Principal guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard conducted a program that included Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with soloist Pekka Kuusisto, as well as new work by Helen Grime and Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 3.
Chances are pretty good that you’ve never heard an encore quite like this one.
After bewitching the Seattle Symphony audience with the subtlest and most lyrical Mendelssohn Violin Concerto this listener has ever heard, soloist Pekka Kuusisto returned to the stage several times for curtain calls with conductor Thomas Dausgaard — finally returning alone, for an encore. The Finnish-born Kuusisto announced that he would perform “a traditional song from back home,” and proceeded to sing a catchy tune while playing arpeggiated passages on his violin. After several verses, he began strumming the violin as if it were a ukulele, explaining the humorous Finnish lyrics (about an absent shoemaker), and joking about the length of “this gripping tale.”
Well, you had to be there, but it’s hard to imagine a more charmingly unorthodox conclusion to the Mendelssohn concerto (or a more elegantly dulcet account of the concerto, for that matter). Dausgaard, the orchestra’s principal guest conductor, brought Kuusisto here two years ago for the memorable Sibelius Festival, and their rapport was evident again Thursday evening in a performance that was fleet and full of nuances.
Program repeats 8 p.m. Saturday (June 9-10), with Thomas Dausgaard, conducting, and violinist Pekka Kuusisto, Benaroya Hall, Seattle; tickets from $22 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).
The program’s opener was an atmospheric new work by Scottish composer Helen Grime (“Snow,” from “Two Eardley Pictures”); in Dausgaard’s brief spoken remarks, he noted that “the ink is hardly dry on the page.” This “Snow,” heard here in its American premiere, presents broad, expansive lines for the bass instruments, with sudden upward “snow flurries” of arpeggios for more treble instruments. There is little of the painting’s stillness in the busy, well-crafted score, which sounds both mysterious and ominous.
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The centerpiece of the program was Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 3, which Dausgaard conducted without a score. This colorful work is a study in contrasts. From the opening series of musical thunderbolts, the first movement was a wild ride, full of furious energy. The serene second movement has an unusual feature: two singers, who sing without words; those two soloists (soprano Esteli Gomez and baritone John Taylor Ward) produced beautiful sounds in their brief but expressive solos. It was an excellent idea to place the two singers in the organ loft, to their acoustical advantage.
The principal woodwinds had a brilliant night, and Dausgaard singled them out for some well-deserved bows.
For those who wanted a little more Nielsen, there was a post-concert dessert (on Thursday evening only): a spirited reading of Nielsen’s String Quartet No. 4, with SSO players Steve Bryant (first violin) and Timothy Hale (viola) joined by two University of Washington students, second violinist Erin Kelly and cellist Chris Young.