Second Violinist Elisa Barston Steps Up to the Plate to Play Prokofiev
By Melinda Bargreen
On June 5, Seattle Symphony violinist Elisa Barston got the official call: she was to replace concerto soloist Leonidas Kavakos only two days later. Kavakos had cancelled due to illness.
Barston, who heads the Symphony’s second violin section, stepped up to the challenge. She chose the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1 (instead of the Goldmark Concerto that Kavakos was to play), and underwent a two-day immersion in the score. She had already played the Prokofiev last season with the University of Washington Symphony under the direction of Jonathan Pasternack (with whom she also performed the challenging Berg Concerto earlier this spring).
Whether it was nerves of steel or just good preparation – or perhaps both -- Barston did a very fine job as Kavakos’ substitute, and many in the audience stood to salute her amidst the enthusiastic ovation at the concerto’s end. The shimmering, rhapsodic finale of the Prokofiev echoed the contemplative opening, with plenty of wild energy in the middle Scherzo movement. Barston’s steady, true tone, good intonation, and speedy fingerwork all served the music well.
Guest conductor Jesús López-Cobos was a supportive presence on the podium without over-conducting or obtrusively cueing his soloist. In fact, throughout the program, López-Cobos was a relatively laid-back maestro, despite the dynamic, wildly colorful nature of much of the music. The concert opened with Strauss’ heroic display piece, the tone poem “Don Juan,” and after the concerto, it was all-stops-out Spanish-accented fireworks: Joaquin Turina’s brilliantly-hued “Danzas Fantásticas” (Op. 22) and the dazzling Rimsky-Korsakov “Capriccio Espagnole” (Op. 34).
The Spanish-born López-Cobos, music director of Madrid’s Teatro Real for the past seven years and emeritus conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, has an imposing list of international concert and recording credits. His experience and his musicality were both evident in his work with the Seattle Symphony. López-Cobos knows how to get an exciting performance out of an orchestra without flailing or flapping or jumping around on the podium; his mantra seems to be “less is more.” He’s an expressive conductor with a great left hand, but he seemed positively restrained while Rimsky-Korsakov’s spectacularly orchestrated “Capriccio Espagnole” was exploding all round him. There was no such restraint from the musicians, who turned in great solo work all evening (most notably principal oboist Ben Hausmann, Stefan Farkas’ English horn, principal flutist Demarre McGill, and Emma McGrath in the concertmaster chair). In sum, it was an evening to inspire an “Olé!”