A roaring crowd rewarded violinist Pekka Kuusisto, the orchestra and conductor Thomas Dausgaard on Thursday night. The SSO is now in the second week of the symphony’s salute to the Finnish composer.
The Seattle Symphony has gone from triumph to triumph in the first two installments of its current Sibelius festival, as audiences rock Benaroya Hall with sustained cheering.
The second of the three all-Sibelius programs got its first airing on Thursday evening, when principal guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard returned to the podium to lead Sibelius’ Third and Fourth Symphonies and the popular Violin Concerto. That concerto is often played – but never quite like this, and the performance by violinist Pekka Kuusisto was the evening’s great surprise.
Looking as if he had strolled in off the street, the casually attired soloist launched into the music with a straightforward intensity that had the listeners leaning forward in their seats. There were no showy virtuoso flourishes and no grand gestures; instead, Kuusisto wielded an awe-inspiring technique and displayed a brilliantly thorough command of this challenging score.
Seattle Symphony: ‘Luminous Landscapes: The Sibelius Symphonies’
Repeats 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday (March 21-22). Concerts featuring the remaining three symphonies continue through March 28; Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; tickets start at $17 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).
Dausgaard was his ideal partner, so closely attuned to the soloist that it seemed as if they were playing duets. The conductor gave every phrase plenty of room to breathe; nothing was hurried, and the music unfolded so naturally that it was easy to forget how hard this concerto is.
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After the final bravura notes, the audience just exploded, into an ovation that sounded less like sedate symphony-goers and more like the 12th Man. Kuusisto was called again and again to the stage, until he provided a wonderfully Finnish encore by the 19th-century folk musician Samuel Rinda-Nickola, complete with foot-stomping emphasis.
Throughout the evening, Dausgaard’s expressive rapport with the musicians reaped exciting rewards. His gestures are so clear that the players know exactly what Dausgaard wants, and he inspires them to surpass themselves. He’s not afraid to use long pauses to set the atmosphere for a contemplative movement, then later leaping and cajoling and demanding the orchestra to provide the effects he wants. The musicians not only sound different, they look different: they are fully engaged and involved, qualities reflected in the excitement of the music.
No wonder Benaroya Hall has been such a lively and rewarding place in the past week. Don’t miss the opportunity to hear this program and the next one, too, when Dausgaard and the orchestra finish up with Sibelius’ final three symphonies (on March 26 and 28). They just might be saving the best for last.