When Canadian violinist James Ehnes made his 2003 New York Philharmonic debut playing Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in Central Park, he was all of 27 and decided to take advantage of the occasion by proposing to his then-girlfriend Kate, in front of TV cameras to the side of the Great Lawn stage. (You can read more about the story on WQXR.com) I remember at the time thinking that was a pretty cheesy gesture, from a young player whose performance of the world's most overplayed concerto was tentative, at best.
Nine years later, Ehnes has emerged as a violinist of real power and maturity, with a repertoire that extends well beyond the staple solo repertoire. (See my review of his performance during the Montreal Chamber Music Festival this past May.) Still, Ehnes will play the warhorses when called upon, and he was all too happy to return to the Great Lawn last night, with Andrey Boreyko leading the Phil. Once again, Ehnes played the Tchaikovsky, but this time his playing was full of snap and crackle, the audience repeatedly interrupting his brilliant first movement solos as if they were watching a jazz show at Dizzy's. When the piece finally ended, the entire Great Lawn - 40,000 strong - stood and applauded. Rightly so.
Unfortunately, last night's opener - the Prelude to Die Meistersinger - fell short of what I've come to expect from this most explosive of Wagner's overtures, with a plodding tempo and numerous missed brass notes. (The strings sounded fine, at least what I could make out through the fairly tinny loudspeakers.) And, while I would have liked to have heard Brahms' First Symphony, which closed the program, I had to dash off for dinner. Next time, I've got to remember to pack a picnic...
Oh, and for all you robber barons out there who like to fly your helicopters out to the Hamptons: next time, try not to fly right over the Great Lawn when the Phil's playing. Thanks.
More pics on the photo page.