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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

And now, a musical interlude

I'm up late, rather worried about some things, and thus, you know what this means if you are a regular here at The Liberty Sphere. Time for some music.

At the age of 17 Dylana Jenson was the first woman and the youngest person to win the silver medal in violin competition at the Tchaikovsky festival in Moscow. She became an immediate sensation as a solo violinist throughout the world, as well as here in the United States.

Here in the video below you will see a delightful conversation between Jenson, who was 19 at the time, and Eugene Ormandy just prior to Jenson's first performance as guest violin soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra as they present their rendition of Jean Sibelius' violin concerto. Sibelius was a Finnish composer who had a long and prolific career, but this is the only violin concerto he ever wrote. He did, however, write seven symphonies.

The video was first presented in 1981 in Philadelphia on its PBS station. Ormandy had retired but was still active with the orchestra as Conductor Laureate. He had worked out an agreement with the new conductor, Ricardo Muti, and the Board to conduct the orchestra regularly, in addition to Muti's schedule. Muti's was the full schedule of weekly concerts that Ormandy had maintained through his 44-year tenure with the orchestra. As Conductor Laureate Ormandy's schedule was more limited than before but still regular nonetheless. This gave him plenty of time to accept the avalanche of invitations all over the world to guest conduct other orchestras, many of which had been put off for years due to his vigorous schedule in Philadelphia.

Ormandy and the orchestra had introduced to the world Sibelius' music as they had Rachmaninoff and others who were basically unknown until Ormandy and the Philadelphians not only performed but recorded their works, which were then sold world wide under either the RCA label or Columbia Masterworks label.

On one occasion in the 1950s Ormandy had taken the orchestra on a performing tour of Europe, and he decided that he would pay a visit to Sibelius, with the full orchestra in tow. Sibelius and Ormandy by that time were good friends, but Sibelius refused to come out. Aside from being a very shy and modest man, he told Ormandy he was suffering from a cold. At that point Ormandy said, "You do realize that this is the orchestra that made you and your music famous, don't you?"

Sibelius decided that he could, at the very least, come out and give the orchestra a personal greeting.

Another interesting part of the video is at the beginning when he is rehearsing with Jenson. He stops to give her tips on playing the piece, particularly at one section in the concerto. Ormandy, of course, had been a solo violinist who toured Europe prior to his immigrating to the United States. And thus, it was Ormandy who molded the Philadelphia Orchestra to emphasize the violins. It was his specialty, and the sound he produced reflected it. No orchestra on earth has ever been able to reproduce those rich, mellow, and full tones that was Ormandy's signature sound. He did not want the other instruments to overshadow the violins. This did not mean he held back on the crescendos on the part of the brass instruments when the music called for it. He let them play full force when it was called for. But he made sure that the violins and other strings, plus the woodwinds, could be heard just as clearly and distinctly as the brass. It was a "big sound" that one could describe as "the classic orchestra in the grand tradition."

Sibelius did not write easy music. Much of it is quite difficult to play. But as the video shows, both Jenson and Ormandy (and, by extension, the orchestra) were equal to the task. There is nothing here to indicate a "second tier" conductor, as one numbskull music critic once said of Ormandy. After all, he developed what was considered the finest orchestra in the world. Only the very best can accomplish that.

Since this video is on Dylana Jenson's YouTube page, I cannot embed it here due to copyright restrictions, so here is the link that will take you directly to the YouTube video. If you like fine music, it gets no better than this. Do yourself a favor and watch it. It is a treasure, a piece of music history.

Click here to see Jenson, Ormandy, and the Philadelphia Orchestra as they play Sibelius' violin concerto.

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