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IN REVIEW: MARRY ME: New concerto inspired by wedding but not bound to it

By Paul Horsley

David Ludwig knows better than to attach a “back-story” to a piece irrevocably, although he has openly stated that his new Violin Concerto was inspired by his recent marriage. Composers over the years have learned the perils of announcing beforehand a narrative or program for a piece, only to find later that they’d much rather the audience listen to it as “pure music.” But while David says his concerto “doesn’t tell a specific story,” he also states that he couldn’t help making it personal, as it was “motivated by the idea of marriage.” The fact that his new wife, Bulgarian-born violinist Bella Hristova, is the soloist in the eight-orchestra roaming world premiere can’t help but enhance the biographical aspect of the piece.

The Concerto arrived at Kansas City’s Helzberg Hall on April 8, with Michael Stern conducting the Kansas City Symphony, and right from the start it was gratifying to notice that the piece is so deftly structured, judiciously orchestrated and gorgeously lyrical to its core that it could succeed just fine without any background story at all. After a solo-violin flourish of motivic significance and a percussive crash (which the composer says represents the “jarring but transformative start to something new” that marriage represents), the first movement (Dances) presents a series of quirky textures and rhythms of the Central- and Eastern-European variety: jagged Bartókian pyrotechnics, delightfully irregular rhythms fading in and out of danceability, and lilting waltz-like excursions set to transparent, Debussian complexity.

Bella Hristova / Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco
Bella Hristova / Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

The centerpiece of the concerto is the slow movement (Ceremony), in which Bella’s lyric gifts were called upon for a long, arching melodic line that worked its way into the stratosphere before gently relenting. One couldn’t help but think of Shostakovich’s searing adagio melodies with all their dark yearning, and for good measure David has also woven in a tune borrowed from Bella’s father, the Russian composer Yuri Chichkov, who died when Bella was a small child. This powerful movement—with its superb lyricism, shimmering orchestration and emotional content that (oddly) seems to approach tragedy—may become the main reason that future soloists want play this concerto. As it dies into oblivion it’s as if the enormity of “I do” has set in, and the celebrants are left unsure as to how they feel about it.

The finale (The Festival) is a headstrong romp driven by perpetual-motion virtuosity from the soloist, irregular dance rhythms suggesting inebriation, and a sort of cadenza for percussion in the midst of the revelry. The chaos increases to a playful climax, then resolves with an abrupt bang. Though the concerto was composed for Bella, there might be room for subsequent soloists to find more boldness in the outer movements. But they will be hard-pressed to match her dolce lyricism in the slow movement.

The concert opened with Ives’ Third Symphony, which in Michael Stern’s hands was brisk, clear-eyed and weirdly beautiful, with lushness of texture emphasized over cacophony. Debussy’s Ibéria was approached as a generous complement to David’s evanescent textures, and Gershwin’s An American in Paris showed once again how incredibly idiomatic this orchestra can sound in the performance of American music.

1617 independent web

For information about upcoming Kansas City Symphony concerts call 816-471-0400 or go to kcsymphony.org.

Also see davidludwigmusic.com and bellahristova.com.

To reach Paul Horsley, performing arts editor, send an email to paul@kcindependent.com or find him on Facebook (paul.horsley.501) or Twitter (@phorsleycritic).


Paul Horsley, Performing Arts Editor 

Paul studied piano and musicology at WSU and Cornell University. He also earned a degree in journalism, because writing about the arts in order to inspire others to partake in them was always his first love. After earning a PhD from Cornell, he became Program Annotator for the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he learned firsthand the challenges that non profits face. He moved to KC to join the then-thriving Arts Desk at The Kansas City Star, but in 2008 he happily accepted a post at The Independent. Paul contributes to national publications, including Dance Magazine, Symphony, Musical America, and The New York Times, and has conducted scholarly research in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic (the latter on a Fulbright Fellowship). He also taught musicology at Cornell, LSU and Park University.



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