Review: Ray Chen performs Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with the LA Philharmonic

By Charlize Althea Garcia, Feb. 14, 2023

Ray Chen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic performed Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor on Feb. 3 followed by Brahms’ Piano Quartet No.1 with conductor Matthias Pintscher. Ray Chen, regarded as one of the renowned classical musicians of our time, took the stage with the LA Philharmonic.

Composed in E minor, the title of the piece forebodes a haunting theme that radiated in the beginning. Chen began as the storyteller of the eerie narrative, playing the overarching melody with an energy that radiated throughout the concert hall. The solo violin had been the catalyst to the overwhelming sensation of awe as both the orchestra and Chen converged to reach the movement’s climactic point. In that moment, the perfect pair can be heard and seen. Chen, the storyteller, and Mendelssohn’s evocative nature shown as the author.

Chen’s execution of the cadenza both displayed his expressive disposition and inspiring virtuosity.

The drama of the first movement transformed into a heavy emotional state in the second.

Simultaneously emanating tranquility and sorrow, the orchestra pulled the melodic passage down to melancholy. The solo violin had a naivete, dancing over the passage with a feeling of lightness. The orchestra soon enveloped the violin, turning the gleam into darkness.

The first and second movement call for the third movement to be one of mental repose or even a happy conclusion, although, we are swept into a state of questionable merriment. The shift was preceded by a beautiful transition through the jovial theme, skillfully performed by Chen, questioning our ears’ emotional state. The third movement seemed to be extremely emphatic in triumph, acknowledging the main theme only in contradiction. However, the demand of elation allowed for both Chen and the orchestra to convey their brilliance in their skill

The second piece played was Piano Quartet No. 1 composed by Johannes Brahms in 1867, arranged by Arnold Schoenberg in 1937. Composed originally for a piano quartet, the piece was arranged by Schoenberg for a full orchestra. Having the piece composed and arranged in two different centuries might have opened a world of stylistic choices that would have muddled the essence of the composer. On the contrary, this piece had strictly abided by the original work of Brahms.

Courtesy of Farah Sosa

The first movement already highlights the beauty of a full orchestra. The main theme of the first movement makes its way into almost every section, allowing a nod to the many colors now introduced. Followed by various peaks and valleys, it concluded with a crowning moment of rest. The second and third movement both displayed languid but also spirited passages that fitted to the preparation of the blistering pace of the finale. The fourth movement contained all the excitement of the piece with sprites of percussion and dizzying runs from the stings to the winds.

The finale was resplendent with moments of exultation and rejoice. At the same time, it had a sense of playfulness that sustained throughout, but that would soon be overlaid by the majesty of the ending.

The program had two pieces that both represented the “new” layered with the past. Brahms’ pieces were composed in the mid-19th century. It had been for another 70 years that this piece would have transformed into a completely different set of ears. Though we listen to Schoenberg’s orchestration as if it was an entity of the past, it was relatively novel at the time of its release. Just as we see Ray Chen, who has a media presence that has reached a global audience, bridging the classical world with the new world of today.

As we go farther into pushing the boundaries of music, classical music, specifically, doesn’t completely stray away from the past. There will always be a remembrance or an essence of what once was because classical music is heavily built on the idea of influence and the open mindedness to “new.” Without it, there is no chance of survival.

Feature image courtesy of Farah Sosa

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