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The challenge of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto: Performing perfection

Ask Simone Lamsma to pick a favorite from the more than 60 violin concertos she keeps in her back pocket, and she doesn’t hesitate: Beethoven. As guest soloist for TFO’s Masterworks program this weekend, Lamsma is thrilled to share her enthusiasm with Tampa Bay audiences.

“I personally feel this is the violin concerto of all time, a real monument,’’ said the 35-year-old Dutch musician. “It’s so perfect as a composition, and is able to transmit the deepest of emotion, and the most tender beauty imaginable. There’s a grandeur combined with such elegance throughout: the greatness and intimacy of the first movement, the beauty of the second, the playfulness of the third. This music seems to make time stand still.’’

Lamsma performs in between Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, under the baton of guest conductor Christoph König. All three works will give musicians quite a workout.

At about 45 minutes, the Violin Concerto requires stamina, and while the writing for the violin is, in essence, a series of fragmented themes, it’s remarkably cohesive. Listeners might liken it to a jigsaw puzzle that has to be assembled in performance. In the end, everything fits together.

“Part of the genius of this work is how well constructed it is and how many shorter lines, fragments and details are all part of a much bigger whole,’’ Lamsma said. “Trying to understand and internalize the architecture is key to delivering a successful performance.’’

The concerto begins with five quiet taps on the kettledrum and then settles into a lengthy conversation between violin and orchestra stretching for nearly half an hour. Like the four notes that ring throughout Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, the timpani strokes are heard in different ways throughout, including the strings in the introduction.

This motif serves as the concerto’s connective tissue. A luscious and serene larghetto offers a set of variations against muted strings, and the soloist works through a cadenza that leads directly into the finale – an energetic gypsy-like rondo in 6/8 meter bursting with arpeggios, double stops, scale runs, and quick-silver plucked notes from the violinist.

Above all, the concerto is a true partnership between soloist and orchestra, and Lamsma always tries to stay out of the way, allowing the music to envelop the soloist, rather than the other way around.

“The fact that I have such deep respect for this music makes the challenge even greater,’’ she said about her performances. “The greatness in this music is that I will always continue to find new insights, because this is a journey that will never end.’’

But how does she keep such a popular and often-played work fresh?

“For me, the most important thing to achieve in a live performance is to create an energy and atmosphere where everyone is fully absorbed by the music and there is a true sense of living in the moment,’’ she says. “Egos are forgotten, and the music takes over and brings to the audience and musicians a deep and truly enriching experience. This is what I always hope for.’’

Tampa Bay Times Masterworks
Beethoven’s Violin Concerto

Christoph König, conductor
Simone Lamsma, violin

Beethoven: Coriolan Overture
Beethoven: Violin Concerto
Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra

Fri, Feb 21, 8 pm, Straz Center, Ferguson
Sat, Feb 22, 8 pm, Mahaffey Theater
Sun, Feb 23, 2 pm, Mahaffey Theater – Matinee

Tickets start at $18
Free tickets for kids & teens in advance
Join Pre-concert Conversation 1 hour prior


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