David Kim was known on the international concert stage as a soloist before becoming concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1999, and this is one of few available recordings which feature him in this role with his home ensemble. He shows his impressive command of the violin in an exciting performance of this challenging work by Stravinsky.
Some of the most famous violin concertos, such as those by Mozart, were written by composers who played the instrument and who possessed first-hand knowledge of its potential. Concertos by a virtuoso violinist like Paganini show even greater evidence of knowing the best ways to exploit the fiddle to full effect, even if the profundity of the compositions themselves do not match the brilliance of the technical virtuosity they exhibit. And then there are those composers who rely on the kindness of others, sometimes strangers, calling upon them to help mold their musical ideas into idiomatic string writing. Joseph Joachim provided just such wise counsel for Brahms, Dvořák, Bruch, and other 19th century masters, so much so that at times he approached becoming co-composer. One of the most fruitful partnerships to emerge in the 20th century was between Igor Stravinsky and the Polish-American violinist Samuel Dushkin (1891-1976). The result of their first collaboration in 1931 was the celebrated Concerto we hear performed tonight, a work that initiated a 40-year friendship, lasting until the composer’s death, and that resulted in other compositions, transcriptions, and numerous performances together. “A Close Friendship” By 1930 Stravinsky had already written a number of concertos, all of them keyboard works intended for his own use in concert. When the music publisher Willy Strecker approached him with a commission for Dushkin, Stravinsky was initially skeptical. He had never met Dushkin, nor heard him play. Moreover, Stravinsky harbored no particular love for flashy virtuoso instrumentalists and did not himself play the violin. As he later recalled: “To know the technical possibilities of an instrument without playing it is one thing; to have that technique at one’s fingertips is quite another. I realized the difference, and before beginning the work I consulted Hindemith, who is a perfect violinist. I asked him whether the fact that I did not play the violin would make itself felt in my composition. Not only did he allay my doubts, but he went further and told me that it would be a very good thing, as it would make me avoid a routine technique and would give rise to ideas which would not be suggested by the familiar movement of the fingers.” And this seems to be exactly what happened: Stravinsky came up with some marvelous new ideas for the violin. Years later, Dushkin recalled the Concerto’s genesis: “During the winter I saw Stravinsky in Paris quite often. One day, when we were lunching in a restaurant, Stravinsky took out a piece of paper and wrote down [a] chord […] and asked me if it could be played. I had never seen a chord with such an enormous stretch, from E to the top A, and I said ‘No.’ Stravinsky said sadly, ‘What a pity.’” But Dushkin then went home and, to his amazement, found that the chord, despite its wide span of notes, was indeed playable and in fact possessed a quite unusual and distinctive sound. He immediately told Stravinsky. Dushkin remembers: “When the Concerto was finished, more than six months later, I understood his disappointment when I first said ‘No.’ This chord, in a different dress, begins each of the four movements. Stravinsky himself calls it his ‘passport’ to that Concerto.” Dushkin gave the work’s first performance on October 23, 1931, with Stravinsky conducting the Berlin Radio Orchestra, and the two then took the work on tour all over Europe. Dushkin performed it in America the following year, including with The Philadelphia Orchestra, and also recorded the work. Stravinsky acknowledged Dushkin’s contribution in two ways in the score, one noting the date of the Berlin premiere by Dushkin, “for whom I have profound respect and great admiration because of the high artistic value of his playing,” and then in a note stating that the writing of the violin part was “in collaboration” with the soloist. Some composers dedicated their concertos to Joachim, but he may never have enjoyed such public acknowledgement as Stravinsky bestowed on Dushkin. A Neo-Baroque Concerto Stravinsky commented on his goals in the piece: “The Violin Concerto was not inspired by or modeled on any example. I did not find that the standard violin concertos— Mozart’s, Beethoven’s, Mendelssohn’s, or even Brahms’s—were among the composer’s best work.” Stravinsky was not so much interested in individual virtuoso display, but rather in the solo violin’s combining with other instruments. For this reason, Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, a work he admired, is relevant and reflected in the Baroque subtitles of the movements (Toccata, Aria, Capriccio), in the duet for the soloist and concertmaster in the last movement, and in the chamber-music texture that pervades the work. Stravinsky also omits cadenzas the flashy solo sections improvised near the end of movements in most concertos. A Closer Look The violinist’s “passport” chord is the first sound heard, supported beneath by an allied pizzicato chord in the cellos and basses. The freshness of its flavor makes clear why Stravinsky was so pleased when Dushkin first told him that it could indeed be executed on the violin, and yet its unusual sonority exactly proves the point that this is not typical violin writing. The Toccata movement sparkles with Stravinsky’s characteristic changes of meter, pulsating repeated notes, and joyous violin acrobatics. The two slower middle movements, Aria I and II, also present the “passport” to start and offer lovely, lyrical melodies. For all of the rhythmic vitality, instrumental brilliance, and complexity of Stravinsky’s music, he was also an astounding melodist, nowhere more so than in these two movements “sung” by the violin. These “arias” display, even more than the others, Stravinsky’s concern with instrumental combinations, such that, as in Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, there are many soloists, not just one. When the violin presents its now familiar chordal credentials at the start of the final Capriccio, the full orchestra accompanies, initiating the work’s most technically dazzling movement with perpetual-motion energy. —Christopher H. Gibbs Program notes © 2008. All rights reserved. Program notes may not be reprinted without written permission from The Philadelphia Orchestra Association. ABOUT THE ARTISTS One of today’s leading international conductors, at the time of this recording Christoph Eschenbach was in his fifth season as music director. Held in highest esteem by the world’s foremost orchestras and opera houses for his commanding presence, versatility, and consummate musicianship, Mr. Eschenbach has been acclaimed for his creative insight and dynamic energy as a conductor, a collaborator, and an ardent champion of young musicians. His 2007-08 Orchestra season celebrates such monumental works as Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 (“Symphony of a Thousand”)—part of the Orchestra’s multi-season first-ever Mahler cycle—and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. In addition to his work with The Philadelphia Orchestra, Mr. Eschenbach continues as music director of the Orchestre de Paris. His guest conducting engagements this season include the London Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hamburg NDR Symphony, and the Curtis Symphony. A prolific recording artist, Mr. Eschenbach has made numerous recordings, as conductor, pianist, or both. His discography includes works from J.S. Bach to music of our time, and he has been an ardent champion of 20th-century music on disc. Before turning to conducting, Mr. Eschenbach had earned a distinguished reputation as a concert pianist. He began winning major competitions at age 11, and made his United States debut in 1969 with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. Mr. Eschenbach learned the art of conducting under, among others, Mr. Szell, who personally took him as his protégé, and with whom he worked for over three years. In addition, Herbert von Karajan was his mentor for nearly 25 years, and Mr. Eschenbach credits him as having had a tremendous influence on his development as a conductor. Mr. Eschenbach’s conducting debut was in Hamburg in 1972. He made his Philadelphia Orchestra debut as a pianist in 1973; his Philadelphia conducting debut was in 1989. He was named principal guest conductor of Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra in 1981, serving as chief conductor from 1982 to 1986. Additional posts include music director of the Houston Symphony (1988-1999); chief conductor of the Hamburg NDR Symphony (1998-2004); music director of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival (1999-2002); and music director of the Ravinia Festival, summer home of the Chicago Symphony (1994-2003). Among Mr. Eschenbach’s awards are the title of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France, the Légion d’honneur of France, the Officer’s Cross with Star and Ribbon of the German Order of Merit, the Commander’s Cross of the German Order of Merit, and the Leonard Bernstein Award, presented to him by the Pacific Music Festival, where he served as co-artistic director from 1992 to 1998. Additional information about Mr. Eschenbach can be found at his website, www.christoph-eschenbach.com. 11/2007 Concertmaster of The Philadelphia Orchestra since 1999, David Kim was born in Carbondale, Illinois. He started playing the violin at the age of three, began studies with the famed pedagogue Dorothy DeLay at the age of eight, and later received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Juilliard School. In 1986 he was the only American violinist to win a prize at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, and in 1990 he was a prize winner at the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. Mr. Kim is founder and artistic director of the Kingston Chamber Music Festival at the University of Rhode Island (founded in 1989). He also holds the position of special guest artist there and in 2001 was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Arts. Mr. Kim devotes a portion of his schedule each year to bringing classical music to children. In conjunction with the Kingston Chamber Music Festival, he founded an annual outreach program that takes him to elementary schools, performing and speaking about classical music in an effort to cultivate future audiences. To date, Mr. Kim has performed for well over 12,000 young people in the State of Rhode Island. He also visits hundreds of children in the Philadelphia area each season and conducts master classes around the United States at schools such as the Manhattan and Yale schools of music as well as the Curtis Institute of Music. Mr. Kim’s numerous solo engagements around the world have included the orchestras of Dallas, Pittsburgh, Capetown, KBS (Korea), and Moscow; as well as the Buffalo and Seoul philharmonics; the Polish National Radio Orchestra; the Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra; and numerous orchestras across North, Central, and South America. Mr. Kim appears as soloist with The Philadelphia Orchestra every season. Some of the conductors with whom he has performed as soloist include Christoph von Dohnányi, Charles Dutoit, Christoph Eschenbach, Peter Oundjian, and Wolfgang Sawallisch. At age 12, Mr. Kim appeared with Itzhak Perlman as the subject of “Prodigy,” a WNEW-TV (New York) production, and has since been featured nationally in specials on the CBS, NBC, and PBS networks. He has also been featured prominently on National Public Radio and in Newsweek magazine. He performs on a J.B. Guadagnini from Milan, Italy, ca. 1757, on permanent loan from The Philadelphia Orchestra. Mr. Kim resides in a suburb of Philadelphia with his wife, Jane, and daughters Natalie and Margaret. 11/2007 PRODUCTION CREDITS Producer: Charles Gagnon Balance Engineer: Charles Gagnon Recording Engineer: Charles Gagnon Editor: Charles Gagnon Assistant Editor: Ryan Miller Christoph Eschenbach Bio Photo: Jessica Griffin David Kim Bio Photo: Ryan Donnell