Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Violinist flashes brilliance for Civic Music

Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Violinist flashes brilliance for Civic Music

Dmitri Berlinsky led a varied chamber music program.

GREEN BAY, Wis., (WFRV) – Paganini’s name on the program caught my attention. The violin wizard made devilishly difficult music. “I want to see a string broken,” I thought. Sure enough, Dmitri Berlinsky tore a frayed strand from his violin bow Saturday night in the thick of playing a Paganini piece at Brown County Civic Music Association’s second concert of the season.

It was a substantial concert (4½ stars out of 5) that produced standing ovations and two encores at Green Bay’s Ralph Holter Auditorium.

PROGRAM

- A sonata called “Devil’s Dream” that Berlinsky announced from the stage, but it was difficult to understand him through the microphone system.

- Antonio Vivaldi: “Winter” from “The Four Seasons”

- Astor Piazzolla: “Summer” from “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires

- Alfred Schnittke: “Suite in the Old Style”

“Pastorale”

“Ballet”

“Minuet”

“Pantomime”

- Camille Saint-Saens: “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra”

- Niccolo Paganini: “La Campanella”

- Encore 1: Jerry Bock: “Fiddler on the Roof”

- Encore 2: Romantic work with a title that escapes me.

Performing with Berlinsky were 11 young players called the International Chamber Soloists. I could be snarky here and wonder why the individuals weren’t listed in the program or announced from the stage – or ask for whom they are soloists. But I won’t.

Two cellists, one bassist, two viola players and six violinists supported Berlinsky well. Their full, rich sound enhanced the listening.

The Paganini piece closed the formal program. By then, Berlinsky was well warmed to that composers’s maddening challenges. The piece is a showcase of blitz playing.

It came on the heels of Saint-Saens’ treasure chest of sounds, including bursts of showy speed and moments of soulfulness. It was fascinating to watch Berlinsky’s nimble left hand work the violin neck; a natural act for him would be awkward to normal mortals.

The Alfred Schnittke work was lovely – nicely varied.

Particularly rewarding was Vivaldi’s “Winter.” Berlinsky teased that it’s popular elevator music. He and the orchestra went on to show why concerts are put on, no matter how perfect a recording is or how familiar a work might be. Not available on a recording is how Berlinsky interacted with the orchestra to conduct the sections with body language, slight gesture, a nod or a look. Not available is the aural dynamic of the ensemble in this space at this time. Not available is the sway, the bob, the emphasis of musicians as they accent their sound with motion. Not available is being alive on Saturday night with some place to go with other people with some place to go, for a shared experience. Not available is the whole effect in living color 3D. It’s pretty darned good music in the first place, and seeing and hearing it live is… Mmm-waaa, the pièce de ré·sis·tance.

Much about the program was appealing because of its concept. It puts a violin soloist in a setting with a chamber group and lets the spotlight shine on someone with the talents of Berlinsky while adding a fuller sound.

REST OF SEASON: New Century Saxophone Quartet, March 9; organist Paul Jacobs, April 11; Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, May 17.

THE VENUE: Ralph Holter Auditorium in Green Bay West High School for decades served as Green Bay’s main performance hall. Its overall look is of the Beaux Arts architectural style. The two-level, 1,500-seat hall features two massive Corinthian columns that bracket the proscenium stage, with wood-like beams set in the high ceiling and classical ornamentation in the balcony line, door frames and walls. Doors leading from the lobby to the hall echo those of a medieval castle. The acoustics   are such that the highly refined sounds of a group like Chanticleer can easily carry throughout the hall without the assistance of microphone (heaven forbid in the case of Chanticleer) with no problem whatsoever. The history the hall and that of Brown County Civic Music Association goes hand-in-hand to 1927. The two have been responsible for a whole lot of culture.

THE PERSON: Ralph Holter spoke softly and carried a big impact. He was conductor of the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra, which performed regularly in the hall that bears his name. Holter taught music at Green BayWest High School, in which the hall is located. He played violin and enjoyed playing in quartets with his friends. He taught violin, and some of his students remember him warmly for his guidance. A pride and joy of Holter was the Dickens Village display of Victorian-era ceramics that he put up in his home.  

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays and every other Sunday between 6 and 8 a.m. (usually around 7:45 a.m.)

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