I recently attended a concert of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra (April 1), not knowing that it would be a historical event. Music Director Dmitri Sitkovetsky conducted only one number. Otherwise he played violin. The other soloists were his daughter, soprano Julia Sitkovetsky, and his mother, renowned piano virtuosi Bella Davidovich.
That much I knew before I arrived. Guest conductor Stuart Malina announced that the concert marked Ms Sitkovetsky’s first performance with a professional orchestra and very likely Mme Davidovich’s last.
Ms Sitkovetsky is a second-year student at Queen’s College, Oxford. She has a very pleasant voice, which is not yet well enough developed for me, as a brass player, to venture any guesses at the likelihood of her becoming as well known as her father or her grandmother.
Because of Mr Mailina’s announcement that Mme Davidovich was probably ending her performing career, I anticipated she might have to be helped on stage. She bounded to the piano as energetically as I have ever seen a soloist enter. I enjoyed Mr Sitkovetsky’s performances as always.
My intention in this post, though, is not to review the performances, but to comment on the repertoire. With music by Haydn, Mozart, Vivaldi, and Handel, one might anticipate an evening of the same old same old. Indeed, the concert began with one of Haydn’s “London” symphonies, No. 102. The only other piece on the program with no soloist, Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” from Solomon, is also familiar, although neither piece has been run into the ground like some of the rest of the standard repertoire.
That the rest of the music is fairly seldom performed can be explained only partly by the fact that the program’s design demanded at least two family on stage for each piece. The number of operatic arias Ms Sitkovetsky could have performed as soloist is for all practical purposes nearly infinite.
The need to have an obbligato violin solo part reduces it considerably. She and her father chose “L’Amero” from Mozart’s Il re pastore, an early work much less often heard than much of the instrumental and church music he wrote at about the same time.
After that, Mr. Sitkovetsky took his baton for his only conducting of the evening, while his daughter sang a motet, Nulla in mundo, by Vivaldi. They could have chosen any chestnut in the repertoire. Or, if they wanted to stick with less familiar repertoire, they could have picked something easy. For me, this motet was the musical highlight of the evening, a real revelation.
Most of Vivaldi’s music lay unnoticed until about 1950, when his concertos for various combinations of instruments started to become popular. His “Four Seasons” perhaps get performed and recorded too often. For a long time, the only vocal work I can remember ever hearing was his “Gloria.”
When I took music history as an undergraduate, I recall no mention of anything he wrote except the concertos for the orphanage he worked for. Only when I taught music history in the 1990s did I learn that he wrote dozens of operas, along with quite a bit more church music. Only within the past few years did I become aware of any recordings of his operas.
Back to the motet, it started out as a pleasant Baroque piece, recognizably by Vivaldi, but without some of the mannerisms of his instrumental writing. It requires a singer with an exceptionally high voice, and Ms Sitkovetsky handled its entire range with ease. The last half, however, broke out into flights of vocal ornamentation like I have seldom heard, except perhaps in some of Rossini’s most extreme coloratura.
Ms Sitkovetsky’s accuracy of pitch, time, and articulation was almost more instrumental than vocal. It reminded me of a recording of the Queen of Night’s aria from Mozart’s Zauberflöte by Teresa Stich-Randall. Meanwhile, her face and posture remained as calm as when she was singing easier music.
When I wrote earlier that I would not venture any guesses about her future, I simply meant that her voice still needs to grow, and I’m certainly not qualified to assess its potential. At times, it was easily covered not only by the orchestra, but by her father’s violin. On the other hand, if some day I hear some more knowledgeable critic than I compare her to Sitch-Randall, I will certainly not be surprised.
I also notice in the program notes that her operatic credits demonstrate a general interest in exploring the further reaches of the repertoire. She has performed or understudied in TheTurn of the Screw by Britten (a standard repertory item to be sure, but not a warhorse), Acis and Galatea by Handel, and Falstaff–not by Verdi, but Salieri!
Just as the Vivaldi motet is not what one would expect at a debut concert, Haydn’s Concerto for piano and violin (F major) is not what one would expect at a farewell. Wouldn’t most performers choose an old favorite instead of performing a piece for the first time?
I would be surprised if Mme Davidovich and son have never appeared together before, but they evidently had never played this Haydn concerto before. This concert is only the second time I have ever seen a piano soloist with orchestra having the music on stage. It wouldn’t have been worth memorizing it.
Concertos make up a very small portion of Haydn’s output. This one is a very early work (1756). If Haydn had died before his 40th birthday, his music would probably have remained in the archive at Eszterhazy and attracted little if any attention.
I have very seldom found early Haydn a musically satisfying experience and was a little disappointed at the prospect of having some at the very end of the program. Fortunately, although it is certainly not vintage Haydn, it displayed sufficient foreshadowing of the genius he later became that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Mother and son performed the solo parts with great elegance. If it was indeed Mme Davidovich’s final concerto performance, I am very glad to have heard it.
At the conclusion of the concert, only one thing was missing. We had not heard anything that involved all three members of the family. The encore supplied that experience: “Le bonheur est chose légère” (“Happiness is a light thing”) from Saint-Saëns. opera Le Timbre d’argent.
|Greensboro Symphony Orchestra
I have long thought that orchestras play too much familiar music and don’t offer their audiences enough new music. Now that modern composers have turned away from writing music only an academic can love and really want to connect with an audience, it should turn up much more often on orchestra programs.
The Sitkovetsky family and the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra have shown another way to introduce the unfamiliar. Many of the best known and best loved composers of the past wrote relatively little-known music every bit as performance-worthy as some of the pieces that have become old war horses.