BBC Proms: Walton Violin Concerto with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Thomas Søndergård

Aug. 13, 2014 | Reviews


“Next the BBC National Orchestra of Wales turned its attention to Walton's Violin Concerto, played by the always-astonishing James Ehnes. This was a glorious performance that revelled in the Concerto's lyricism without becoming cloying. But the encore was simply spell-binding: Ehnes played the third movement from Bach's Second Sonata for solo violin as the whole Royal Albert Hall leaned in to listen.” (BBC Music Magazine, 13 August 2014)

“One of my favourite things about the Proms is the silence the season’s best performances can produce. Thousands of people cram into the Royal Albert Hall every night, and they shuffle, cough and whisper like any other kind of audience. But every so often, it all dies away, and thousands of people lean in together to listen, so quiet that you can hear the patter of the rain on the roof far above your head. Such a moment occurred during Prom 35, as violinist James Ehnes returned to the stage after his superb rendition of Walton’s Violin Concerto to give an unscheduled encore. To a rapt crowd, he played the third movement of Bach’s second sonata for solo violin, carefully drawing out the spread chords to support the sonorous melody. The quieter he played, the harder the audience listened, and the more intense the silence surrounding his music became.” (NewStatesman, 13 August 2014)

"the ultimate honours went to William Walton’s Violin Concerto and soloist James Ehnes. No matter how furious or tender the music, this Canadian phenomenon has a welcome lack of many a soloist’s “look at me” attitude. Ehnes draws you into his playing, inviting you to discover with the same wonder both the unknown and the familiar. He was apparently born scraping horse hair across catgut, for Ehnes the process is as natural as mother’s milk. What was so memorable was the common bond between Ehnes’s natural ease of playing and the Albert Hall’s unique Proms atmosphere, historical excellence and modern simplicity. This is a pretty light weight piece, but I knew for certain this was precisely how Walton wanted it played. A performance by Ehnes I am truly grateful I saw." (Express, 17 August 2014)

“Next came the Walton Violin Concerto. It took a while for me to tune my ears and head into Canadian James Ehnes’ slender, silvery line…Once attuned to this light supple effect, the incisive playing and rhythmic intimacy registered with utmost pleasure. The central presto was more than usually fey, fly-away, cheeky and Mendelssohnian. In the finale the equipoise between luxuriously emphatic romance and rhythmic focus was again razor-sharp. The applause was extended and Ehnes eventually ‘capitulated’ with a soothing èlite encore: the third movement of J.S. Bach’s Sonata No. 2,. (Seen and Heard, 13 August 2014)

“Walton’s Violin Concerto, which some consider the finest of all his orchestral works, was once so closely identified with the brilliant Jascha Heifetz that it took a while for more relaxed options to gain traction. Interpretatively speaking, James Ehnes steered a middle course between the tensile Heifetz approach and the less insistent style of a Kyung-Wha Chung, offering Mediterranean warmth with an astringent edge. In certain respects he was closer to the former, the determined immobility of his playing stance and the impregnability of his intonation and technique being redolent of a bygone age. His Stradivarius produced glorious, sweetly focused tone.” (Classical Source, 13 August 2014)




 


Highlights from the 2014 Seattle Chamber Music Society Summer Festival

Jul. 14, 2014 | Reviews


“The finale, Schubert’s huge Octet in F Major, brought together five virtuoso string players (Ehnes, Amy Schwartz Moretti, Richard O’Neill, Efe Baltacigil and Jordan Anderson) with clarinetist Anthony McGill, bassoonist Stéphane Lévesque and Jeffrey Fair, horn. The performance had everything: refinement, gracefulness, boisterous energy and crisply incisive leadership from Ehnes.” (Seattle Times, 9 July 2014)

“As a special treat, Ehnes performed Beethoven's C minor Quartet from the Op.18 set with his own quartet in a free recital before the concert proper; they then returned for the work filling the evening's second half, the very substantial “Razumovsky” String Quartet in F major, Op.59, no. 1. Here was a somewhat different, though equally enthralling, approach to the chamber ensemble ideal: instead of three very distinctive personalities merging together, a quartet of more like-minded musicians in which Ehnes often seems the “first among equals”, setting the tone and guiding the overall spirit. The language he and violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti, violist Richard O'Neill, and cellist Robert deMaine speak together – one marked by lyrical clarity and a real sensitivity to dynamic contrasts – feels so assured that impulsive, spur-of-the-minute choices can be readily accommodated. There's a clear sense of risk-taking, of going beyond whatever happened in the last rehearsal, such that their performances are imbued with a remarkable vitality. Some moments of imprecise ensemble may result, but the tanginess of expression is more than worth it.” (Bachtrack, 10 July 2014)

“…a very fine reading of the first of Beethoven’s Op. 59 string quartets. Violinist and festival artistic director James Ehnes gave a beautifully shaped, patrician lead to the quartet, which included violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti, violist Richard O’Neill, and cellist Robert deMaine: not a weak link anywhere. The level of ensemble playing was remarkably high, and the playing sounded fresh, unforced, and natural.” (Seattle Times, 10 July 2014)

