There is hope for us! I just received word that this may be one of the last times we will have to suffer through one of That Random Guy’s performances! It may have been a difficult journey, but it looks like we are going to be able to make it through this unfortunate experience without too much damage. Perhaps we could even say that Random Guy has a redeeming quality about him (namely his willingness to stop playing his violin and leave us alone).
Elgar’s Violin Concerto in B Minor was the largest and most significant piece of music on the program, and, for me, it was the focal point of the recital. Before I tell you a bit about the composition itself, there is a personal story that explains why I chose to perform such an unpopular and relatively obscure concerto. As a young child, I listened to two CD’s (or were they cassettes? Yikes, that was a while ago) that my family would play for me on a regular basis. One was Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, which I know that every one of you has heard (the famous thunderstorm symphony), and the second was a recording of the great American virtuoso violinist Yehudi Menuhin playing the Elgar violin concerto with Elgar himself conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. As the story goes (and we have pictures to prove this), whenever the Beethoven symphony was turned on, I would stand atop the nearest chair or table, grab a wooden ruler or any other nearby implement that could suffice as a baton, and conduct the entire symphony, staying right on the beat the entire time.
The Elgar, however, did not inspire me to such extremes. Looking back, I remember it being a sort of awe-inspiring mystery piece in which the violin was a haunting and dazzling instrument of intrigue. The melodies of the Elgar concerto have always seemed different to me in a way that I continue to be unable to express. The best way I can put it is to say that it is just “so very Elgar.” The late Victorian conception of harmony was just beginning to border on Modern and 20th-century music, and Elgar, despite being one of the last hallmarks of the Romantic period, couldn’t resist taking his harmonies to a new level. The result is a fantastic conception of chords and harmonic texture that is unlike any other. The longer you listen to classical music, the more clear it will become to you that some chords are just plain “Elgar chords.” My childhood fascination with Elgar’s violin concerto remains with me, in large part because of the unmistakable and unforgettable harmony that is “so very Elgar.” Very few compositions – the symphonies of Tchaikovsky and Mahler come to mind – have the jaw-dropping power that Elgar can produce with an orchestra. However, Elgar is simultaneously able to produce delightfully delicate and beautiful melodies, such as the one you will hear about 5 minutes into my performance, as well as earth-shattering cadences full of raw harmonic power.
I was never able to play the Elgar while in high school, college, and beyond. This was primarily due to the fact that it is horrendously difficult, and at the time I simply wasn’t good enough to master it. The other reason for not attempting it before this spring was the fact that it is extremely long, much too long for the 10-minute time window that I had to fit in while performing in competitions in high school and college.