December 07, 2013 (Review of "Kamio Plays Tchaikovsky")
Kamio wows Symphony Silicon Valley audience
Richard Scheinin, Mercury News
It was just over a year ago that Mayuko Kamio blew San Jose audiences away for the first time, winging in from New York as an emergency replacement on a program with Symphony Silicon Valley. The Japanese violinist, 26 at the time, left her audience on its feet, cheering, after she dispatched Lalo's "Symphonie espagnole," a Romantic thriller.
She did it again Saturday -- left them on their feet, cheering -- after she played Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with the orchestra. And it wasn't just the audience that was tickled by her thrilling performance at the California Theatre: The members of the orchestra were stamping their feet, many smiling with delight, as if they'd just eaten big bowls of ice cream.
Chances are that Kamio (who won the 2007 International Tchaikovsky Competition and has toured with the Israel Philharmonic) is going to be famous. But maybe you already know that, having witnessed one of this weekend's programs. Hats off to Andrew Bales, Symphony Silicon Valley's savvy president, for bringing back this impressive player.
Tchaikovsky's concerto is over-exposed; it's a hit parade of schmaltzy and soul-stirring melodies. So why not just grab it and go for a ride? That's what Kamio did, from her first entrance, throbbing and weeping through her fiddle -- applying so much vibrato that you could say she was over-doing it. But having made this rather outrageous entrance, she then pulled back and demonstrated her taste and command: huge expressivity and tone, expert bow control, clean quicksilver runs and much else.
Vividly conducted by Gregory Vajda, the orchestra sounded great: big and lusty, full of dusky colors in the strings, and right in step with Kamio -- and ready to listen, as she played the first movement's cadenza.
What a display: chains of arpeggios and double-stopped chords leaping to skyscraper-topping harmonics. The way Kamio dug into chords, squeezing them, making them linger and cry -- it was a reminder that the violin, in a sense, has paved the way for the sorts of effects we associate with the electric guitar.
I thought I sensed a bit of fatigue in Kamio as the opening movement approached its conclusion -- but not much. Her playing was graceful and sweet-toned through the slow second movement, as she partnered with principal clarinetist Michael Corner for a slow Russian dance. With floating ease, the orchestra sailed alongside Kamio through the finale, a sprint to the finish, replete with more of those fat melodies, as the violinist dug into her low strings with startling strength and tone. She's an athlete.
The audience wouldn't let her go, so she came back and played an encore, a Paganini caprice: a beautiful bon-bon, like dessert.
And that was the second half of the program. Truth be told, it largely blew away memories of the first half.
Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik," which began the show two hours earlier, was given a mostly crisp and pleasing performance and felt right for the holidays. -- It was followed by Stravinsky's neo-classical Symphony in C, which finds him responding to Haydn and Beethoven, transforming the forms of the masters.
Composed in the late '30s, when Stravinsky was sick with tuberculosis (and had just suffered through the deaths of his oldest daughter, wife and mother), it is a difficult piece, as remote as it is graceful and intimate. Masterfully puzzled together, it puzzles: juts its jaw, throws its elbows around -- and then sings beautiful songs.
The orchestra was impressive, pulsing through the cross-cuts and cross-rhythms of the first movement with its overlapping beehives of activity. The second movement's Italianate "arias" were poignantly handled by oboist Pamela Hakl and flutist Maria Tamburrino. And throughout Symphony in C, there was a sense of connection: bits of theme flying across the orchestra, from the tuba to the bassoon to the flute, each bit connected to the next so that a mosaic emerged, surprisingly, like a rabbit pulled from a hat.