“The program included 19 of Bartok’s 44 Duos for Two Violins, and from the first moment James Ehnes and Amy Schwartz Moretti proved again how compatible they are as musicians, their sound and style a perfect match. Bartok composed these miniature pieces in 1931, and though they grow progressively more difficult from number one to number 44, he intended performers to mix up the order as was done here. Some are in the style of national dances or songs, but the wide variety of styles include everything from bagpipe sounds to a mosquito dance to a soulful lullaby. Ehnes and Schwartz Moretti brought vigor, panache and obvious enjoyment to the works with rich tone and singing moments.” (City Arts, 14 July 2014)

“The four musicians [of the Ehnes Quartet]…have been in considerable demand outside the festival. It shows in their playing. The matching instrument sound and tonal colors, particularly the blending of Ehnes and Moretti—if you are not looking you can’t tell who is playing what—; the fine sense of dynamics—this is a group not afraid to play very softly as well as a rousing forte to create exciting or memorable effect; the togetherness and precision, though there were a couple of moments in both quartets when an attack was not quite perfect; all this gives us a chance to hear an emerging group which may come to equal the best the world has to offer.” (SunBreak, 10 July 2014)




 


Elgar's Violin Concerto with the Vancouver Symphony and Bramwell Tovey

Jun. 18, 2014 | Reviews


“Elgar's Violin Concerto…was the true heart of the evening… Ehnes gave a powerhouse performance. His playing was technically flawless throughout, including the intricate third movement which was performed faster and cleaner than I’ve ever heard it before. More importantly, Ehnes has the full spectrum of colour and dynamics needed to turn the concerto into a true artistic experience. Tovey and the orchestra played with true symphonic energy and richness, but allowed their soloist to be heard throughout. Ehnes returned to give a breathtaking beautiful encore of the Andante from Bach’s second solo violin sonata, and later joined the orchestra at the back of the first violins for the Berlioz and Respighi – no wonder he is such an adored artist in Vancouver! A true tour-de-force from a beloved Canadian artist, an orchestra on sparkling form, and an imaginative, vibrant programme – what better way to close a season?” (Bachtrack, 15 June 2014)

“It’s long and very difficult, yet downplays conventional concerto rhetoric. Emotion trumps dialectics throughout; the work’s most memorable passages include a tender Andante and an exquisite (dare one say enigmatic?) finale. This is not a piece for every soloist or every conductor, but it works magnificently for Ehnes, whose sound and temperament were completely in sync with the piece.” (Vancouver Sun, 15 June 2014)

“One certainly had to be taken by the sheer beauty of the violinist’s playing right from his opening entry — the beautiful long clean lines, the wonderful warm silkiness in the tone, the seamless phrasing. And the staggering technical address, so easily up to the work’s most formidable technical challenges…Ehnes’ technical wizardry in the final movement is well known, and he did not disappoint. It would be almost impossible to visualize any living violinist who could articulate this movement with more clarity and assurance.” (Seen and Heard International, 18 June 2014)




 


Beethoven's Violin Concerto with the New Jersey Symphony and Jacques Lacombe

Jun. 3, 2014 | Reviews


"James Ehnes proved a technical marvel as the soloist for Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, a much-loved work that carries Mozartian grace but also an intrepid quality. The work’s long, winding, legato lines can have the eloquent charm of a speaker whose words can wrap a listener around his finger. Ehnes — who has a cool, patrician presence — produced a glossy tone as he carefully unfurled them without the slightest ripple disturbing their smoothness. He played with exacting intonation and articulation and flawlessly executed the numerous trills...his sheer virtuosity became mesmerizing." (Star-Ledger, 3 June 2014)

"Tall, slender, James Ehnes cut an elegant figure in black tails and white tie in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. The wealth of trills in the first movement...he dispatched with complete elegance. The energetic Rondo: Allegro came off brilliantly, giving the lie to the misperception that this concerto is introspective, not flashy. The violinist played the cadenzas by Fritz Kreisler.The ensuing standing ovation elicited an encore from the soloist, namely, the third movement from Bach’s “Sonata No. 2 for Unaccompanied Violin.” The audience listened in rapt silence." (Examiner, 31 May 2014)




 


The Value of Music

Apr. 18, 2014 | News


In his latest blog for the Huffington Post, James discusses the importance of music education for our children.

What is music for? Is it a pastime, a diversion? Is it a luxury, an amusement for the privileged?

Or is it something more?

In our schools, we try to ensure that children are at least given some small introduction to the great artistic accomplishments of history, mainly the classics of the written word. I went to public school, and remember being assigned to read a few Shakespeare plays, a work or two of the ancient Greeks and several of the notable "coming of age" novels of the 20th century.

But never once was I told to listen to a Beethoven symphony.

As a society, we recognize that the written word can be an artistic form of immense emotional power and intellectual value. I cannot imagine a civilized society that did not see the value in educating their young in at least some classic literature. But we ignore the great music that has moved nations and inspired our most profound thinkers to their greatest heights. Why?

Read the full article in the Huffington Post.