Concerto Premiere Honors a Hero Violinist
A review by Marc Shulgold
On January 13, 2012, the massive cruise ship Costa Condordia was ripped open by an undersea rock off of Isola del Giglio on Italy’s Tuscan coast. Most of the 4,200 passengers and crew were rescued, but 32 did not survive. Among the dead was a Hungarian violinist named Sándor Fehér, a member of the Bianco Trio, an on-board group of entertainers. He had bravely assisted children searching for their parents in the chaos that ensued as the ship began to list to one side, finally returning to his cabin to retrieve his beloved violin. He never made it to safety.
Why tell this sad story? Because the death of that courageous musician served as inspiration for a Violin Concerto, which elegantly portrayed Fehér’s life, his tragic death and, in a poignant ending, offered a hymn honoring the undying love of the man for his instrument. Titled Concerto for Violin and Strings: Costa Concordia, Jeffrey Nytch’s engaging work received its premiere this past weekend in two concerts by the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra.
The first performance took place Friday evening in Bethany Lutheran Church before a demonstratively appreciative audience. Music director Cynthia Katsarelis led her string ensemble with precision and conviction, no doubt inspired by the inescapable drama of the episodic work. Adding significantly to the success of this premiere was the brilliant playing of Edward Dusinberre, like Nytch a faculty member at the University of Colorado. The composer heads the school’s Entrepreneurship Center for Music, while Dusinberre is first violinist of the renowned Takacs Quartet, based at CU.
As Nytch explained prior to the performance, his Concerto aims to depict more than the horror of that January day. Its continual stream of music begins in somber darkness, turns light and dance-like in a flashback to happier times for the doomed violinist, before re-creating – in startlingly vivid, cacophonous fashion – the terror-filled scene as passengers and crew make their escape while the Concordia begins to slowly capsize. An eerie quiet follows the tumult, a peacefulness underscored by extended high harmonics sounded from solo string players. What follows is an achingly lovely melody meant to depict the imagined reunion of the departed violinist and his violin, but emerging more as a universal love song felt by musicians for their music.
Through it all, Dusinberre seemed unfazed by the demands of his uninterrupted solo part, traversing the violin’s full range while effectively capturing the score’s story-telling elements. As the Concerto entered its final episode of peaceful acceptance, his tone turned warm and gracious, bringing just the right touch of empathy. Meanwhile, Katsarelis and her string players (plus the ever-busy percussionist Derek Sawyer) supported Dusinberre with stellar playing and meticulous balance.
This powerful work will, thank goodness, receive more performances as the result of a co-commission for the violinist by Pro Musica, the San Jose-based Mission Chamber Orchestra, the Dallas Chamber Symphony and the Chamber Orchestra of Pittsburgh.
The concert, titled “The Heart of Hungary” opened with a solid reading of Bartók’s rhythmically challenging Divertimento for String Orchestra.