By George Basler
The Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra will conclude its Classical Series on Saturday (April 29) with the performance of three major symphonic works and the appearance of a violinist who has gained international renown.
The concert, titled “Northern Lights,” will take place at Broome County’s Forum Theatre in Binghamton and will feature the overture to Mikhail Glinka’s monumental Russlan and Ludmila, Dmitri Shostakovich’s epic Symphony No. 5 and Jean Sibelius’ passionate Violin Concerto with Stephan Jackiw as guest soloist.
Jackiw is “a major league violinist,” said Paul Cienniwa, the Philharmonic’s executive director. Since making his professional debut at age 12, the 38-year-old has appeared as a soloist with orchestras in Boston, Tokyo, Liverpool, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Cleveland, among others.
Over the course of his career, Jackiw’s performances have garnered widespread praise. Kudos include being labeled “one of the most insightful violinists of his generation” by the Boston Globe and being praised by The Scotsman newspaper for his prodigious talent and showmanship after an appearance with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
The three pieces that the Philharmonic will play Saturday are serious compositions that are challenging to play but are also “very listenable” for audiences, Cienniwa said.
Glinka, who was born in 1804, was the first Russian composer to gain widespread recognition in his own country. His work is considered the foundation of Russian classical music. The overture from Russlan and Ludmila is a rollicking work that is known as an orchestral showpiece.
Shostakovich composed in the Soviet Union during the era of Joseph Stalin when a bad review could earn you a trip to the Gulag if officials felt your work went against government decrees that defined truth and beauty. Despite his celebrity, Shostakovich saw his work banned for a time after he was denounced in 1948 for writing inappropriate music.
By contrast, his Symphony No. 5, composed in 1937, was a triumph. The work is a subtle one that displays the required heroic tone while also hinting at some darkness underneath through the use of the minor scale to end the piece. The symphony is one of “the workhorses” of early 20th century classical music, Cienniwa said.
Sibelius’ Violin Concerto is another “workhorse,” Cienniwa noted. The Finish composer is widely regarded as that country’s greatest composer and a national hero. A 1935 poll organized by the New York Philharmonic named him as the most popular composer, beating out the likes of Beethoven and Ravel. His Violin Concerto, originally composed in 1904 and revised in 1905, is known for its rhapsodic nature and technical challenges for the soloist.
“It is a difficult piece to play,” Jackiw said in a telephone interview. That may be an understatement. The website “Violinspiration” listed it among the five most difficult pieces for violinists to play. Jackiw has played it a number of times.
“I view my role as a performer like that of an actor. The composer has written the work. My job as a performer is to bring it to life,” Jackiw said. His overarching goal is to bring the emotional message of the work to the audience, rather than having a fixed style, he added, emphasizing: “I try to disappear into every role I take on.”
Jackiw has played with Daniel Hege, the music director of the Binghamton Philharmonic, once before: a performance of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Besides his solo career, Jackiw performs with cellist Jay Campbell and pianist Conrad Tao as the Junction Trio. The trio has gained an international reputation and toured extensively. On its schedule for next year is a concert at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.
Jackiw hopes audience members will find great warmth in the Sibelius piece when he plays it with the Binghamton Philharmonic. An interesting aside is that his wife, Yoonah Kim, who is establishing her own reputation as a performer, will also be playing with the Philharmonic Saturday as a substitute clarinetist.
IF YOU GO: The Binghamton Philharmonic will perform the concert “Northern Lights” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (April 29) at the Broome County Forum Theatre, 236 Washington St., Binghamton. Adult tickets at $25, $45, and $65 can be ordered on the Philharmonic’s website, www.binghamtonphilharmonic.org.
Thanks to M&T Bank, the orchestra’s 2022-23 sponsor, children 17 and under are free. Call the Philharmonic’s box office at 607-723-3931, ext. 1, to order these tickets. Student rush tickets will be available the day of the performance for a 50 percent discount. Show your student ID.