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Arts and Entertainment Saturday, Mar. 24, 2012 10 years ago

International Star, Incandescent Genius

by: John Ewing

Column by Walker Meade.

Perhaps the greatest living violin virtuoso, James Ehnes---who looks like a young major league ball player and plays his Stradivarius like a god---will give us the beloved Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major next weekend in the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

The Times (London) recently said, “James Ehnes seems set to become one of classical music’s biggest names. ... he produces a simply gorgeous palette of timbres---sometimes warm and velvety, sometimes with the pellucid clarity of lark song at dawn, elsewhere thrillingly powerful and incisive.” Ehnes, who was born in Canada, now lives with his wife Kate in Bradenton. They were married three years ago after Ehnes proposed on camera before 45,000 people following a concert with the New York Philharmonic in Central Park. That’s just the kind of guy he is.

If you see him around town he is likely going to a baseball game (big fan) or riding his bike with Kate, though they do that a little less now that they've just had their first child, Caroline. They are besotted, as you might expect.

Ehnes won the 2008 Grammy for "Best Concerto Recording" of Elgar’s Violin Concerto with London's Philharmonia Orchestra. Gramophone's editor said, “Not only is Ehnes’ technical address impeccable and intonation miraculously true, his contribution is remarkable for its intrepid emotional scope, athletic agility and (perhaps above all) jaw-dropping delicacy.”

Ehnes says, “With composers like Beethoven and Brahms, who were so meticulous, I try to get my inspiration from all the little mysteries they put on the page. Getting to know a composer’s compositional language is critical. With any composer there are always instances of confusion when you look at a score and think, 'What is this? Why did he do this?' If it’s not clear and if I can’t understand it, then I’m not going to play it.”

To hear him play a great piece like the Beethoven Violin Concerto is nothing short of a blessing.

Music has always been savior to those of us so desperate we would set fire to the rain, so needing of space and peace in our lives that we even look for love in all the wrong places. Yes, the great composer did that too. Beethoven wrote of his personal agony in 1802, and four years later wrote the fantastic Violin Concerto in D major. In those four years he conquered his despair and began to think of himself as heroic. Equipped with this powerful new self image of composer-hero, he began producing works like a man possessed, completing his third through fifth symphonies, two concertos, the three "Rasumovsky" string quartets, the tumultuous "Appassionata" sonata and the opera Fidelio.

It was the most productive period of his life. So it goes. Out of darkness, comes light.

Also on the program is Mozart’s amazing Symphony No. 25. Those of you who saw Amadeus will remember that the the action of the film began with this symphony, setting Salieri's attempted suicide to the sharply-edged throb of its opening unison passage and the explosive "rocket" theme that follows it. If you’re into musical history, this work in a minor key---unusual at the time---was the beginning of Mozart’s journey away from Haydn, the great influence in his life. Mozart was 17 when he finished it, and it marks a triumph rare for one of any age.

Next weekend will set fire to the rain ... promise.

- The "Chen and Ehnes" installment of the Sarasota Orchestra's "Masterworks" series will open on March 29 in the Neel Performing Arts Center, then runs at the Van Wezel from March 31 through April 1. Purchase tickets on the Sarasota Orchestra website.

- Walker Meade began his professional career at 22 with a short story in Collier's magazine. He went on to become Managing Editor of Cosmopolitan and then Editor in Chief, later President, of Avon Books. He now lives in Sarasota, has published a novel and writes occasionally about music and health for the Herald-Tribune

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