VAIL — The New York Philharmonic officially concludes its Bravo! Vail residency this evening with conductor Bramwell Tovey and acclaimed violinist Gil Shaham as the Vail Valley bids farewell to the Philharmonic. The New York Philharmonic celebrates the conclusion of its 11th residency at Bravo! Vail with Holst’s The Planets and the beloved Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor, featuring Shaham. With two of the repertoire’s most popular masterworks on the concert program, this “astrologically-inspired” evening under the stars will be one of the New York Philharmonic’s most uplifting — and entertaining — concerts at Bravo! Vail.
Shaham already has a long and illustrious history with the Sibelius Violin Concerto. The Sibelius was the vehicle for his first big break, when he substituted at just 18 for an ailing Itzhak Perlman in performances with the London Symphony Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas.
“It’s one of the greatest pieces written for violin,” said Shaham. “When I was maybe 12 years old, I had a recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto by David Oistrakh. It was an LP and I remember listening to the opening of that concerto over and over again, hundreds of time: out of nowhere comes a loan violin playing this beautifully haunting tune. Now to perform this work with the great New York Philharmonic, my hometown orchestra, in this most beautiful venue, is like a childhood dream come true.”
The Sibelius Concerto is undoubtedly one of the most popular in the repertoire. The work stems from the Romantic tradition of the virtuoso compositions of Mendelssohn, Bruch and Tchaikovsky, though Sibelius endeavored to balance the soloistic display with the symphonic integration of violin and orchestra. Of the spirit of this work, Eric Tawaststjerna, the composer’s biographer, wrote, “The Concerto is distinctly Nordic in its overwhelming sense of nostalgia. The orchestra does not wallow in rich colors but in the sonorous halflights of autumn and winter; only on rare occasions does the horizon brighten and glow.”
Friday’s concert, titled “Holst’s The Planets,” showcases Gustav Holst’s masterfully composed orchestral suite, which was inspired by the astrological deities for which the planets are named. (The dwarf planet Pluto was yet to be discovered, hence the absence of Pluto from The Planets.) The performance also features the Denver-based Women of the Evans Choir.
For the work’s first performance in 1918 in wartime London — which was rushed before Holst left to serve with YMCA as a music organizer among troops in the Near East — Holst gave the following explanation: “These pieces were suggested by the astrological significance of the planets. There is no program music in them, neither have they any connection with the deities of classical mythology bearing the same names. If any guide to the music is required, the subtitle to each piece will be found sufficient, especially if it is used in a broad sense. For instance, Jupiter brings jollity in the normal sense, and also the more ceremonial kind of rejoicing associated with religious or national festivities. Saturn brings not only physical decay, but also a vision of fulfillment.”
Of Holst’s masterful astrological suite, the English musicologist Gerald Abraham wrote, “Each movement is a completely different experience; it is not merely a play on words to say that each transports one to a different planet, a different air. Air — that is the common element to all The Planets; a sense of vast timeless space, of air exceedingly rare and purified.”
Very listenable as well as very memorable, The Planets has remained Holst’s most popular composition.