The Chippewa Valley Symphony Orchestra will continue to keep elite company during its 45th season.
The season’s opening concert, Saturday in Pablo Center at the Confluence’s RCU Theatre, will feature the winner of one of the world’s most prestigious violin competitions.
Richard Lin, gold medalist of the 2018 Indianapolis International Violin Competition, will join the orchestra for Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto.
Nobuyoshi Yasuda, music director of the orchestra, acknowledged that some local concertgoers may not realize the stature of the competition. The event was established at the Indiana University School of Music with the help of Josef Gingold (1909-1995), the master violinist and teacher. Through Gingold’s efforts, the music school and the competition rose to prominence as among the best in the world.
“In the past the winners of this competition immediately started performing with the Chicago Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, so that is a big deal,” Yasuda said.
Musicians particularly seek it out because the competition itself manages the careers of the winners for four years after the competition (which itself is held every four years).
The Brahms concerto, which Lin is performing, is “one of the most significant concertos ever written for any instrument,” Yasuda said, describing the work as “very symphonic.”
“There are so many interactions between soloist and orchestra,” he said. “Many virtuoso violin concertos are designed to showcase the soloist’s technique. … (The Brahms) is not easy, it’s a very difficult piece to play, but it’s very, very artistically really rich and (requiring) high standards. That is why I called it ‘symphonic.’”
Featuring a musician of Lin’s standing, Yasuda pointed out, also helps the local musicians stand out.
“Every time we perform with that kind of major, major talent, our musicianship rises up too,” he said.
During this season the CVSO also will play host to Kenny Broberg, Van Cliburn’s International Piano Competition silver medalist, who will perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 with the CVSO on March 14. The visits follow up on last season’s performances by two internationally known guest soloists: violinist Rachel Barton Pine and Mark Kosower, Eau Claire native and principal cello for the Cleveland Orchestra.
As they were last season, the CVSO players appear ready to take on the challenge, according to their leader.
“It already sounds really good, and the musicians are really, really excited about this opportunity,” Yasuda said. “I can tell everybody is really focused and they are really prepared for the rehearsals. … because they know that I also prepare really well and try to rehearse the orchestra to the level that we can perform with this international musician.”
Molly Malone, principal second violin for the CVSO, shared her mind-set about sharing the stage with these special guests.
“When we perform with a high caliber musician, I know it makes me focus that much more,” Malone, who is the Chippewa Falls High School orchestra teacher, said via email. “You know that they are used to hearing/performing with incredible musicians, and you don’t want to let them down. I find myself doing extra practice and being sure I know my parts the best I possibly can.”
For the second half of the concert, the orchestra will perform Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5. Also known as the “Reformation Symphony,” the work was composed in 1830 and honored the 300th anniversary of Martin Luther’s presentation of the Augsburg Confession, a major event in the Protestant Reformation.
Mendelssohn quotes familiar religious music in the symphony, Yasuda said, including the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” at the beginning of the fourth movement.
Both symphonic pieces share a quality that is “not necessarily heavy but something grand,” Yasuda said. “In typical German music they start with a small motif and then build, build, build and build so then the music evolves almost by itself to become something huge,” he added.
Yasuda also offered comments about other CVSO concerts this season:
• The annual holiday concert, slated for 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, will feature traditional holiday music and a visual as well as sonic treat. Performers from Diamond School of Dance in Eau Claire will share their talents onstage as the orchestra plays selections from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker.”
• This season’s young people’s concert, at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, will feature the winner of the annual Kristo Orthodontics Young Artist Competition as well as two popular selections for young listeners: Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” and Britten’s “Young People’s Guide to the Orchestra.”
• Van Cliburn competition honoree Broberg will perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 during the concert at 7:30 p.m. March 14. Broberg recently added to his collection of honors with the bronze medal in the piano division of the Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia.
• The orchestra will help celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth with a program that will include what Yasuda calls the composer’s “most celebrated work”: Symphony No. 9.
The Chippewa Valley Festival Choir, which debuted at the CVSO’s performance of “Carmina Burana” last May, again will collaborate with the orchestra.
In fact, Yasuda said, the concert will feature the three Chicago-based vocal soloists who performed as part of “Carmina Burana”: soprano Rosalind Lee, tenor Justin Berkowitz and baritone Evan Bravos. A fourth soloist on Beethoven’s 9th, mezzo-soprano Julie DeBoer, is a UW-Eau Claire music faculty member and a friend of Lee, Berkowitz and Bravos.
Raising their game
Reflecting on last year’s successful debut season in Pablo Center, Yasuda talked about how the musicians reached his expectations.
“Of course, I knew we were going to do a good job, but just good job was not enough,” he said. “We had to be super good.”
As for how they accomplished that, Yasuda explained: “I think every musician in the orchestra already from the very beginning of the season was feeling some excitement of performing in the Pablo Center, and also I already felt from the first rehearsal of any concert they already had a confidence.”
Malone noted how the venue itself provides motivation for the musicians.
“I think having the beautiful Pablo Center makes us feel appreciated and supported by the community,” she wrote. “When you have that backing, it’s easier to put in more time practicing. I know I have been more focused in rehearsals and concerts because of the better performing space. The dressing rooms alone make you feel super special!!!”
For long-term goals, Yasuda said he is hoping the CVSO organization will grow to the point at which the orchestra members might see an increase in the modest compensation they receive. While they never complain, and Yasuda knows they are doing it simply for the love of music, he pointed out that performing requires expenses such as maintaining their instruments and, for some, hiring baby sitters while they attend rehearsals and concerts.
But he said he continues to raise the bar, even to the point where — although it likely wouldn’t happen until the next generation of musicians — he dreams the CVSO might attain the standing of the Chicago Symphony or the New York Philharmonic. After all, even though those groups began well over a century ago, they too began as small community orchestras, he said.
Those dreams have arisen in part from Pablo Center’s opening in Eau Claire.
“This Pablo Center already has changed our community significantly,” he said. “I hope this Pablo Center continues to connect people in our community and also keep the door open to the world. What I mean is because of this Pablo Center I personally feel the world is coming to Eau Claire.”