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Review: Austin Symphony Orchestra with Vadim Gluzman

Staff Writer
Austin 360

The Austin Symphony’s season finale at the Long Center last weekend was something of a blockbuster.

A world premiere of a previously uncovered symphony, a world-class violin soloist and a couple of classics thrown in for good measure.

The crowd’s favorite was certainly Ukranian/Israeli virtuoso violinist Vadim Gluzman, judging from intensity of standing ovations.

Gluzman played Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35,” one of those dazzling Russian warhorses, absolutely spackled with impossible runs. Gluzman, however seems to have made this piece part of his DNA. His performance of the first movement was so electric that large swaths of the crowd not only applauded, but launched into a standing ovation. Not something symphony goers see very often, but a genuine and deserved reaction.

Once Gluzman’s hands asked for them to sit, his fingers danced to the second and third movements, which were equally impressive, with a slight downgrade of intensity. In his cadenza, Gluzman hit a series of high harmonics that made the audience audibly swoon. His may have laid his vibrato on a little thick in the second movement, but the third movement is another barn burner, and had Gluzman gliding through its technical sections with a swimmer’s finesse.

Edward Burlingame Hill simply fell through the cracks. Do a Youtube search for his name and you’ll find just a handful of the composer’s works, each with just a few hundred views. Hill (1872-1960) was a composer and professor at Harvard whose students included Leonard Bernstein and the late Elliot Carter. He’s not quite music’s Herman Melville, as his work was performed during his lifetime, but his style of dense, angular Romanticism ran against the times, and much of his work was left unpublished and unplayed.

The Austin Symphony’s upcoming recording of Hill’s “Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major, Op. 47,” — due out next year — should significantly expand the composer’s reputation, or at least make his name better known, with an available modern recording.

On Friday night, the world premiere was dazzling. The piece, which dates from 1941, still sounds fresh, with a spectacular first movement, a solid theme, and a few welcome appearances from a saxophone. Hill’s work could have been swapped into a soundtrack for a film written yesterday — no one would be the wiser.

This fruitful collaboration between Univeristy of Texas history professor Karl Miller (who unearthed the work) and conductor Peter Bay, has done as much as any artist, or art-lover could ask; reviving a valuable piece of art, then performing it beautifully. This was a rare feat; providing entertainment and a deeper appreciation for an historian’s and an artist’s work.