The temperature at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre rose considerably Thursday night, owing to the sheer madness of the bowing of Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concertmaster Juliana Athayde, as the violin soloist for Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." Athayde attacked the score with a determination to seize its glory, and, in doing so, she made each note sparkle, no matter how fast, light, or quiet.
The setting for the RPO performance consisted of a "tiny" orchestra of some 15 violins (including Athayde), five violas, four cellos, two bass, and a harpsichord. I think of the "Four Seasons" as more of an intimate work, designed to be performed in a far smaller setting than the 2,300-seat Kodak Hall.
Thursday night, however, there was a powerful synergy between Athayde and guest conductor JoAnn Falletta, and their chemistry caused all the musicians to reach to keep up with the tempi and wide dynamic range of the soloist and conductor. There was significant eye contact, body language, and expression upon everyone's faces, which reflected the superb blend of sound and authentic interpretation.
Falletta holds numerous posts, including as music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. She is also principal conductor of the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She has nine Grammy nominations and two Grammy awards to her name.
Athayde has been concertmaster of the RPO since 2005. She holds degrees from the University of Michigan and the Cleveland Institute of Music. She is an associate professor of violin at the Eastman School of Music and a visiting teacher at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
The first half of the program was also most enjoyable, consisting of the "Capriccio sinfonico" by Giacomo Puccini and the Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90 (the "Italian") by Felix Mendelssohn. Falletta -- without scores -- conducted with her feet firmly planted on the podium and the whole of her body emoting her directions to the musicians. Everyone was so settled into the program that the audience let out an audible sigh at the end of the Puccini.
The one comment I would have about the Puccini and the Mendelssohn is this: the RPO has a further bit to give to these works. The works were solid, but, I would argue, a smidge too comfortable. If on Saturday the RPO can give Falletta in the first half of the program what it gave Falletta and Athayde in the second half of the program, you will have a performance that will put the gold star in the holiday sky.
The RPO performs the same program Saturday, December 15, 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall. For more information or tickets visit the RPO website.