Although I had heard positive reports of the New Hampshire Music Festival, my familiarity with the performers, venues and philosophy of the group was at best remote. Last weekend when friends we were visiting at Squam Lake invited us to a concert, it seemed a good idea in the “nothing ventured/nothing gained” department, so we drove over to Plymouth State University on Friday evening, July 23, with open minds, not knowing quite what to expect.
Beethoven’s Second Symphony was a pleasure to hear, since we’re treated so often to symphonies Three to Nine with such regularity, especially at such venues as Tanglewood. Conductor of the week Andrew Grams quickly demonstrated that he was in control and that he was after the right things in the music: his style is efficient, business-like in the right way, and he knows how to get results which focus on Beethoven. Although I recognized melodies here and there, it felt “new” in the best sense of the word, and not only because I don’t recall ever having heard the piece in live performance. Grams’ choices of tempi, dynamics and his shaping of phrases all gave a sense of overall structure and integrity of expression.
Opening my program again during the break and seeing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, I thought “not another performance of that, please.” Moments later, I was drawn into the finest performance I can recall, live or on recordings, of this justifiably much-loved chestnut. Canadian Karen Gomyo’s assured playing — does it ever occur to her to play a single note out of tune, or to play a wrong note? — was the right kind of virtuosity, with every movement of her bow or her body clearly only at the service of this lovely music. Her technical mastery is complete, her sense of phrase is plangent, clear, singing and sublime, and it is hard to imagine a more beautiful reading of this concerto. The first movement cadenza was handled with effortless abandon, after which the violinist instantly captured the poetry and sweetness of the Andante: let me confess to having actually wiped a tear or two from my eyes. The final movement only confirmed the superb taste, style and charm of this brilliant young artist, all of it accompanied masterfully and sensitively by Maestro Grams. The audience responded appropriately with a standing ovation.
The program concluded with an energetic, accomplished and vigorous performance of Rossini’s William Tell Overture, again dispatched with aplomb, style, and brisk tempos, all of which seemed suited perfectly to the music. It speaks volumes about Karen Gomyo’s humanity that she joined the violin section for the overture, sitting perhaps eight seats back with her colleagues. Let us hope that both Karen Gomyo and Andrew Grams will be back soon and often, and we hope that other New England Orchestras will be inspired to engage them in future seasons.
This was a splendid concert. Rumor has it that the NH Music Festival has been through a period of adjustment, reflection and re-focus, and if this program was any measure of where they have arrived, we can only hope for more of the same. Congratulations to all!