zaterdag 29 oktober 2011

Thunderous success for the world premiere of Stephen Melillo's Violin Concerto in Groningen

Carla Leurs: flawless performance. 
Great style
Normally I never begin a review or a concert-report with the soloist and her/his capacities in combination with an ensemble ─ not even when the performance is the first of a series ─ but for the first time in four decades I have put aside that principle, simply because (Dutch) violinist Carla Leurs, as well as the orchestra KamerFilharmonie Der Aa (ChamberPhilharmony Der Aa) in Groningen, The Netherlands, have established quite a performance with the Violin Concerto by the American composer Steven Melillo (*1957) which not only exceeds every form of amateur-artistry, but to which many professional orchestras could look at and listen to in envy.
In taking the risk of programming a concerto by an ─ at least in our region and up to the first performance ─ unknown American composer, the KamerFilharmonie Der Aa did display courage, the right policy and loyalty ─ if not high fidelity ─ to the phenomenon music. The publisher of this opus ─ who was present at this first performance ever, in the Immanuel Church in Groningen ─ had asked Carla Leurs to play the concerto, which she did with an admirable, striking approach, here and there disregarding possible threats or dangers: with great success.
The acoustics in the church are, at best, acceptable in the Romance (the second movement of the Concerto), in which much of the best by Sibelius could be found, although composer Stephen Melillo, up to that day, never heard music by Jean Sibelius (1865-1957; in the last of these two years Stephen Melillo was born). In the preceding Tormentations we encountered, next to the above mentioned Finnish master, rather much from the atmosphere in the oeuvre by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), which Stephen Melillo accepts as a compliment. [1]

Composer Stephen Melillo.
We hope Steve will feel the same when I state that the Finale, a roaring allegro assai molto, evokes reminiscence to another, very important, Russian master of music: Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) and his second Concerto for that same instrument.
Carla Leurs and the orchestra under the baton of chief-conductor Joost Smeets did not only become a standing ovation, but some Bravo-calls as well from the audience in a practically full church hall at the Overwinningsplein (Place of Victory ─ how adequate) in Groningen.
A violinist should have what it takes to show the courage to present the world's first performance of a piece as roaring, and therefore as difficult, full of changes of tempi and measures and changes in atmosphere, which do create a unity, especially under Carla's capable fingers and a sublime bowing, supported by a fabulous instrument from 1808 by Nicholas Laporte.
This opus out of the by now 1030 pieces by Stephen Melillo is a great gain for the repertoire and an eventual challenge for other violinists later on, and for the ChamberPhilharmony Der Aa, which now could take an option on the First Symphony by the same composer for the next season, especially since the audience gave his Violin Concerto such a warm acclaim.
Joost Smeets, conductor of the
KamerFilharmonie Der Aa in
Groningen, The Netherlands.
To realize a performance of these Melillo-symphonies the orchestra Der Aa has enough musicians (some 65), only the number of percussionists needed is larger than usual [2], but that already has been the case in the program Uit de nieuwe wereld (From the New World) of which this violin concerto has been a part.
(See also our article ─ only in Dutch ─ about the other three works of the same concert on our site Tempel der Toonkunst of today.)

Stephen Melillo's Second Symphony possibly will be played soon in Vienna, and I have been told that thoughts have been given, and will be given again, to a program with Carla Leurs and this very same Violin Concerto, to be performed in the Austrian capital as well.
[1] Personal communication between composer and critic.
[2] idem.

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