PENINSULA SPOTLIGHT: Violinist joins symphony for difficult concerto by Tchaikovsky

PORT ANGELES — The piece is “stupendously difficult,” says Suzanne Berg of the Port Angeles Symphony.

The Violin Concerto that Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky finished in 1878 was at first deemed “unplayable.” Critics berated it.

Tchaikovsky was mortified by what he read in the papers, noted Berg, herself a retired violinist.

Then came soloist Adolph Brodsky. In his 1881 performance before a hostile audience in Vienna, he showed them: The Violin Concerto is not only playable, it is electrifying.

It opens with an introductory melody; then comes a lyrical second theme and “a swaggering polonaise,” as Berg puts it. The second movement, a canzonetta, or little song, “so delicate the composer doesn’t even finish it.

Instead, he leaps” into a rondo of dance themes and “pulls out all the stops and calls for the most that soloist, orchestra and conductor can give.”

This Saturday, the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra will pull out those stops again, with a soloist whom conductor Adam Stern has chosen especially for Tchaikovsky’s virtuoso work. She is Monique Mead, a violinist who calls her instrument’s music the “sound of [her] soul.”

She discovered the violin while in elementary school in Indiana, and has since built a career of performing and teaching across Europe, Mexico and the United States. On Saturday in Port Angeles, Mead and the orchestra will offer two performances: the rehearsal, open to the public at 10 a.m., and the evening concert at 7:30.

As always, Stern will give a pre-concert talk at 6:40 p.m. All of these events will be at the Port Angeles High School auditorium, 304 E. Park Ave. Tickets range from $10 to $25 and will be available at the door.

“Come, Gentle Spring” is the title of these concerts; they are the orchestra’s last until the new season starts in September.

Stern discovered Mead at the August Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival and has since seen her there several times. So when he decided to include the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in “Come, Gentle Spring,” he contacted her at her home in Pittsburgh.

In an interview last week, Mead said Stern’s call wasn’t unexpected — but his request was.

Her husband, Andrés Cárdenes, is himself a renowned violinist. So Mead thought Stern was about to invite him to Port Angeles.

But the maestro wanted Mead, the violinist who’s performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the San Diego Symphony, the Philharmonia Hungarica, the Krakow and Munich radio orchestras, Berlin’s Philharmonie der Nationen and the Mexico State Symphony, among many others.

She’s never been to the Olympic Peninsula, though, and says the impending performance of Tchaikovsky’s concerto has her energized.

“I love to play this piece,” she said, adding that it reminds her of the day when her mother took her to see the Fort Wayne, Ind., Symphony. She was 7, and there was a 12-year-old violin soloist up there on stage, “and I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do with my life.”

Mead earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music at Indiana University, moved to Germany to teach and perform, and then returned home to the Midwest, where she’s raising her two young children, performing with various symphonies and chamber groups, and teaching violin at the Preparatory School of Carnegie Mellon University.

For Mead, the joy of playing is in sharing beauty, in “creating one moment of beauty. You want people to be able to lose themselves in the music . . . if I can do that, I’ll be happy.”

Saturday’s Port Angeles Symphony concerts will feature beauty beyond the Tchaikovsky. The program also includes Jean Sibelius’ Spring Song, a 107-year-old symphonic poem; “The First Day of Spring” written in 1954 by Leroy Anderson, and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 in B-flat major, whose first movement is titled “Spring Awakening.”

Concert tickets are available at Port Book and News, 104 E. First St., Port Angeles; BeeDazzled at The Buzz, 130 N. Sequim Ave., Sequim, and through the symphony office at 360-457-5579. For Sequim patrons, a bus to the Port Angeles High auditorium is available. For details, phone 360-683-4743.

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