Friday, April 27, 2012

Violins of Hope: A welcome guest

Beyond what it had to say about the Holocaust and humanity, the Violins of Hope festival added breadth to Charlotte's music scene. 

Alongside Vivaldi and Beethoven came music of a sort that Charlotte rarely hears. Strictly speaking, it was modern music. But thanks to the context the festival provided, it became  meaningful music. 

Take "Acho't Ketana'a" -- "Little sister" -- by the Israeli composer Betty Olivero, from the festival's closing concert. It combined a soprano singing a Rosh Hashana prayer, three violinists playing fragments of J.S. Bach's Chaconne, and a string orchestra's tense, mostly dissonant background. I don't know if Olivero intended it this way, but to me it came across as a musical picture of the Holocaust's tragic collision of cultures. 

The festival also gave us two works by one of today's most powerful musical figures, Estonia's Arvo Part. Actually, Part's "Spiegel im Speigel", or "Mirror in the Mirror," a soulful piece for violin and piano, had turned up previously in Charlotte -- but through N.C. Dance Theatre, not a musical group. Just as Uri Sands' choreography expanded on the music's elegiac tone, so did the slideshow of concentration-camp photos that accompanied it this time. Part's "Fratres," or "Brothers," was a version of work that had been performed by the Charlotte Symphony -- in 2004. Playing off the title, the festival gave the anxious music  a "Band of Brothers" resonance by showing photos of the Normandy invasion. 

Violins of Hope also brought notable musicians to share the spotlight with the instruments. Unfortunately for me, I missed the return to town of Chad Hoopes, who played the Mendelssohn concert so compellingly last winter with the Charlotte Symphony. But Julia Hwang, a young Korean who studies in England, gave a compelling performance of Part's "Spiegel im Spiegel." 

And Shlomo Mintz, one of the most prominent Israeli violinists of the generation after Itzhak Perlman, took part in a series performances. In recent years, Mintz has been more active in Israel and Europe than in this country, and I hadn't heard him since the 1980s. So I was glad for the concert-hall reunion. He closed the festival by bringing out the grandeur, richness and nobility of Beethoven's Violin Concerto. Christopher Warren-Green and the Charlotte Symphony, meanwhile, added their own shadings: tenderness in the slow movement, jubilation in the finale. Beethoven summed up the hope in the festival's title.