Ingolfsson helps ASO get season off to rousing start


Lightning struck again last weekend at Maryland Hall when Icelandic violinist Judith Ingolfsson helped kick off the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra's 41st season.

Visiting female violinists seem to bring out the best in the orchestra and its conductor, Leslie Dunner.

Two years ago, Dunner's collaboration with Tchaikovsky Competition Silver Medalist Jennifer Koh produced a sumptuous account of Samuel Barber's neo-Romantic Violin Concerto that was one of the highlights of his tenure here. In May 1999, Dunner and Canadian violinist Lara St. John gave us a Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor that was passionate and sultry.

Last weekend, Ingolfsson, gold medalist at the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis in 1998, brought her 1683 Stradivarius to Annapolis to play the Violin Concerto of Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian, a work full of pulsating rhythms, exotic folk melodies and eye-popping displays of technical fireworks. The performance was spectacular.

It goes without saying that this young violinist has mastered the mechanics of her craft - one doesn't win a major international quadrennial competition without rapid-fire fingers, a bionic bow arm, dead-on intonation and the poetic sense to meld them all together into handsome tone. There are scads of young players these days with those qualities.

But what this budding superstar revealed Saturday evening went beyond technical command.

First, she already is enough of an artist to take a knotty concerto that's slightly off the beaten repertory path and make it absolutely and unmistakably her own.

The dance rhythms of her opening passage jumped out at the listener. Her presentation of the movement's second theme was languid to a fault, and she didn't so much play the grand solo cadenza as launch it. Also commendable was the sense of give and take she established with principal clarinetist Fred Jacobowitz in the duet near the opening movement's end.

The second movement brought deeply felt sadness, while the concluding "Allegro vivace" oozed not only bristling energy but plenty of charm to go with it. (What an elusive combination that can be.)

The most striking thing, though, is that Ingolfsson approached it all with the panache of a true virtuoso.

The ASO has played host to a number of gifted fiddlers (concertmasters of major American symphony orchestras) who've actually seemed reluctant about turning on the bravura from center stage.

Not Ingolfsson. Nothing was held back. She wasn't interested in making polite chamber music with her orchestral colleagues. Pure and simple, she was out to galvanize the orchestra (which played exceptionally well) and her listeners with the energy and power of Khachaturian's music. And that she did in spades.

Later this season, Ingolfsson will play the Barber Concerto with Leonard Slatkin's National Symphony at the Kennedy Center.

Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 2 proved a bit anticlimactic after the concerto. The interior movements fared best, with committed playing creating admirable depth of feeling in the second, and graceful elegance in the third.

Pittsburgh-based composer David Stock's aptly named "Kickoff" got the evening and the season off to a loud, zippy start.

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