Unsuk Chin: reviews of new violin concerto with Leonidas Kavakos
The world premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Violin Concerto No.2: ‘Shards of Silence’ attracted public and critical acclaim in January. Leonidas Kavakos was the intrepid soloist with Simon Rattle conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.
Unsuk Chin’s new violin concerto received “a thrilling premiere” at “a supercharged concert” in London in January according to The Times, with soloist Leonidas Kavakos bringing “brilliance and depth” to the work while “totally at ease with every one of its challenges” as described by The Guardian. Simon Rattle conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in “a magical premiere” which the Daily Telegraph noted was “a heartening reminder that despite the deadening effects of the pandemic, composers are still able to dream big, ambitious dreams, and orchestras are still willing to make them a reality.”
Following its premiere in London, Violin Concerto No.2 travels with Leonidas Kavakos across the Atlantic for its US premiere on 3 March by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Andris Nelson with a further performance at Carnegie Hall in New York on 14 March. Nelsons also conducts the concerto’s German premiere on 31 March with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra again with Kavakos as soloist.
> Boston > New York > Leipzig
“…a single movement lasting around 25 minutes, and cast as a series of often roughly juxtaposed episodes (the “shards” of the subtitle) which develop from the thematic kernel of repeated string-crossing harmonics with which the unaccompanied violin begins the work. The solo writing is strenuously demanding… But this time there seems to be an undertow of deep seriousness to the brilliance too, which sometimes takes the music in unexpectedly dark directions.”
“Brilliantly conceived by the Korean composer, it places the soloist at the centre of everything for all of its 25-minute, single-movement span, but surrounds him with a flamboyant array of orchestral ideas that intermittently flare up or flicker away in the background yet never overwhelm the violin. There are snatches of an eerie chorale, playful exchanges between the woodwinds and the front desks of violins, and masses of percussion effects, some shimmering in the background, others exploding through the texture.
“Chin isn’t the kind of composer to lay bare her innermost anguish or ecstasy in her pieces. Her music is pure sonic drama; it expresses only itself. When it is so imaginatively conceived, however, that is gripping enough. So was Kavakos’s playing, surmounting fearsome technical challenges with a grace that made light of them, and illuminating unexpected shafts of lyricism within this kaleidoscopic whirl.”
“Out of silence, the solo violin tries an opening idea that stretches tentatively into the higher reaches of the instrument’s harmonics. A line, a phrase, starts to coalesce and this forms the nucleus of what follows. In this concerto, Chin has looked beyond the brilliance of the work’s predecessor to explore darker and sometimes violent feelings below the surface… As so often in Chin’s music, the orchestral writing glittered with freshly minted combinations of sounds…”
“…the striking thing about it was its cogency, each new wave starting with the same tentative and yet easily graspable idea… At the end, the orchestra and soloist were locked in an ascending spiral of deafeningly intense sound, brutally cut off; a startling close…”
A video stream of the premiere is viewable to Medici TV subscribers until 6 April.
> Medici TV
In addition to performances of the new concerto in the USA and Germany, the coming months bring the US premiere of Frontispiece with the Minnesota Orchestra and Dima Slobodeniouk, the Swiss premiere of Xi at the Hochschule in Basel, a new ballet by Marco Goecke with Chin’s music at the Bavarian State Ballet featuring a reduced scoring of Mannequin, and the South Korean premiere of her Beethoven-inspired subito con forza by the Busan Philharmonic Orchestra and Soo-Yeoul Choi.
> Further information on Work: Violin Concerto No.2 'Scherben der Stille'
Photo: Simon Rattle, Unsuk Chin and Leonidas Kavakos at the Barbican (photo: Mark Allan)