It may be that the National Symphony Orchestra plays with special e'lan when the music is composed by one of its members, or it may be that Maxim Shostakovich is an extraordinary conductor. Whatever the reason (and the composer's skill is certainly a substantial part of it), "Trilogy" by violinist Andreas Makris came across with tremendous brio in its world premiere Wednesday night at the Kennedy Center.
The concert was a special one, commissioned by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America in conjunction with its 30th biennial Clergy-Laity Congress, and "Trilogy" was composed as a tribute to and a musical portrait of Archbishop Iakovos, who has headed the archdiocese for the past 30 years. The Greek motif was continued in a second premiere: Makris's arrangement, with orchestral accompaniment, of the "Polychronion," an ancient hymn that is usually sung a cappella. The Paul Hill Chorale joined the orchestra for an exquisite performance of this music.
Ethnic pride was also reflected (and spectacularly justified) in the choice of Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos as soloist in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Kavakos is one of the most brilliant young musicians on the international scene; his performance, dazzling in technique, caught precisely the spirit of this tender, dreamy, joyful music.
Shostakovich was an ideal partner, engaging the orchestra in a deep dialogue with the soloist with a sound that cushioned and framed but never (well, almost never) covered his violin. He also led a bright, vigorous, well-proportioned performance of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony and a light, lithe, stylistically adept performance of Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" Overture.
But the highlight was the "Trilogy" premiere. Makris writes with the inside knowledge of one who has long been an orchestra member. He knows how to make it sound good, from the big brass fanfare that opens the three-movement work, through the solemn slow movement written in hymn style for strings and church bells, to the exuberant finale -- a long, folk-flavored clarinet solo leading into festive dance rhythms. It earned the composer a prolonged standing ovation and deserves many repeat performances.