Dmitry Sinkovsky, a musical phenomenon who plays virtuoso violin, sings as a countertenor and conducts, visits the Seattle Symphony throughout this season for a collaborative project anchored around the music of Antonio Vivaldi.
Casting a spell over your audience as a violin virtuoso is remarkable enough. But some musicians are real overachievers.
Take Dmitry Sinkovsky, who guests with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra (SSO) this month to launch the “Vivaldi Project.” This series of concerts singles out highlights from the Italian composer’s prolific oeuvre (with programs continuing in February and May).
An internationally praised violin soloist, Sinkovsky will play that instrument in “The Four Seasons,” the year-round Vivaldi favorite. But he’ll simultaneously conduct an ensemble of SSO musicians. And for one of Vivaldi’s exquisite vocal works, Sinkovsky will again take the spotlight, this time as a nimble, bright-toned countertenor.
Seattle Symphony: “Vivaldi Four Seasons” featuring Dmitry Sinkovsky
Along with “The Four Seasons” and “Cessate, omai cessate,” Sinkovsky and the symphony will perform the Concerto Grosso No. 3 (“after Scarlatti”) by Charles Avison. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 20 and 21, and 12 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at Benaroya Hall; tickets $22-$122. 206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org.
The role changeovers are no circus stunt. They’re a way of experiencing and performing the music from the 17th and 18th centuries to which the Russian artist has dedicated his career — music that places a high value on spontaneity and flexibility.
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“This isn’t meant to show off what I can do. I’m a musician first and foremost,” Sinkovsky said in a phone interview from his native Moscow. Trained in Baroque violin, he has been adding countertenor parts to his repertoire over the past decade.
But Sinkovsky thinks it’s misguided to emphasize the mere fact of such multitasking. “In Baroque times, they were so educated that they could write music and also play their instruments so incredibly well. Vivaldi himself was also a virtuoso violinist. Nowadays, we are just performing the music.”
With La Voce Strumentale, the period-instrument group he founded in 2011, Sinkovsky tours and records programs that couple both talents with his work as a conductor. Their latest project has just been released: “Bach in Black,” a gathering of minor-key concertos and Passion excerpts. The critic Robert Levine, in a review of their debut recording, praised their unique interpretation of “The Four Seasons,” calling the music-making “wild fun.”
In fact, no matter how many times he comes back to play Vivaldi’s concerto cycle, Sinkovsky remarks that he never grows tired of “The Four Seasons.” “It’s an absolutely unparalleled piece, even among Vivaldi’s other works.” That’s because each of the concertos is accompanied by a sonnet evoking the particular season (possibly written by the composer). So, along with the written notes, “we have these beautiful images to bring out in the music — like the shivering, the hurry across the ice before it breaks in ‘Winter.’ ”
“The Four Seasons” is a remarkable instance of the unpredictability of musical tastes. For two centuries after his death, Vivaldi was just an obscure footnote, until a chance rediscovery of long-forgotten scores in the 1920s paved the way for a dramatic renaissance of interest in his music.
One goal of the “Vivaldi Project” is to bridge the gap between fans of instrumental and vocal music. While his concertos were admired by and influenced J.S. Bach, Vivaldi was a leading composer of operas and sacred music as well. “Cessate, omai cessate,” the vocal cantata in which Sinkovsky will sing as the countertenor soloist, presents another depiction of nature.
“Singing is a direct expression of your thought,” Sinkovsky says. “Your own body is the instrument. The violin is, on the other hand, a tiny machine, a very technical instrument. You have to learn how to deal with it to make it sound natural.”
These experiences also relate to how the body is used. When you attend a performance by Sinkovsky, you immediately become aware of how crucial movement and physical gestures are to his process.
As for conducting, Sinkovsky is drawn to its collaborative focus: “It’s more metaphysical, because you have to transform your energy and direct it to the orchestra.”
Sinkovsky’s first engagement with SSO musicians was an all-Baroque program in May 2016. For his upcoming dates here, Sinkovsky looks forward to the in-the-moment thrill that’s usually associated with chamber music. “With this kind of communication, I’m not just dictating to the players. Somehow we are creating an experience together.”