Review of Seattle Symphony’s Thursday night concert, which featured hometown talent Simone Porter’s skillful playing of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 and Mikhail Agrest’s passionate conducting.
There is a special pleasure in hearing hometown talent on the rise to stardom. That pleasure is in store for Seattle Symphony audiences this weekend, when the 18-year-old violinist Simone Porter repeats Thursday’s knockout performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5. She made her professional debut with this orchestra at the age of 10, when it was already apparent that Porter had phenomenal promise; now that early promise has been realized.
With the close and attentive partnership of conductor Mikhail Agrest, Porter displayed a smooth, well-focused and unforced tone of considerable sweetness and warmth in Thursday’s concert, the first of three. Her phrasing is clear and beautifully finished; the intonation is reliable with only a few minor lapses, and her interpretation is mature and confident. Clearly this is an artist ready for the big leagues, and the Benaroya Hall crowd gave her a correspondingly enthusiastic ovation.
Porter’s success was no surprise, with recent credits like her Avery Fisher Career Grant and her signing with the prestigious Opus 3 Artists management group. This program’s real surprise, however, was Agrest’s conducting – a performance of such inspired passion that the Symphony players were practically jolted out of their chairs. He conducted like a man possessed, as if lives depended on the outcome, and the energy and commitment of his music-making were positively operatic. (No wonder: this Russian-American maestro has conducted a lot of opera, and was a protégé of Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky Theatre.)
With Mikhail Agrest, guest conductor, and Simone Porter, violin soloist; repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (May 30-31), Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; tickets from $20 (206-415-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).
Every phrase of the music was sharply delineated from the podium, as Agrest crouched and leaped and cued. His expressive gestures left no doubt about what he wanted: a tenderly shaped phrase here, a furious stab there, a sense of serenity, or an all-out riot.
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The attractive program gave Agrest and the orchestra plenty of scope: first, Tchaikovsky’s take on Mozart, then “real” Mozart, and finally Prokofiev’s take on Tchaikovsky. The opener, Tchaikovsky’s charming “Mozartiana” Suite, was both lyrical and energetic. The conclusion, excerpts from Prokofiev’s glittering “Cinderella,” was so vividly rendered that the final raucous “Midnight” movement was genuinely terrifying. Superb solo work from the orchestra’s principals contributed to a memorable evening.