This week, Dausgaard conducts a Bruch violin concerto, a boisterous Strauss and Nielsen’s kaleidoscopic symphony “The Inextinguishable,” written in the tumult of World War I.
Some of the most delightful concert moments occur in the encores — when spontaneity and surprises overrule the strictures of the printed program.
That was the case on Thursday evening, when the first of two concerts brought the Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud to the Seattle Symphony stage for the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1. With the orchestra’s dynamic principal guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard on the podium, Kraggerud gave a noble and technically assured account of the Bruch, though for this listener his vibrato was sometimes a bit forceful and unvaried.
A multitalented musician, Kraggerud is also a conductor, an artistic administrator (co-director of the highly regarded Risør Festival), a violin professor, a jazz artist and a composer. Thus, it was no surprise to learn that Kraggerud chose one of his own pieces as an encore, following an ovation for his concerto performance. The encore was a sparkling, folk-influenced violin-cello duo called “Variation Suite,” performed with the symphony’s principal cellist, Efe Baltacigil. The two players clicked as if they had been rehearsing together for months, not hours, and were ready to take the duo on the road. Members of the audience roared their approval and headed out for intermission still wearing appreciative smiles.
With Thomas Dausgaard, guest conductor, and Henning Kraggerud, violin soloist; repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 14), Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $21-$121 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).
It’s great to have Dausgaard back in town. Watching him work with the orchestra is a revelation: First of all, he didn’t use a score in either of the orchestra-only works on the program. (Few conductors will eschew a score in a concerto, for safety’s sake, and Dausgaard had the Bruch Concerto on his music stand, though he seldom glanced at it.) The opener, Strauss’ boisterous and complicated “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks,” was a riot of colors and textures, all of them clearly elucidated by the conductor. The musicians don’t have to wonder what Dausgaard wants; he demonstrates every phrase, every direction in the music, with some of the most expressive body language of any conductor working today. The players outdid themselves for him, producing exceptionally fine solo work and taut, energetic ensembles full of spirit and wit.
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Nielsen’s symphony “The Inextinguishable,” a heroic, four-movement work composed during the tumult of World War I, is performed as an uninterrupted whole — a kaleidoscope of musical expression, from foreboding and funereal to pastoral to triumphant. Dausgaard underscored the drama in the mighty outbursts from nearly every section; elegant descending passages in thirds, broad unison statements, mysteriously hushed string passages and a blazing finale. Extra firepower for that finale was provided by a second timpanist, who rose from the audience during the fourth movement and mounted stairs to the stage, where an extra set of kettledrums added to the heavy-artillery ambience of the symphony’s end.
The Nielsen is unabashedly tonal, full of brilliant solo opportunities, and sounds a ringing affirmation of the need for melody and harmony in a world at war. Composed in the two years following the 1913 premiere of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” which sparked riots in the Paris streets and shoved the music world into a brand-new era, “The Inextinguishable” may be a throwback to another age. But, as Dausgaard and the SSO made clear, it’s also a spectacular piece that deserves this affectionate and powerful reconsideration.