the Allegro vivo, but often here the approach felt generalized, with fortes sounding loud rather than robust, and a few missed opportunities to ease up on the gas.

The Andantino marziale was more artfully handled, its coy beginning contrasting nicely with the stormier landscapes that follow, and the evaporative ending particularly well negotiated. The bounding Scherzo went with abundant energy, but again an inability to plumb softer dynamics to provide contrast created a hectoring feel at times.

This approach was marginally more effective in the boisterous finale. Kirov coaxed his players to hold back more consistently and the gracious second theme was light on its feet. While a want of nuance fitfully compromised the performance, the direct exhilaration of this movement came off best and was enthusiastically received by the IPO’s loyal audience.

The concert opened with “Dance of the Tumblers” from The Snow Maiden. Here as in the symphony there was ample bombast, but the performance would have benefited from more attention to detail and emphasis on softer dynamics. Tchaikovsky’s favorite composer was Mozart, and the most effective readings of his work are able to mine some of that 18th-century transparency.

After intermission IPO treasurer Barbara Sturges presented the Leo Michuda IPO Award for Lifetime Service to Dory Machtinger, a friend and periodic board member of the IPO for almost 40 years. Machtinger told an endearing story about getting two single friends together on the pretext of talking about some organizational initiative, resulting in the pair marrying soon thereafter. Both Machtinger and her story—about the large and small scopes of being involved in a nonprofit arts organization like the IPO —were appreciatively recognized.

The IPO’s next performance takes place 7:30 p.m. March 14 at Ozinga Chapel. They will perform Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, and the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with Boris Allakhverdyan.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Violinist Hagen lights up Illinois Philharmonic’s Tchaikovsky night”

  1. Posted Feb 16, 2020 at 4:14 pm by Frank Corral

    The concert was outstanding. Thank you.

  2. Posted Feb 27, 2020 at 5:32 pm by Joanna S.

    This was the very first concert that I attended and it was fantastic. I enjoyed it very much–well done!

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