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A Triumphant Violin Concerto

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Aisha Syed with Symphony of the Americas Aisha Syed with Symphony of the Americas

Aisha Syed raised her arm in triumph upon completion of the spectacular Concerto for Violin in D by Beethoven. The venue was the Broward Center for the Performing Arts on March 11 at a concert by the Symphony of Americas.

In the centre of an exhibition area that opened in 2011 at the Scottish birthplace of Robert Burns, there is a pastiche of the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Two of the figures have hands outstretched in humble acknowledgment towards Burns. Representing the finest in word composition is Shakespeare, and representing the finest in music composition is Beethoven.

Thus it was no surprise that artistic director James Brooks-Bruzzese chose an all-Beethoven program. While some may quibble that Mozart is more popular, the reputation of Beethoven after two centuries has not dimmed, and is a sure-fire favourite for the concert-going public.

The program opened with the Coriolan Overture and closed with Symphony No. 8, which had mxed reviews when it premiered in 1812. Whatever its merits, the self-contained vision of the symphony (which takes a measure of inspiration from the compact scale of Mozart’s works) was masterfully managed by Brooks-Bruzzese and the orchestra.

As the only concerto for solo violin and orchestra created by Beethoven, this was clearly going to be the centerpiece of the evening. Being a singular piece, a lot of attention has been focused on it, including an entire book by Robin Stowell in 1998. Thus ‘Great Expectations’, in the words of Dickens’ character Joe Gargary, were expected of violinist Aisha Syed. She has sterling credentials, including the 2009 Cassandra Award for International Classical Artist of the Year.

The first movement starts with four beats on the timpani and quickly adopts a sweeping but sweet character. This is a prelude before the violin enters with a trill that leads into a sustained melody. Syed soon had the opportunity to show her deft mastery of the instrument in a fairly long passage of high notes that sounded like a butterfly flitting about.

The violin resumed in a lower register after a lengthy entreaty from the orchestra for a response. One criticism that has been levelled at the Concerto is that Beethoven did not offer the violin enough solo exposure, making the violin more a part of the orchestra than it should have been.

However, in the hands of Syed - when she did reach the part where the violin was left to its own devices- the audience was treated to a master class in the violin. It was performed with bravado, but tempered by the same sweetness that opened the Concerto.

After spontaneous applause by a duly wowed audience, the Concerto continued with a passage where the violin seems to be very questioning - not nearly as assertive as it appeared before the applause. The orchestra responded gingerly. The strings finally plucked out a reply that the violin accepted – here Syed endowed the violin with a measured level of grace in grateful response to the orchestra’s strings.

Syed led the violin into a delightful dance reinforced by the orchestra. After literally kicking up its heels as it was plucked, the violin took a metaphorical rapid spin around the ballroom before bowing to its partner, the orchestra, in self-satisfaction to conclude the Concerto.

The response was a rousing standing ovation.

To hear her perform the violin concerto from a previous occasion, click on the video box at the right, on the front page of the newspaper.

Photo with this article copyright Cliff Cunningham.

Don’t miss the final program in the Concert series, on April 8. Visit www.symphonyoftheamericas.org for details.

Clifford Cunningham

Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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