Reviewed by Lee Shepherd
What can we say about a 22-year-old cellist who is undoubtedly on his way to becoming a world-class star, except to thank our lucky stars that he picked Binghamton as a rung on his ladder up.
Julian Schwarz, scion of a Seattle musical family (his father, Gerard, is a conductor), thrilled a packed house for Saturday night’s opening concert of the Binghamton Philharmonic 2013-14 season. He played the astonishingly virtuosic and passion-packed Saint-Saens’ Concerto for Violoncello No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33.
“We’re lucky to have him here before he becomes so famous we can’t afford him,” quipped Maestro Jose-Luis Novo to the BPO patrons at Binghamton University’s Osterhout Concert Theater.
Broad-shouldered and muscular, Schwarz makes his cello look small. With impeccable bow control and technical mastery of his instrument, he fearlessly flew through the acrobatic demands of the work, exploring every timbre of the cello’s sound, from the lowest possible resonance to notes that would be a stretch for a violin. After three curtain calls, Schwarz rewarded the Anderson Center audience with an exquisitely played encore: the prelude to Bach’s first unaccompanied cello suite.
The whole evening was about triumphal celebrations, according to Novo. For Novo, it was the first time he’d led Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 since his1987 debut as an orchestra conductor in Spain.
The concert also was about intriguing musical personas, including the controversial Wagner, who not only wrote extensively for opera but also controlled every facet of production, including designing his own opera house. The BPO’s performance of the Die Meistersinger Prelude demonstrated the big, lush sound Wagner was capable of producing in his orchestral works.
“I hope you will be struck by the incredible diversity of sounds our orchestra will be able to generate and the extraordinary range of emotional experiences that can be captured in music. Together, through this season’s repertoire, we will be exposed to virtually every emotion in the human spectrum,” Novo wrote in the program book.
The Tchaikovsky symphony, chock-full of beautiful melodies that evoke power, passion, fate, joy, sorrow and celebration, was the perfect vehicle to showcase every strength the BPO offers this season: the remarkable string section under section leaders Uli Speth, Amy Christian, Dana Huyge, Hakan Tayga Hromek and Josh Kerr; the very fine brass and woodwind sections; and the superb percussionists.
On a personal note: I noticed the absence of a few long-time BPO musicians, who perhaps have retired from the orchestra. Although the big, colorful program book included an informative “Get to Know Your Musicians” page, I wish it also had included a tribute to these and other long-timers for their many years of devoted service.