News Column

Violinist eager to bring Vivaldi's 'Seasons' to life with Pittsburgh Symphony

May 29, 2014

By Mark Kanny, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

May 29--Refreshing 18th-century masterpieces, including "The Four Seasons" by Antonio Vivaldi, will fill the bill at Heinz Hall before the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concludes its season in June with two weeks of German late-Romantic masters.

Guest conductor Nicholas McGegan is no stranger to Pittsburgh. Although he's been music director of the period instruments for the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra of San Francisco for 29 years, 60 percent of his work these days is with modern orchestras.

"Modern orchestras do a very good job playing music of earlier centuries," McGegan says, and period orchestrations have gotten a lot better, "because they're no longer so style obsessed as they used to be."

McGegan will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony at concerts May 30 to June 1 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. The program is Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" with Ye-Eun Choi as violin soloist, the Chaconne from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera "Idomeneo" and Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 103 ("Drumroll").

Choi, 26, makes her Heinz Hall debut at these concerts, adding the Pittsburgh Symphony to the list of major orchestras with which she has been a soloist. She made her New York Philharmonic debut in 2009.

She was born in Seoul and made her debut at 10 with the Seoul Philharmonic. In 2004, she moved to Munich to study with Ana Chumacheno, with whom Noah Bendix-Balgley also studied. Choi says the symphony's concertmaster is a friend.

Perhaps her biggest break came when violin superstar Anne-Sophie Mutter invited her to play an audition nine years ago. Mutter has often performed with music director Manfred Honeck and the symphony in Pittsburgh and on tour.

"I still remember the excitement and how very nervous I was while waiting to meet (Mutter)," Choi says. "She came in wearing a beautiful blue jacket and was very kind."

The audition lasted about two hours and included important pieces by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Ludwig van Beethoven, Mozart, Johann Sebastian Bach and Nicolo Paganini.

"I was really exhausted by the end," Choi says. "She told me several things very kindly, but I couldn't understand that well because my English was not good at the time, and I was kind of out of it after playing so long a time. I remember she was smiling, warm and kind. After a year, she invited me to join her foundation to get her support."

Choi plays a Pietro Giacomo Rogeri violin made in 1710 and lent to her by Mutter's foundation.

The violinist is eager to play the Vivaldi, a set of four concerti, one for each season.

"This music is very familiar to me, not because I've played it a lot but because I listened to it so many times in my childhood," Choi says. "The amazing thing about this piece is that it's not necessary to work in a certain way because you feel it so differently every time you play it -- just like you feel different each season in the year. These pieces lead me to play more spontaneously. The piece covers all expression beautifully."

McGegan says planning the second half of the concert began with a request from the symphony to do a Haydn symphony.

"That's always fine with me," he says. "I think the issue was which one hadn't been played recently. That often gives a fairly wide choice, although obviously the marketing department loves ones with titles. I love the 'Drumroll.' "

But finding a 12- to 15-minute piece to complete the half was not easy.

"Early symphonies by Haydn or Mozart might seem a bit wimpy before the 'Drumroll.' The Chaconne fills the bill perfectly -- one big 12-minute piece that's nice and meaty and fits well before the symphony," McGegan says. "It's also nice because it doesn't get played very much and is a piece of very good Mozart."

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or


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Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA)

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