Kremerata Baltica with Gidon Kremer
College Memorial Chapel, April 28
Between concerts in Chicago and Manhattan, Gidon Kremer and
his virtuoso string orchestra made a stop in Schenectady.
They don’t get much more world class than this group, yet
it’s pretty much the norm for the Union College Concert Series,
which has presented this level of talent for 30 years.
Although he’s one of the world’s top violinists, Kremer prefers
the role of iconoclast to icon. He plays the standard repertory,
but you’re more likely to find him behind a new work—probably
one that he commissioned. During the past few years he has
celebrated the music of Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla
with concerts and a series of recordings; he is also closely
allied with the music of Schnittke, Vasks, Pärt, Adams and
He formed Kremerata Baltica in 1997 to bring together talented
string players from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Rehearsals
are reputed to be lengthy and exhausting, but the results,
to judge from last Sunday’s concert, are amazing. The big
familiar work on the program was Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir
de Florence, written for string sextet but so bursting
at the seams that it worked just as well in a version for
All the evidence you needed of the ensemble’s accomplishment
was there to see. They breathe together. They watch one another.
In the more emotionally charged moments, they don’t have to
watch one another—they’re synchronized through passion.
If Tchaikovsky was the crowd-pleaser, the first three works
provided much more intellectual and emotional provocation.
Arvo Pärt’s Orient & Occident, the 1999-vintage
piece that opened the concert, was a brief, plaintive study
in harmony and silence, taking the conductorless ensemble
through a textural transformation that was moving and effective.
Leonid Desyatnikov’s Russian Seasons for violin, soprano
and string orchestra is also not much more than two years
old. Desyatnikov helped Kremer put together a recording pairing
the seasons of Vivaldi and Piazzolla, and no doubt drew inspiration
from that occasion. And you can’t musically portray those
seasons without the shadow of Vivaldi hanging over you, so
Desyatnikov’s piece begins with the rising third and rhythmic
bounce of Vivaldi’s opening, but quickly inhabits a musical
language of its own.
Soprano Julia Korpacheva sang the Russian texts; translations
weren’t available, but the occasional “cuckoo” assured us
that something nature-related was in the air—and conveyed
with a deep timbre and impressive fullness of tone. Kremer
played the challenging solo violin part, reminding us (as
if we needed it) that he has amazing chops. A duet passage
with the bass section in the beginning of the second section
was nicely shaded, although Kremer’s tone tends to grow shrill
when he’s hard at work.
The newest work on the program, Lera Auerbach’s Suite for
Violin, Piano and Strings, was written last year for this
ensemble. The composer herself played the solo piano part,
and if that weren’t enough of a talent threat, we were reminded
in the program that she’s also an award-winning poet.
With a high-minded inspiration (nothing less than Cycles
of Life), Auerbach’s suite combined a plangent but diatonic
musical language with Rachmaninoff-like excesses of romanticism—an
effective combo when you’re dealing with heavy issues. The
interplay between solo violin and piano was extremely accomplished,
and her use of the orchestra was similarly outstanding. And
she’s not afraid of melody, whether in the Mozartean lilt
of the second movement or the haunting lullaby that concludes
Classical music is a dead issue when living composers are
left behind; Kremer and his group reminded us that, when chosen
and played by the best, this kind of music continues to live
and breathe and change our lives.