Dana Auditorium was packed Saturday night as the EMF fans turned out to hear the crack Eastern Festival Orchestra under the baton of music director Gerald Schwarz. On tap were works by a Russian, an Armenian and an American.
Joan Tower (US, b. 1938) has written six fanfares for “uncommon women,” turning Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” on its head. The EFO performed the sixth, written in 2014. The five-minute work is a blast. Starting with pulsating chords broken by sassy winds and brass, the fanfare is full of color, humor and irreverence. The orchestra played with terrific ensemble and energy, thanks in part to the precise conducting of Schwarz.
Aram Khachaturian (Armenia, 1903-78) is justly famous for his use of Armenian-inspired folk songs and dances. Indeed, the three-movement Violin Concerto in D minor (1940) is chock-full of such references. The violinist for this performance was Mark Peskanov, a Russian-born American virtuoso.
The orchestra sets up the soloist, who comes in with a perky folk-influenced repeated riff. What an amazing performer Peskanov turned out to be. His violin tone was superb — great intonation and terrific energy. More lyric melancholy is infused into the score later, tenderly presented by Peskanov. A couple of cadenzas provided the soloist with more opportunity to display his incredible depth of technique and musicality.
The slow movement presents an entirely different mood, opening with a plaintive bassoon solo, impeccably played by George Sakakeeny, which is picked up by clarinetist Shannon Scott. The orchestra sets up a swaying accompaniment over which Peskanov spun out a heart-felt, quasi-improvisatory sounding melody.
The final movement bustles with good spirits and dance feel. Throughout, Schwarz and Peskanov worked closely, making sure each picked up where the other left off. The joyous, virtuosic conclusion brought the delighted audience to its feet.
Peskanov treated the enthusiastic crowd with an encore of Bach: the soulful first-movement Adagio from the composer’s Sonata No. 1 in G minor.
The second half of the concert was given over to the hour-long Symphony No. 11 “The Year 1905” (1957) by Dmitri Shostakovich (Russia, 1906-75). This is a quasi-programmatic work (sometimes dubbed “a film score without the film”) about the events of 1905, which set in motion the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Twelve-hundred innocent protestors were gunned down by the Tsarist troops on January 9, 1905, known as “Bloody Sunday.”
The first movement, “Palace Square,” is where protestors gathered to petition the Tsar. The music conjures up the frosty early morning, the orchestra providing a pianissimo sheen of sound, creepily interrupted by trumpet calls. Rumbling of discontent is never far below the surface. “Ninth of January” depicts the crowds’ grievances and the troops’ violent response.
“Eternal Memory” is a tragic lament to the victims, while the finale “Tocsin” (a revolutionary magazine) is full of defiance, concluding with powerful determination and resolution.
Throughout, one was amazed at the orchestra’s dedication and stamina. And, certainly, Schwarz was the amazing stalwart presence that held the whole thing together.