But multi-tasking violinist Tatiana Berman, who is also founding director of the Constella Festival of Music and Fine Arts, delivered impressively in both areas in Thursday’s festival program entitled “Queen City Connections.”
Indeed, there were multiple Queen City connections in play. Returning to conduct was Paavo Järvi, music director laureate of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and Berman’s former husband.
Filling every inch of Memorial Hall’s stage, the chamber-sized orchestra included a number of members of the Cincinnati Symphony. And the collaborating composer, Charles Coleman, has strong ties to the Cincinnati Symphony, which has premiered and recorded several of his pieces.
Järvi’s program included Stravinsky’s ballet score “Apollon Musagète” and Mozart’s Symphony No. 33 in B-flat Major, K. 319. The main event, Berman’s premiere of Coleman’s Violin Concerto, came last.
It was worth the wait. Coleman, born in New York in 1968, writes in a style that is vibrant and urban – it is music of today. His substantial, three-movement Violin Concerto combined minimalist techniques (the repetition of motives and rhythms) and a romantic gift for melody.
The piece was instantly appealing. The first movement opened with a long, sinuous melody for the violin in a duet with a cymbal. It evolved into a palette that was bright and busy, with bubbling winds set against glowing orchestral textures. Berman crouched as she tackled its soaring, angular themes with a seamless, lyrical tone.
The slow movement was atmospheric, with soulful themes for the violin and lush orchestral accompaniment. Its ebb and flow included a brief nod to jazz, and a Mozart-like wind ensemble. As the orchestra played a sustained river of sound, the violinist’s tones floated above. A captivating clarinet solo (Jonathan Gunn) had the last word.
The finale was an edgy perpetual motion, with the violinist interjecting both long melodies and rapid figures. Järvi and the musicians supported the soloist well, although here, perhaps due to the hall’s boomy acoustics, the violinist didn’t project as well.
Berman’s playing was top-notch, and she ended with a flourish. As the crowd stood for an enthusiastic reception, the couple’s two little daughters delivered bouquets to their parents.
Järvi opened with Stravinsky’s rarely-played, neo-classical “Apollon Musagète” (Apollo, leader of the Muses), a ballet in two scenes for strings.
Written for the impresario Diaghilev in 1928 (Järvi led the 1947 revision), it is basically a suite of dances. Its movements are variations for three muses, framed with variations for Apollo and ending with a delicate pas de deux.
It was by turns austere and lush, and there were many stunning moments. Concertmaster Anna Reider performed an elegiac solo with immense beauty of tone, and string sonorities were rich. Järvi found character in each of its movements, and the musicians responded with terrific playing.
That sense of discovery continued in the Mozart, notable for its momentum, lightness and detail given to every phrase. Nothing was predictable, and even though this was a “pick-up” orchestra, Järvi knew just how to bring out the best in his players.
Downstairs at Memorial Hall, the Constella event included a casually displayed exhibition of art by pop artist Andrew VanSickle, outsider artist The Rev. Howard Finster and celebrity photographer Gary Lee Boas.
The Constella Festival continues through Nov. 7. Information: 513-621-2787, www.constellafestival.org.