"Kremerata Baltica" Review- Gidon Kremer and the youthful string ensemble at Symphony Center

On February 1, as part of the 86th Season of Symphony Center Presents, the astonishingly youthful string orchestra Kramerata Baltica, from Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, with Gidon Kremer, violin, and Mate Bekavac, solo clarinet, gave a rousing performance at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, consisting of 5 works and 2 pieces in encore. The appearance marked the group’s 20th anniversary and Kremer’s 70th birthday. The program featured two substantially atonal works in the first half, both of which unfortunately began in a register far too soft to really hear and appreciate them. However, as the pieces picked up in volume, they were more than well presented.

Kramerata Baltica; photo by Christian Lutz

 -“Fratres for Violin and String Orchestra”, 1977 by Estonian composer Arvo Part, is a 3-part composition, composed “without fixed instrumentation”, and consisting of a set of multiple chord sequences separated by a pattern of recurring percussion. The piece contains bursts of musical activity combined with deep periods of silence, an ultimately rewarding and complex harmonic mix.

 -”Chamber Symphony No. 4 for String Orchestra and Clarinet”, Opus 153, 1992, by Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg, and his final chamber symphony, was led by Bekavac while seated in the middle of the Ensemble, when not absorbed in playing his clarinet; he appeared fully immersed in both roles. The music seemed at times to be delicately turned inward upon itself, at other times clear, joyous and melodic. There is a spiritual quality to the work.

Gidon Kremer; photo courtesy of Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltic

 After the intermission, three pieces- beautifully rendered in themselves- were presented without any break at all in between, which was unfortunate. Each of these pieces deserved to stand alone; the “attacca” approach seemed an inexplicable choice. These were not merely separate movements but wholly different pieces of music. Indeed, when Kremer walked off before the end of the Tchaikovsky, and returned before the last strains of “The Great Gate of Kiev” from the Mussorgsky had died out, it was dramatic but stole the show from the other musicians and the compositions.

 -“Serenade Melancolique”, 1875, by Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, arranged by another Russian composer, Leonid Desyatnikov, is a gorgeous piece that contains moments of deep, unbridled passion; coupled, however, with the graceful and transcendent violin virtuosity of Kremer, the work shone with a remarkable refined soulfulness.

 -”Pictures at an Exhibition”, 1874, by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky, arranged by British based conductor/composer Jaques Cohen, with  additional percussion parts added by Ukrainian percussionist and Kremerata Baltica member Andrei Pushkarev, is an instantly recognizable orchestral masterpiece consisting of ten impressive movements centered around a repetitive melodic line , the “Promenade”, of surpassing loveliness. The famous ending, in which carillons ring, is an awe-inspiring denoument.

 -“Serenade for Solo Violin”, 2009, by Ukrainian composer and pianist Valentin Silvestrov, is part of the composer's  “Five Pieces for Gidon Kremer”, a captivating juxtaposition of subtle moods, harmony, and melodies, pulsing with folk rhythms.


Kremerata Baltica; photo by Andreas Malkmus

The encores included:

 -“All in the Past”, by Latvian composer and musicologist George Pelecis, a concerto with a substantial violin solo, very fresh and entertaining, with hints of tango music.

 - Finally, ”Nach dem Weinbergsteig”- (said to be a tribute to Mieczyslaw Weinberg)- by Russian concert pianist, conductor and composer Mikhail Pletnev, lighthearted and fanciful, closed the program.


Despite some of the unsettling choices in presentation, this is a superb violinist and a fine orchestra which demonstrated a mastery of the material and provided a memorable concert experience.


For information and tickets to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, it's special concerts and series, go to the CSO website





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