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Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008

Intellect and Emotion

Classical Review

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There is never a shortage of extremely talented, elite young musicians who want to tour the world playing concertos and recitals. Almost none of them have the complete artistry of American violinist Stefan Jackiw, who made his debut with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra last weekend.

Jackiw played the Stravinsky Violin Concerto with refined and deep technique, freshness, consistent and warm tone, incisive rhythm and tasteful grace. The sophisticated performance was an ideal balance of intellect and emotion. Even at 23, Jackiw has the assurance of someone who knows who he is and what he has to say. His choice of encore on Saturday evening-a slow solo Bach movement-and his spaciously poetic, intensely quiet interpretation of it showed plenty about him. The most imposing young lion does not need to roar to prove himself.

The quirky and rarely programmed Symphony No. 4 by Sibelius needs a strong guide through its juxtaposed ideas and deliberate wandering to nowhere. The Finnish conductor Hannu Lintu made something evocative of it; in some hands it could be a mess. Lintu brought both playful freedom and discipline to Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks; there was exactness in this drunkenness. William Barnewitz ably lived up to the signature horn solo. I liked the blend and muscle of the brass, and the witty clarinet phrasing. Throughout the concert I noted the sound of the first violin section at times; I hear it evolving in clarity and expression.

On Friday at Wisconsin Lutheran College the Cypress String Quartet of San Francisco presented "Inspired by America," a concert with custom-made film of philosophy professor Jacob Needleman (author of The American Soul) speaking about American idealism, character and failings. The music included Dvork's "American" quartet, Samuel Barber's famous "Adagio," Charles Ives, Charles Griffes, Benjamin Franklin (yes, he composed), and various Cypress-commissioned works. The performances were excellent and vivid. Needleman's articulate thoughts were insightful refreshment from election politics. Ultimately, though, substantial music has its own meaning. To impose other meanings onto it always feels like a mismatch, even in an earnest and thoughtful concept such as this.