A concert to honor one of Boston’s most prominent and long-standing violin teachers should concentrate on the violin, and so it did, at Symphony Hall this evening (Nov. 21) for Roman Totenberg as he approaches his 100th birthday (Jan. 1). A near-capacity crowd was treated to a true virtuosic performance without a score of the Bartok Violin concerto by Peter Zazofsky, with the Boston University Orchestra. Zazofsky, professor of violin and chamber music at Boston University and leader of the prominent Muir Quartet, played this in 1977 at the Wieniaski Competiton in Poznan, Poland. Totenberg, who was on the panel of judges, encouraged the young Zazofsky to tour with it. So began a long friendship culminating in collaboration at Boston University.
The joy shone in Zazofsky’s face when he entered, as he looked up and around at that famous hall, where exactly thirty years earlier (Nov. 20, 21, 22, 1980), he soloed with the BSO under Seiji Ozawa in the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2 in d minor. And in the few times during this performance when he had brief respites from playing, he turned and smiled gently at the young players in the orchestra, some of whom I assume are, or were, his students. In one especially moving moment as he finished a passage in the andante tranquillo, Zazofsky slowly swept his bow downward and pivoted towards the players, almost like a sword salute.
With beautiful tone and perfect intonation throughout, his playing was ravishing, sonorous, especially in the melancholy melody with winds in the middle of the first movement and towards the end of the movement, when the violin soloed with the trombones in their Hollywood-sounding melody.
The andante tranquillo, the high point of this concerto for me, starts with a major triad followed by a soft and languid passage with the solo violin and muted winds. Zazofsky’s frenetic trills, piano, were haunting, then exploded abruptly in a sudden forte allegretto, then back to the tremolo, piano, then back to the haunting elegiac passage with the winds.
What a treat it would be to have Zazofsky play this with a mature, professional orchestra of the caliber of the BSO that could deliver the tension and electricity of the score.
What a credit his performance was to Roman Totenberg, that wonderful centenarian, on hand for all the kudos. So were his three daughters, Amy, Jill, and Nina, along with Cokie Roberts, who acted as Mistress of Ceremonies. The video by Susan Dangel, an account of Totenberg’s rich life, was beautifully done, without the frenetic moments in the ones she did for the BSO’s Kennedy testimonial and Rockport Music’s opening last spring.
The concert ground slowly to a close with the 50-minute Elgar Symphony No. 1— “pomp and circumstance,” bombast, occasional Prokofiev-like militaristic satire, and final screams. Concertmaster Heather Braun had a very nice solo interlude, all too fleeting.
Note: While I was in attendance at the concert, BMInt Publisher Lee Eiseman was at home watching online. He had this to say:
I had very high expectations for what BU billed as the first streaming video of a concert in Symphony Hall. BMInt even added a banner promoting this ‘first.’ BU further raised expectations by referring to ‘high quality sound and video.’ The result was far below my expectations. The image quality was nothing short of atrocious for the 179 viewers.
In this era when one can see a high def movie streaming live from Netflix (in my case on a 10-ft screen) without a glitch or artifact, there was no excuse for what I observed. The video was shot at a low frame rate which made movement very jerky. Peter Zazofsky’s Mick Jagger-esque prancing appeared in jumps of ten feet or more. Whenever either the camera or subject moved, the image was degraded into out-of-focus macro-blocks. At first the sound quality was no better. Indeed, there was a pronounced echo as though the audio was coming from two separate streams, one delayed by a second.
Then the stream went down altogether for 10 minutes. When it resumed, the sound improved — to OK — but the image was still well below par.