Violinist Pinchas Zukerman ran into a slight conflict with conductor Pinchas Zukerman last night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, adding a touch of comedy to an evening of very distinguished music-making.
In two works, Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks" Concerto and Beethoven's Symphony No. 2, Zukerman conducted the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in the traditional manner. His gestures were economical, precise and communicative--beautiful without being showy--and he maintained a splendid rapport with the small, versatile and highly polished ensemble. Once or twice, when all was going very well, he would stand motionless for a while, simply watching and enjoying the music until it was time to cue a change.
The results were splendid. Stravinsky's astringent wit and linear delicacy were brought out in minute detail. Beethoven's symphony had a perfectly poised performance attuned to all its stylistic tensions: the affectionate farewell to 18th-century ideals and mannerisms modified by a sense of straining toward the revolutionary new sounds of the "Eroica." The orchestra played with energy, balance and superb coordination.
The same virtues could be heard in Bach's Third Brandenburg Concerto and Haydn's delicious Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat, though the conductor was very busy playing the violin in both pieces. For the Bach, he sat in the concertmaster's position and maintained his rapport with the orchestra by being one of its members. For the Haydn, he began by standing up and conducting with his right hand (two fingers extended) until it was time to sit down and play his violin with the other three soloists: cellist Yo-Yo Ma, oboist Richard Killmer and bassoonist Charles Ullery.
The orchestra seemed to have no problem at all staying together while its conductor was busy playing the violin--which he did with a degree of schmaltz unusual but not unwelcome in Haydn. But when he came to a rest as soloist, Zukerman was visibly restless to be back on his feet conducting. He waved his bow like a baton and strained with comic energy to establish contact with the first violins, who were out of sight behind him. Yo-Yo Ma, watching his colleague's contortions, seemed to be on the brink of hysterical laughter but missed not a single nuance of his music.
Even with the comic relief, the evening was one of almost flawless elegance in a superbly chosen program. The Kennedy Center's Summer Sounds festival of festivals, which goes into high gear next week, is off to a splendid start.