Austin Symphony Orchestra with Caitlin Tully

Classical music review

Arts Review

Austin Symphony Orchestra with Caitlin Tully

Bass Concert Hall, Sept. 26

This was Caitlin Tully in 2002, age 14, performing Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole with the ASO: "Her bow movements, when not painstakingly precise, included a gesture of throwing away the last, brash note, practically flinging her bow across the strings and into the sky. Then she'd drop her head, let her violin fall to her side, and freeze for a moment in some serious aloofness."

On Sunday night, for Sibelius' Concerto in D Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 47, the "throw-away" gesture remained the same: The bow still seemed to sail off the strings toward the sky at those passage-concluding bursts of sound; then around it went to rest at a slight angle at the end of the girl's slender arm, the violin fell, and down dropped her head. But this time the gesture was less one of "aloofness," as this reviewer put it then, than of self-awareness, of Tully's cool mastery of Sibelius' technically challenging work. This year, the more mature Tully seemed more grounded and comfortable as the center and spark of such a dramatic and demanding work. Not that she was uncomfortable two years ago, but with age comes maturity, and so Sunday, the confident virtuoso looked perfectly at home captivating an audience that roared its approval when she returned for a third bow.

Sibelius' work is a deeply dramatic affair, and Tully was equal both to its furious, athletic sections and the moody, deathly still ones. Often the composition permitted the soloist to venture on her own for long passages of intricate fret work, to be rejoined by the orchestra in a roiling give-and-take. While Lalo's symphony was "fiendishly difficult for a mere mortal," according to one description, Sibelius' concerto offered a third movement that one writer called "a polonaise for polar bears," because of its intricacies and vigorousness. Tully was a match to fiends before and bears now, offering a superb, assured performance, whetting the appetite for her next appearance with Maestro Bay and company.

Bookending Tully's performance was a pair of Tchaikovsky works. Well, that's not exactly true. The final work of the night was the Russian's Symphony No. 2, yes, but the opening work was actually by Igor Stravinsky: Divertimento From "The Fairy's Kiss," something of a musical homage to his Russian antecedent. The Fairy's Kiss was a failed ballet, but Stravinsky rescued some of its music to create Divertimento. In it, Stravinsky quotes Tchaikovsky or creates Tchaikovsky-like passages – sounding something like a modern version of the old master. The music that remained from the ballet's score is upbeat, with emphatic pops of happy sound. There was a give-and-take among the orchestra's sections for this piece, too: The opening movement offered a brief string quartet, with basses humming in the background, to spar with the full orchestra, while the middle movement offered a delicate trio of cello, harp, and horn. The real Tchaikovsky selection was an early symphony composed during rare happy times for the brooding artist, and it fairly burst with Ukrainian folk tunes from beginning to end. There were few somber sections in a work more upbeat in tone, from the second movement's march, interspersed with sweeping orchestral majesty, to the bright Scherzo, to the final furious coda that ended with an exhilarating explosion of sound. A fine way to end a rare Sunday night's symphony performance, leaving the audience buzzing and content.

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Austin Symphony Orchestra, Caitlin Tully, ASO, Symphonie Espagnole, Sibelius: Concerto in D Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 47, Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2, Stravinsky: Divertimento from "The Fairy's Kiss"

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