I find it really fascinating when people look like their work of art. Finnish composer Jean Sibelius is one of those people. Just by looking at a photo of him, it’s as if his angst and underlying turmoil is screaming at you and many of his compositions translate his thoughts and emotions so vividly.
“The violin took me by storm,” Sibelius wrote in his diary, “and for the next 10 years it was my dearest wish, my overriding ambition, to become a great virtuoso.”
That ambition unfortunately never came to fruition, but a devilish storm is definitely one way to describe the Sibelius violin concerto. It’s brooding, moody, intensely virtuosic, and one of my favorite violin concertos. The piece was heavily edited after the premiere, and the first version is supposedly even more technically demanding than the standard version played today, which is hard to believe. Severely dependent upon alcohol at the time it was written, it’s suggested that Sibelius wrote his only concerto for his “ghostly self” as a bittersweet farewell to his dream of becoming a world-class virtuoso.
Each of the three movements have a personality of their own, yet still cohesive collectively. The first movement has an icy characteristic in the beginning that grows intensely and is packed to the brim with near impossible challenges followed by a dark, rich and slightly nostalgic second movement that’s filled with agitation, passion, and remorse. Sibelius once referred to the final movement as a “danse macabre” – which translates to dance of death. Crazy right? Trust me, stay with it and you’ll get it. It’s even more formidable than the first movement; a terrifying dance with a bleak, apocalyptic atmosphere. Here’s my favorite interpretation of it.
For the first piece, “Finlandia”, the West Virginia Youth Symphony will be joining the WVSO on stage for the first ever side-by-side concert! Each youth symphony musician, will get to sit on stage next to the person in the same seat as them in the WVSO ex. concertmaster with concertmaster. It’s going to be such an incredible opportunity for these young musicians to be surrounded by the energy and expertise of experienced musicians.
The violin concerto will follow with accomplished guest violinist Luosha Fang, and after intermission, Sibelius’ triumphant Symphony No. 2 will finish the concert. Every time I hear the soaring melody in the finale of the symphony, I always feel like I’ve heard it in so many different movies.
If any quote adequately describes Sibelius’ outlook on music, it’s this: “A symphony is not just a composition in the ordinary sense of the word,” he wrote in 1910. “It is more a confession of faith at different stages of one’s life.”
Tickets for All-Sibelius begin at $10 (including my favorite tweet seat section) and can be purchased by visiting wvsymphony.org or by calling the Clay Center Box office at 304.561.3570.