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KC STAR CLASSICAL BEAT: Dvořák's Eighth with Shostakovich

Excerpt from The Kansas City Star
Special to The Star
OCTOBER 21, 2017 2:58 PM

There is something about the nostalgic music of Czech composer Antonín Dvořák that sounds especially satisfying in the fall. The Kansas City Symphony conducted by Michael Stern will perform Dvořák’s sun-dappled Symphony No. 8, as well as music by Dvořák’s son-in-law, Josef Suk, Oct. 27-29 at Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Also on the program is the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovich performed by Mayu Kishima.

The concert opener, the Scherzo Fantastique, was composed by Suk in 1903. It was probably the last happy work Suk created. The following year, both Dvořák, who was not only Suk’s father-in-law but also a beloved mentor, and his wife died. After those tragedies, most of Suk’s music took on a morbid character.

“The Suk is a fascinating piece,” Stern said. “Aside from the originality of his voice, the fact that he writes a fantastic scherzo is already something significant. It was in vogue at the time. Think of ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.’ It’s the same kind of tone poem, self-contained, sparkling and lighthearted. Scherzo, after all, means joke.”

Kishima, the soloist for the Shostakovich concerto, is the winner of the 2016 Isaac Stern International Violin Competition held in Shanghai, China. She is the first person to have won the competition named after Stern’s legendary violinist father.

“In 2016, my family and I agreed that we would accept a proposal from the city of Shanghai and allow this new international violin competition to bear my father’s name,” Stern said.

“He was not a big competition guy. He didn’t like them, he didn’t advocate for them, he didn’t suggest to young people that they necessarily do them, but we tried to make this competition different both in its requirements and the standards that were brought to the judging. The stated interest was to find the musician behind the player, not simply to select somebody who could win a competition because of technical prowess.”

Stern says Kishima’s winning performance, which happened to be the Shostakovich first violin concerto, captured those qualities.

“I conducted the finals concert, and I was really struck by the introspective, poetic take that she had on the concerto,” he said. “It was really an original, interesting, captivating interpretation.”

Next to the “New World,” the Symphony No. 8 is Dvořák’s most popular. For good reason. It overflows with beautiful melodies and a good-natured embrace of life.

“The Eighth is all about nature,” Stern said. “It has a wonderful variation movement at the end, which is incredibly tuneful. The whole symphony is tuneful. It’s like he’s going home to find his roots. It sounds like this ray of light. It sounds like love.”

8 p.m. Oct. 27 and 28 and 2 p.m. Oct. 29. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $25-$82. 816-471-0400. kcsymphony.org.

Read the full article on the KC Star website.