Yang Liu

The buzz at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage concert by violinist Yang Liu wasn't necessarily for the player -- it was for the instrument. The Lady Tennant, a violin by Antonio Stradivari, is the most expensive instrument ever sold at auction, going for $2,032,000 at Christie's in April. The anonymous buyer gave it to the Stradivari Society, which then lent it to Liu.

Liu had the instrument for only three weeks when he took the stage Wednesday evening, and it seemed the two had not yet found their perfect fit.

The balance between violin and piano was a little off, particularly during Beethoven's "Spring" Sonata. The violin lines were clearly articulated, but sometimes overpowered by the piano.

Liu had a tendency to be overly meticulous. Everything was clean, but there was little feeling of spontaneity. The Bach Chaconne in D Minor was lovely, but Prokofiev's Second Violin Sonata was the best example of the capabilities of both the player and the instrument. The fast second movement was more vibrant than the earlier repertoire, and the violin responded beautifully to the strident playing necessary for Prokofiev.

Stradivarius instruments are remarkable, but the player and the violin still must get to know each other. This was the first performance for Liu and his Lady Tennant, but it certainly won't be the last.

-- Claire Marie Blaustein

Joss Stone

When singing, Joss Stone sounds so much older than her teenage years. Her unfocused performance at Wolf Trap on Wednesday night, however, exposed her inexperience. A nervous giggle surfaced whenever she spoke between songs, and sometimes during songs too. Stone seemed so surprised by the crowd's singing along on "Right to Be Wrong" that she was barely able to deliver her own final line through her giggles.

During "Less Is More," one of the three backup singers sang the lead vocal melody for a verse while Stone inexplicably threw flowers into the audience and danced across the stage. Indeed, there was a lot of dancing all night, as Stone shook her hips like a belly dancer during every instrumental interlude, and often while she sang as well.

Despite this distracting stage presence, Stone's voice was consistently strong. She projected an emotional and confident version of Harlan Howard's "The Chokin' Kind" and delivered a re-gendered White Stripes cover, "Fell in Love With a Boy," with her distinctive sultry moan. As she introduced that song, she encouraged the audience to join in on the choruses and exclaimed, "It's really not that hard to sing!" If that were truly the case, then perhaps another, more seasoned performer should have taken Stone's place onstage.

-- Catherine P. Lewis


The sixth annual Washington Jewish Music Festival concluded on Wednesday evening with a celebratory concert that looked not forward but backward, to klezmer music's roots.

At the D.C. Jewish Community Center's Goldman Theater, the Cleveland-based band Harmonia spurred toe tapping and hand clapping with Eastern European folk music.

For more than an hour, Harmonia's virtuosic musicians spun through melodies and songs from Romania, Ukraine, Croatia and Slovakia.

Using various combinations of instruments -- violin, accordion, cimbalom (a 250-pound predecessor of the hammered dulcimer), flutes, string bass and voices -- Harmonia generated music ranging from the pastoral setting of a lonesome shepherd's flute tune to the rhythmic evocation of a rustic circle dance.

Alexander Fedoriouk hammered his trapezoidal cimbalom with impressive velocity, while Marko Dreher played his violin with songful passion. Andrei Pidkivka breezed through fast passages on a number of ethnic flutes, but he was most winning playing plaintive melodies on the nai, or pan flute, and the tylynka, a long, slender shepherd's flute with no finger holes.

Beata Begeniova sang with much spirit and spunk. Her cinnamon-flecked alto was as frolicsome in the Gypsy songs on the program as it was poignant in a traditional wedding song from eastern Slovakia.

Walt Mahovlich, who founded the ensemble in 1992, played his accordion sensitively and kept the audience well informed about the program's music.

The evening began with a rousing klezmer music performance by the Alexandria Kleztet.

-- Grace Jean Jimmy Buffett

The giant airborne shark that meandered into Nissan Pavilion on Wednesday night is an apt metaphor for Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band: oversize, goofy and entertaining.

What the flying fish didn't have in common with the 58-year-old troubadour: It meandered. Buffett and his cast of more than a dozen performers presented a spectacle as tightly scripted as "Cats" -- complete with enough local references to make it clear the man does his homework between tanning sessions. Every song was announced, one way or another (in the case of "Fins," by shark balloon), giving the Parrotheads that much more time to wriggle their grass skirts in anticipation.

Buffett's voice has lost none of its workmanlike efficiency over thirty-odd years. But if he's a good guitarist, it's hard to tell, since the sound of his acoustic was engulfed by the merry, melodic din, which included such tropical touches as steel drum and ukulele.

He's a brilliant musical ethnographer, though. The show included not only his own famous tales of boozing, boating and bronzing, but also like-minded songs by others, from Crosby, Stills and Nash's "Southern Cross" to Van Morrison's playful "Brown-Eyed Girl." A range of songs from his 1974 album "A-1-A" to his 2004 "License to Chill" showed his impressive consistency. The only real surprise was a video tribute to Johnny Carson, featuring Buffett reminiscing about his appearances on Carson's show.

Come to think of it, Carson's a better analogy for Buffett than that shark was. The concert provided cozy reassurance to people who endured two or more hours of the evening rush hour to dream of catching a wave, people whose last sight of the ocean was probably on a screen saver.

-- Pamela Murray Winters

Yang Liu performed with a Stradivarius on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage.

Joss Stone's singing voice was mature, but not her stage presence.

Jimmy Buffett may be laid-back, but his show at Nissan Pavilion was tightly scripted.