New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
In addition to the audial thrill of listening to two of today’s greatest musicians play together, watching the passion violinist Leonidas Kavakos and pianist Yuja Wang evince for their art can be a motion study. In their contagiously exuberant ways, Kavakos characteristically tosses his shoulder-length hair; and the daringly dressed Wang rises from the piano bench while playing. Kavakos and Wang are both immense artists, described by Gramophone as having “a strikingly vibrant and expressive partnership.” The collaborative spirit shown by Kavakos and Wang has you gripped from the word go.”) Despite their different backgrounds, and seemingly without needing to have eye-to-eye communication during their recital, they are a perfectly integrated team, one of the top piano-violin duos in today’s classical music. Performing together, they say, is “a joy”. That translates into joy for their audience.
Kavakos and Wang embarked on a major recital tour of Europe and the United States this January and February, beginning with a performance in Turin on 29 January 2017. Their most recent recital, of chamber music, at the David Geffen Hall, In Recital: Leonidas Kavakos & Yuja Wang, part of both Kavakos’ appearances as Artist-in-Residence for the New York Philharmonic 2016-2017 season and the prestigious “Great Performers at Lincoln Center” series, filled the entire hall. Kavakos, 49, and Wang, 29, first performed together at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland. Their two week European-North American tour, which includes 13 stops, is their most extensive tour to date.
The music superstars performedworks by Schubert, Debussy, Janáček and Bartók, at Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center on February 9, creating a nocturnal fantasy of melody and at times a certain feeling of melancholy, in both Janáček’s Sonata for Violin and Piano Schubert’s Fantasy, with its dazzling colors. After intermission, came atmospheric, impressionistic music. They conjured the gypsy caravans of Debussy’s enigmatic Violin Sonata—the French composer’s final major work—and concluded with the wild, rhapsodic dances of Bartók’s Sonata No. 1.
“Creating, and even listening to music is a different experience for each and every one because in instrumental music or in a symphonic repertoire, you don’t have words, you don’t have a text, or program, therefore one can get in contact with this world of sounds, which can mean one billion different things to each person’s soul, each person’s mind, each person’s emotions,” Kavakos told the GN in one of many interviews, “And there is no application for that, no rules… you are not supposed to feel this or that. There are no rules.”
Kavakos entered the international music scene in the mid-1980s, gaining enthusiasts from the beginning. The winner of the Léonie Sonning Music Prize for 2017, Kavakos traveled to Copenhagen for a week of performances beginning on January 10, 2017. The prize, which he officially received at the DR Koncerthuset on January 12, is regarded as Denmark’s highest musical honor and is awarded annually to an internationally recognized composer, instrumentalist, conductor or singer. Previous winners include Leonard Bernstein, Benjamin Britten, Arthur Rubinstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Dmitri Shostakovich, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Mstislav Rostropovich, Pierre Boulez, and Arvo Pärt, among many others. The Sonning citation reads, “His strong personality, virtuosity and the honest, direct nature of his playing mark him out as an artist of rare caliber.” As part of the celebrations, Kavakos gave a public masterclass with violin students from the Danish Academy of Music on January 13. He plays the ‘Abergavenny’ Stradivarius violin of 1724 and owns modern violins made by F. Leonhard, S.P. Greiner, E. Haahti and D. Bagué.
Kavakos’s residency with the New York Philharmonic featured his conducting debut with the orchestra and three solo appearances including the world premiere of Lera Auerbach’s Violin Concerto No. 3 conducted by Alan Gilbert. He has built a strong profile as a conductor and has conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, among others.
Born and brought up in a musical family in Athens and still resident there, Kavakos curates an annual violin and chamber music masterclass in Athens, attracting violinists and ensembles from all over the world and reflecting his deep commitment to the handing on of musical knowledge and traditions. Part of this tradition is the art of violin- and bow-making, which Kavakos regards as a great mystery and, to this day, an undisclosed secret.
After Geffen Hall on January 9, Kavakos and Wang proceeded to Benaroya Hall, in Seattle, WA. on February 10; Balboa Theatre, San Diego February 11; Segerstrom Center for the Arts Aaron Egigian, Costa Mesa, February 12; Granada Theater, Santa Barbara, February 13. The artists’ CD: Kavakos and Wang Brahms Violin Sonatas, on Decca.