Friday, April 13, 2012

Violins of Hope spotlights violinists, too

While Holocaust-era musical instruments are the heart of Violins of Hope, don't forget that the festival is bringing a string of violinists to Charlotte, too.

The opening concert introduced the first of the guests: Julia Hwang, an on-the-rise 16-year-old who will return to the stage Sunday night. Some precocious young musicians may like to show off with fireworks, but Hwang -- a native of South Korea who studies in England -- on Thursday faced a more rigorous test: The simple but soulful lyricism of Arvo Part's "Spiegel im Spiegel."

It's the kind of music that may sound easy, but mercilessly exposes any glitch or unsteadiness. Hwang didn't let anything like that get in the way. She spun out Part's melody in eloquent, smoothly turned lines. The otherworldly aura was enhanced by the gentle sonorities that Dmitri Shteinberg drew from the piano. Hwang also joined UNC Charlotte violin professor David Russell -- a onetime teacher of hers -- in a melodious duet by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Hwang goes back to work Sunday, April 15, as one of the soloists in Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto for Four Violins. That night will bring back another teenager with a burgeoning career: Chad Hoopes, who played Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with the Charlotte Symphony in February. The nimbleness and finesse that helped make his Mendelssohn so telling should pay off in Vivaldi, too. Hoopes is another onetime student of Russell's, as is the third Vivaldi soloist, the young Spaniard Paco Montalvo.

The fourth: Shlomo Mintz, the most prominent among the festival's violinists. Mintz, one of the leaders among a crop of violinists that emerged from Israel in the 1970s and '80s, has played in some of the previous incarnations of Violins of Hope overseas. He'll return throughout the festival, and he'll close it April 21 when he plays Beethoven's Violin Concerto with the Charlotte Symphony.

The young Mintz's poise and richness impressed me in the 1980s, when I last heard him in person. I'm looking forward to discovering what he has to say nowadays.