On Sunday afternoon, Manfred Honeck conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony Orcherstra with violinist Hilary Hahn at Avery Fisher Hall, part of Lincoln Center's Great Performers series. Composer Steven Stucky's Silent Spring opened the concert, in its New York City debut. Based on the Rachel Carson book of the same name, this tone poem in four sections has many highs and lows, and its brooding introduction is reminiscent of Debussy's La Mer, another ocean-inspired work. Described by Stucky in the program notes as a "death scherzo", the third section (Rivers of Death) was a fever pitch that had me particularly floored by the timpani.
I've heard Hahn play Prokofiev's Violin Concerto #1 on numerous occasions, and therefore had little doubt that she would find success with this orchestra and conductor, with whom she's performed brilliantly before. Even though I've always felt this concerto was too brief, on this occasion it felt like it had the right length and temperament. Hahn was very much at her best, brilliantly showcasing her distict brand of unwavering passion.
Curiously, the audience applauded after each of the movements: either the crowd was excited, or there were many first-timers, or both. Whether or not it might be considered inappropriate, this performance actually deserved it. After the performance, Hahn was awarded with a standing ovation, and she responded in kind with the Sarabande from Bach's Partita #2 as an encore.
After intermission, the concert concluded with Tchaikovsky's Symphony #5 in E Minor. Even though my favorite symphony was always the fourth, this was the first time I'd heard any Tchaikovsky symphony performed live, and all of his loud, brassy glory was there. The 2nd movement was gorgeous throughout, and features both a lovely duet between French horn and clarinet, and a grand outburst of timpani and brass. The 3rd movement ended sharply before going immediately into the thrilling final movement. Again, there was premature applause from the audience - this time at the pause before the coda - but after such exciting performance, it could easily be forgiven.