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"Paths of Passion" Review-Zimmermann/Hanford close the Philharmonic's season of "Love"

By Debra Davy

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The Chicago Philharmonic closed it’s 2016-2917 season, “Love”, with a concert entitled “Paths of Passion” on April 9, 2017 at Pick-Stager Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston. Led by Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann, the program featured violinist and concertmaster Robert Hanford. Also participating were poet Richie Hofmann, 5 musicians from the Birch Creek Symphony Program as part of the Philharmonic's Spotlight Mentoring Program, with members of the Dover Quartet Residency Program at the Bienen School of Music, Northwestern, playing Haydn and Beethoven as part of “Next! Music in the Foyer”.


Maestro Gerhardt Zimmerman; photo courtesy of The Chicago Philharmonic

Zimmermann was a strong, charismatic and authoritative presence at the podium, and he introduced his own incredibly articulate transcription of “Chamber Symphony in F #minor”, 2014, after “String Quartet No. 7”, 1960, by Dmitri Shostakovich, with a veritable master-class of explication and demonstration by the Philharmonic. He interpreted Shostakovich’s intentions, described the musical “proof” contained in the piece, then had the orchestra perform in example. This fascinating exploration allowed the audience to hear the phrasing most clearly during the performance of the work itself.

Some of the almost uncanny perceptual ideas included a repeated sound as of knocking on a door, imagined to be the KGB- and Zimmermann told us a remarkable anecdote about Shostakovich keeping a set of toiletries by the door prepared for just such an eventuality- and the sound of a symbolic knife being plunged in the back of Russian artists. The piece, he advised, “Is a musical prayer for humanity”. Filled with symbols of alarum as well as the hope Zimmermann told us was always a constant in Shostakovich’s works, the transcription contains a raw and urgent beauty, including a luscious waltz which is “A remembrance of happier times with Shostakovich and his wife or a dream, a premonition”, said Zimmermann.

Violinist/Concertmaster Robert Hanford; photo courtesy of The Chicago Philharmonic

Maestro Zimmermann’s face was suffused with emotion as he guided the Philharmonic with firm and encouraging gestures through the resounding majesty of the three movements; the end came almost too soon.

  The middle portion of the program was made up of violinist Robert Hanford’s stellar performances in Antonin Dvorák’s “Romance in F minor, Op. 11”, 1873, followed by Franz Waxman’s “Carmen Fantasy”, 1947, 2 special and compelling works that showcased his virtuosity. “Romance”, a single-movement work, contains an initial introduced  glorious,  graceful melody which  gives way to a more restless theme, then to episodes of orchestral stridency, before returning to the original calm. The piece flowed as a harmonious song, with the soloist leading the way in a graceful lightness of expression, an inspired tenderness in this meltingly beautiful melody.

Birch Creek Music Performance Center student artists participating in The Chicago Philharmonic's Spotlight Mentoring Program

Waxman, exceptionally skilled at orchestration, created his  “Fantasy” for the film “Humoresque”, based on themes from Bizet’s opera, “Carmen”.  Widely regarded as a technical showpiece for the violin, it was played this afternoon with a fine synthesis of color and timbre by the Philharmonic under the baton of Zimmermann. Hanford was brilliant as his bow flew back and forth in flourishes, utterly persuasive. The music was dense with a saturated sonority; it actually reverberated throughout the Hall.

The Chicago Philharmonic under the baton of Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann

 The final piece, Dvorák’s “Symphony No. 9 in E minor”, Op. 95, 1893, (“From the New World") is one of the most popular of all symphonies. Played this afternoon, under the watchful eye and commanding baton of Zimmermann, it formed a triumphant finish  to a concert of flourishes. Dvorák described the piece the day before it premiered as being influenced by Native American melodies; “I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music, and, using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, counterpoint and orchestral colour”. It’s also been noted that he had been exposed to African-American spirituals, and much has been written about the similarities between the 2 and their impact on this work, coupled with impressions from the composer’s own homeland, Bohemia.

The symphony is filled with tension, emotion and fire. The slow movement was performed with warmth, the highly pointed rhythms in the finale were exciting, the level of detail grand. The whole rendering provided a deeply moving vision of a future filled with strength, a vision sorely needed in a world where freedom is threatened.


Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann conducting "Paths of Passion"

For information and tickets to The Chicago Philharmonic’s new season, 2017-2018, “Glorious Earth”, go to

The Chicago Philharmonic website


 Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Ryan Bennett


Published on Apr 17, 2017

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