On with the Show: Perlman and Kissin

The striking musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra settled their contract just in time for last night’s Symphony Center Presents concert featuring the legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman, who shared the stage with piano virtuoso Evgeny Kissin. We’ve had tickets for a long time, but as the strike continued and our ticketed but canceled shows piled up – Anne Sophie Mutter, Midori – I was worried Perlman would be another casualty. Happily, the labor stars aligned. With the help of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel himself driving the bargaining sessions at the end, a new five-year contract was ratified and the Perlman concert reopened Symphony Center after seven weeks of darkness.

The house was full and the program was promising – Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven. The duo started with Mozart’s Violin Sonata in D Major – K 306. One of the Mannheim Sonatas, the piece, and all of the pieces on the program, take full advantage of the keyboard as a partner to the violin versus an accompanist. What a relief, since Kissin is a pianist who can pack concert halls in his own rite. The Mozart is quintessential Mozart, but the 73-year-old Perlman seemed to need the piece as a bit of a warm-up. By the third movement the exhilarating melodies shined through and he was fully on track.

The Brahms sonata, number 2 in A Major, is a masterpiece – the composer, a brilliant pianist, wrote his three violin sonatas for his estranged friend, Joseph Joachim, the pre-eminent violinist of his time. The music is enchanting and beautiful – program notes by Richard Rodda indicate that one of Brahms friends wrote, “The whole sonata is one caress.” I have a wonderful recording of Perlman doing the Brahms sonatas, so it was an unbelievable treat to hear this one in person. Perlman played it perfectly.

During intermission we had a rendezvous with Teacher, who attended the show with a friend of hers. They were on the main floor, and Michael and I were in the upper balcony. We texted to arrange a meeting in the middle, in Symphony Center’s ballroom, and had a nice chat. My somewhat beefy hands are nothing compared to Perlman’s, Teacher noted, so if he can wrangle our instrument there’s hope for me yet.

The final programmed piece was the Kreutzer Sonata – Beethoven’s storied Sonata Number 9 in A Major. It’s one of my very favorites, and I previously had occasion to hear Joshua Bell perform the work on the same stage. Perlman was in top form with this sonata – his subtleties of expression and dialogue with the piano, along with his effortless power made his performance better than Bell’s. There’s a moment in the second movement that, for me, evokes all the wonder of which great music is capable. That moment delivered in buckets last night.

What a treat to see Evgeny Kissin – he’s a somewhat frequent guest of the Symphony, so I hope to see him again soon. His energetic yet tender renderings of these works provided a great introduction for me in seeing him live. I enjoyed his humility and grace on display in his sharing of the stage, too, including his tender assistance in escorting Perlman, who uses a motorized scooter, on and off in between works.

The pair did a couple of encores as well – an aria from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and a violin showpiece I didn’t catch the name of. Perlman, always in for a laugh, threw in some non-sequitur Leopold Auer banter in talking about the pieces. He mentioned that Auer, preeminent violinist and noted Julliard pedagogue (and admirer and confidant of Tchaikovsky), shortened his lessons as he aged. He ended up with the nickname “Half-Auer.”

Thanks for reading.

Ryan

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