Jackiw Powers Through Brahms

Stefan P. Jackiw ’07 impresses at HRO’s pre-frosh weekend concert

Thunderous applause perhaps more fit for a rock venue than stately Sanders Theatre marked the performance of Stefan P. Jackiw ’07 at Friday night’s Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra (HRO) Pre-frosh Weekend concert. A raucous crowd refused to sit down until after Jackiw had returned to the stage three additional times after his performance of Johannes Brahms’s “Violin Concerto.”

Led by HRO conductor Dr. James Yannatos, Harvard’s orchestra proved a fine match for Jackiw, executing a moving performance of the “Prelude and Liebestod” from Richard Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” and of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 4” in addition to the Brahms concerto. In many ways, it was the orchestra rather than Jackiw that stole the show, with their tactful, elaborate construction of the three pieces.

HRO President Chrix E. Finne ’07 introduced the orchestra, adding a special welcome to the class of 2010 present on campus and reminding the new faces that there is “absolutely no reason they would ever want to go to Yale.”

Finne was succeeded on stage by Yannatos, who, without speaking, launched the orchestra into their performance of “Tristan und Isolde.” Beginning from the opera’s hesitant first bars, the orchestra ratcheted up the grand Wagnerian drama by a series of sympathetic cascades, each terminating in a foreboding quiver.

In a fantastic back-and-forth between the strings’ woodwinds, Yannatos led the orchestra seamlessly between moods, in a progressive build that highlighted the orchestra’s flutes.

Perhaps most impressive was the orchestra’s ability to avoid the maudlin bombast typically endemic of Wagner. From the almost minimalist interchange between the orchestra’s components to the gorgeous emotion evident on the performers’ faces during the mountainous crescendos, no musical phrase was left incomplete, and no thought left unfinished.

Yannatos and HRO exhibited a striking ability to rein themselves in, a habit that not only augmented the more fragile tonalities of the piece but which would also continue throughout the night as a recurring strength of the performance.

Yannatos left the stage after the Wagnerian conclusion and returned with violin phenomenon Jackiw. Standing hesitantly next to the ebullient Yannatos, Jackiw appeared almost out of place as the orchestra began to set up the musical canvas, but upon diving into the piece with a dramatic downbow, Jackiw seized the stage for himself.

Jackiw has the tremendous ability to skip about the violin and draw every note out of it without compromising its tone, and his performance of Brahms’s iconic violin piece was no exception. With a fine ability to draw out tense, almost frantic chords and runs from his violin, Jackiw’s body became just as important as his arms.

The more-meditative second movement gave him the opportunity to integrate more with the rest of the orchestra, smoothing out the soloist-orchestra division that had dominated the first movement. Yannatos led the orchestra through a stretched-out rhythm bordering on rubato as both foreground and background richly employed a range of colors in place of dynamics.

It was in the third movement that Jackiw pulled out all the stops. Jackiw was able to play perfectly off of his fellow performers, although at times a perceptible synchronization gap widened between the soloist and orchestra. Still, Jackiw’s piercing violin danced atop the rejoicing orchestra in a stunning show of his instrument’s full capacity. Careening sometimes to a bit of excess, Jackiw nevertheless delivered a performance that earned him the audience’s adulation.

Following intermission, the orchestra returned to a performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 4” after Yannatos remarked on the end of the year as “always a happy time … and also a sad occasion.” He said that his graduating seniors are “cherished and loved” and wished them future success. The Rachel Mellinger Memorial Award was presented to co-principal violist Johann F. Cutiongco ’06 for his dedication and leadership to the orchestra.

The symphony itself was perhaps the orchestra’s finest moment as a unified musical ensemble, at times wailing with ominous darkness and at others lilting on tentative happiness. A stunning staccato passage in the third movement gave way to the bombastic power and arched backs of the performers in the fourth. The woodwinds shone throughout the piece, playing runs and falls that jumped across the strings’ solid foundation.

At the end of the concert, Yannatos and Finne were able to look out confidently on the enraptured crowd, the pride on their faces clearly earned.