Sarah Chang plays the violin like a gymnast rock star. She is fascinating to watch, standing hand on hip in the orchestral interludes, like an Olympian waiting to mount the balance beam. When she finishes a blazing passage, her bow whips in a wide arc like Townshend hitting a power chord. It seems almost contrived at first, if you have not seen her perform before.
But I am ahead of myself. To explain, the Hawaii Symphony kicked of a new season tonight, featuring Sarah Chang playing Bruch’s 1st Violin Concerto. The season almost did not happen as funding sputtered in, but at last, voila! And it is no shabby season: these are serious shows. The marketing department has a tough road ahead, with the Weekly gone and a few years of inertia to overcome, but hopefully they will win out.
The orchestra was in fine fighting form, despite the break. Guest conductor Jahja Ling ran a tight ship, hustling the sections along when needed, and pulling off a effortless sounding show sonically. Most of the players seem to have stayed on somehow, with Iggy Jang elegantly filling the concertmaster seat and with familiar faces throughout.
Chang took the stage in a shimmering green gown like a mermaid visiting the stage. A child commented and she smiled graciously. The piece began, and her opening statement seemed softer than expected, but I suspect she was playing her 300 year old Guarneri, and they are more buttery than bright. The tone won out on the more eloquently emotional passages: this is a violin that sings plaintively enough for a Romantic composer like Bruch.
Chang wrings a lot of emotion out of an already emotional piece. It really does not hurt that she leans back as she reaches the climax of a phrase or that she visibly grooves to the building intensity, awaiting her entrances as the piece nears its finish. I have come to believe that she is not posing: this is probably what she does practicing at home alone. That is her visceral involvement with the musical environment: she is rocking the Bruch.
This is a show worth seeing, and there is one more chance Sunday afternoon. Welcome back, Hawaii Symphony, we missed you.