There’s one big difference that sets the Northwest Sinfonietta’s newest director apart from any other in the Puget Sound region this season: He conducts from the solo violin spotlight. Joseph Swensen will play and direct the chamber orchestra in Seattle, Tacoma and Puyallup on Friday through Sunday in Brahms’ notoriously difficult Violin Concerto, as well as directing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4. Two members of the ensemble will also perform free chamber concerts in Tacoma and Seattle during the week.
“The Brahms Violin Concerto is one of the most demanding and beloved pieces out there,” says Sinfonietta co-concertmaster Denise Dillenbeck, who has performed the piece herself. “It’s not only demanding on a technical level, but on an expressive one — the emotions Brahms conjures are varied, deep and intense, and to inhabit his world for 45 minutes is an incredible feat of endurance. … (For Swensen) to be able to hold the world of Brahms’ composition in his head, as well as the needs of all the various players in the orchestra, and his own playing of the solo part, is hard to comprehend. It puts the typical metaphor of a solo concerto, where the soloist is the hero fighting against or working with the masses of the orchestra, into sharp and exciting focus, and seems very appropriate for this piece. And not many are capable of it.”
Swensen, one of the three rotating artistic partners in the Sinfonietta’s new artistic model, has had a long career as a violinist, conductor and composer. Trained at Juilliard and a 10-year student of Isaac Stern, he performed as a soloist with major United States and world orchestras, recording with Andre Previn and giving chamber and solo recitals in Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center. His conducting appointments have included the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Malmö Opera, as well as numerous guest-conducting appearances and festivals. His compositions include chamber works and concerti for horn and shakuhachi.
Swensen is a founder of the Paris Play-Direct Academy, and a proponent of the tradition of directing from the soloist position — a tradition that began in the 18th century. His performance with the Sinfonietta will be the only such in the region this season, say orchestra officials. To add to the challenge, Brahms’ romantic concerto is one of the most difficult in the violin repertoire.
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The performance also includes Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, written between the somber symphonies 3 and 5 and lighter in nature.
Dillenbeck, the Sinfonietta co-concertmaster, and trumpeter Judson Scott will give free chamber recitals in Tacoma on Wednesday and in Seattle on Friday, prior to the Seattle concert.
Swensen plays Brahms
Who: Northwest Sinfonietta with director-soloist Joseph Swensen
When/Where: 7:30 p.m. Friday (April 15) at Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Rialto Theater, 310 S. Ninth St., Tacoma; 2 p.m. Sunday at Pioneer Pavilion, 330 Meridian Ave. S., Puyallup.
And also: Free chamber recitals 7 p.m. Wednesday at Chinese Christian Church, 5025 N. Pearl St., Tacoma and 6:15 p.m. Friday at Benaroya Hall, Seattle.
Information: 800-215-4747 (Seattle); 800-291-7593 (Tacoma); 800-838-3006 (Puyallup); northwestsinfonietta.org.