On Saturday at 8 p.m. at Jackson Hall, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will perform an all-Beethoven program conducted by Pinchas Zukerman. The program includes Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus, 61, with Zukerman performing on solo violin while leading the orchestra.
Pinchas Zukerman has wowed the classical music world for more than four decades, described as the “forever young virtuoso: expressively resourceful, infectiously musical, technically impeccable, effortless” by the Los Angeles Times. Born in Tel Aviv in 1948, Zukerman took after his father, a violinist, after first starting the recorder and then the clarinet. By the age of 8, he was a student at the Tel Aviv Academy of Music, and at 12, he moved to New York to study at the Juilliard School after Isaac Stern became his legal guardian.
At Juilliard, he studied with the noted teacher Ivan Galamian and was nurtured by cellist Pablo Casals. He performed his New York debut at the Lincoln Center in 1969, and since then he has been awarded the Medal of the Arts and the Isaac Stern Award for Artistic Excellence.
Zukerman regularly performs on both the violin and the viola, taking full advantage of his versatility with a broad range of repertoire. He has recorded more than 100 titles, and has covered most of the standard violin and viola repertoire, earning two Grammy Awards along the way.
Although he built his career as a violinist, in the past decade, Zukerman has become equally renowned as a conductor leading the world’s top orchestras through a range of the repertoire’s most challenging pieces. This is his fifth season as the principal guest conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, touring Spain, Russia and the United Kingdom as well as the United States. His conducting schedule also includes engagements with the Vienna Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Budapest Festival Orchestra and the Israel Philharmonic.
On Saturday’s program is Beethoven’s Overture to “Prometheus,” Opus 43. “Prometheus” is Beethoven’s earliest work in the overture form, and is also one of his most compact. It was a turning point work in Beethoven’s career and foreshadows the depth of his later works.
The overture begins with characteristic strife and the ominous expectation of greater storm to come. The opening blossoms into a lyrical and slow introduction that is followed by the first theme, a virtuosic display of rhythmic vitality.
The Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 61, was composed at the height of Beethoven’s “heroic” period. In an interview with NewJersey.com, Zukerman described it as a “beautifully constructed work, whose opening sets the tone for the emotionally sumptuous work. The violin sometimes takes on the role of accompaniment, letting the orchestra shine. The slow movement has the feeling of a walk, allowing the cheery finale to then take over.”
Rounding out the all-Beethoven program is the classic Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The first four notes are perhaps the most famous opening in the symphonic repertoire. Zukerman said to NewJersey.com of its famous opening, “When you hear it, even when you are experiencing it again and again, it has this incredible strength and vitality that very few pieces of the literature have.”
Interestingly, the symphony took some time after its first performance in 1808 to become influential, but with time, it has become a template for countless symphonic compositions. Although a classic, its interpretation still elicits debate. Zukerman says of his own interpretation, “At the end of the day, am I right? I don’t know. I just do it, and I try to do it better and better every time I play it.”
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra — which last appeared at the Mondavi Center in January 2012 under conductor Charles Dutoit — was founded in 1946 by conductor Thomas Beecham, Subsequent RPO conductors include Antal Dorati, Andre Previn, Vladimir Ashkenazyn and Yuri Temirkanov (who visits Mondavi later this season with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic). In addition to releasing numerous classical albums, the RPO also has recorded extensively for film and television.
Tickets are sold out, but join the waiting list to receive priority for any tickets that are returned by calling 530-754-2787 or visiting www.mondaviarts.org.