National Philharmonic: ‘Sarah Chang Plays Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ at The Music Center at Strathmore

The National Philharmonic is constantly changing both in size and in artistic depth, and it was evident on Saturday night at Strathmore as the Philharmonic was their own opening act presenting Strauss’ Metamorphosen. The somber Strauss piece is written for 23 solo instruments – all strings – and just as the title suggests, the National Philharmonic grew by decreasing in size for this evening of chamber music.

Sarah Chang. Photo by Cliff Watts.
Sarah Chang. Photo by Cliff Watts.

Richard Strauss composed this minor piece in 1945 in Germany, just as the war was ending and you can hear from the opening cello lines that this piece is more about a memorial to his country and the change that was occurring at the time. Maestro Piotr Gajewski took large strides with his famous baton-less conducting and made his expert musicians navigate the subtle themes and not so subtle dynamic changes with beautiful artistry. Gajewski beautifully conducted the decrescendo on the final three chords that there was a haunting air in the room as if there still was more.

As the piece goes through the whole gamut of emotions in 30 minutes, Strauss lovingly borrowed the funeral theme from Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony as the final passage in this beautiful memoriam. The last 8 bars of the piece, the three double basses play this theme note for note and in the score it is noted: “In Memoriam!” And what a tribute it was both in composition and execution.

While the opening act was worthy of top billing itself, the mostly filled Strathmore was here to see the star of the evening: Korean-American violinist, Sarah Chang. From the moment she took the stage wearing a sparkling green dress, this fashionista of the music world captivated the audience.

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons plays like a greatest hits of classical music. Each movement has a theme in it immediately recognizable to the average listener, but just because this piece is so recognized, Chang puts her own stamp on it. In 2007, Chang recorded this piece on the EMI label, where she has recorded exclusively her entire career, and tonight’s performance was another taste of what she does so beautifully: challenge the listener to find something new.

Listening to a recording of Chang lets you really appreciate her artistry, but seeing her perform live is another gem. Watching her perform, you can see her whole body sway to the music and she really lets her accompanying orchestra have their moment as well. In one particular section of “Spring” – the Allegro “Country Dance” section, Chang was playing along with the violin section as if she were an equal sitting along side of them. Seeing moments in her performance that show her modesty, makes her uniqueness all the more brilliant.

Sarah Chang. Photo by Cliff Watts.
Sarah Chang. Photo by Cliff Watts.

Ms. Chang first burst on the scene at the age of 8 with the New York Philharmonic and ever since then she has become one of the great masters of her instrument and has many more years of concerts and recordings for us to enjoy and new ways to rejuvenate old favorites.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with one intermission.

The National Philharmonic has one more performance today, Sunday, May 18, 2014 at 3 PM at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

Sarah Chang’s website.


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