The current program, unveiled Thursday evening and repeated twice more, is a serious all-Russian affair that pairs the Violin Concerto No. 4 of Alfred Schnittke with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 (“Leningrad”).
Two twentieth-century symphonic works, and a local soloist: It doesn’t sound like box-office catnip.
But the Seattle Symphony no longer needs a big-name international star or a program of favorite bonbons in order to lure audiences to Benaroya Hall. The current program, unveiled Thursday evening and repeated twice more, is a serious all-Russian affair that pairs the exotic 1984 Violin Concerto No. 4 of Alfred Schnittke with Shostakovich’s ominous but thrilling Symphony No. 7 (“Leningrad”). Both are great, challenging works. Under the baton of guest maestro Andrey Boreyko, the orchestra rose to those substantial challenges, and so did a good-sized audience of rapt, engaged listeners.
For most concertgoers, the Schnittke concerto is like nothing you’ve ever heard before: a wonderful collision of styles and elements and voices in unusual combinations. It’s sometimes serenely tonal, but sometimes decidedly dissonant. Strange and exotic timbres appear side by side: a harpsichord and a saxophone, an eerily effective prepared piano, a wide array of percussion and electronic colors, and stunning brass climaxes.
Seattle Symphony: Shostakovich’s ‘Leningrad’ Symphony
With Andrey Boreyko, guest conductor, and Alexander Velinzon, violin soloist; repeats noon Friday, April 17, and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 18; Benaroya Hall, Seattle; $20-$120 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).
Over all this rose the strong, confident solo line of violinist Alexander Velinzon, the orchestra’s concertmaster, who used a score for this performance but played with an obvious and deep understanding of the music. Both contemplative and assertive, Velinzon demonstrated a secure technique with a fluid bow and clean fingerwork. He had the full support of the orchestra, right down to the secondary solos played by his second-violin section colleague Steve Bryant. (Those solos, according to the score, are specified for the “12th chair 2nd violinist.” Schnittke didn’t leave a lot to chance.)
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Guest conductor Andrey Boreyko was a supportive partner on the podium. For these performances he has divided the first and second violins, who appear on opposite sides of the podium (the preferred seating arrangement of former music director Gerard Schwarz). Boreyko is an attentive, magnetic conductor whose expressive left hand indicates the precise shaping of each phrase, showing the players exactly what he wants. Their responses made it clear that Boreyko is an effective and highly musical communicator.
Boreyko squeezed every ounce of drama from the evocative and often mesmerizing Schnittke concerto, but even more from the dramatic Shostakovich “Leningrad” Symphony. He knows how to bring the orchestra from the delicate menace of far-off military drums to a full-scale cataclysm of war, reenacted at a volume and intensity that pinned listeners right back into their seats. And he had the most supportive help from his players, including some remarkable solo work from the principals.
The ovation that met the final, triumphant passages of the Shostakovich made it clear that the maestro and the music resoundingly connected with the listeners.