When it came to playing the violin, ambition outstripped ability for the legendary Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Instead, the composer poured his disappointment and dashed dreams of becoming a concert virtuoso into one of the greatest vehicles for violinists ever conceived: The stunningly expressive and ferociously demanding Violin Concerto in D minor.
The concerto has long beguiled soloists, beginning with its 1904 premiere in Helsinki at the hands of Hungarian violinist Victor Nováček. Ironically, Nováček was known more as a great teacher than as a virtuoso performer, and the combination of the huge technical demands with the scant preparation and rehearsal time turned out to be a formula for disaster.
A chastened Sibelius set about revising the score, and as, author Steinberg writes, “his Violin Concerto is imbued both with his feeling for the instrument and the pain of his farewell to his ‘dearest wish’ and ‘overriding ambition.'”
With more than a century of hindsight (and perhaps a bit more preparation time!), the towering opening movement of Sibelius’ masterwork was brilliantly realized at our opening Stars of Tomorrow concert of the season by Heifetz 2022 student Zachary Brandon and pianist Beilin Han. Come along for the journey!
Jean Sibelius (1865 – 1957) composed his solo concerto in 1904, and revised it a year later after is disastrous debut.