Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the Grant Park Orchestra and Carlos Kalmar at the Grant Park Music Festival

Ausgut 20, 2015 | Reviews


“The Canadian violinist is an undeniably first-class artist as he showed once again, with playing that was supremely polished and immaculate throughout. Ehnes’ elegant style and the pure, silvery tone of his “Marsick” 1715 Stradivarius often seem best suited to music of Bach, Mozart or Mendelssohn….His strikingly beautiful playing conveyed the serenity and searching rumination of this elevated music, the violinist exploring an array of half-tones and nuanced expression, with equally sensitive support by Kalmar and the orchestra. The Rondo finale provided the requisite payoff with Ehnes’ springy rhythmic bounce in synch with the high spirits, rounded off with an explosive burst of fiddle bravura in the final cadenza. Ehnes received an immediate hug from his conductor and an extended, enthusiastic ovation from the audience.” (Chicago Classical Review, 20 August 2015)




 


Barber Violin Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra and Brett Mitchell at Blossom Music Festival

August 4, 2015 | Reviews


“Violinist James Ehnes treat[ed] listeners to a sublime, bountifully expressive performance and coasting to an encore offering of Bach. Ehnes, put plainly, didn't just play the music. He consumed it. Through the opening Allegro he traced the most compelling, eloquent line, only to transform in the Presto into a fierce and dazzling fiddler.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 3 August 2015)

“It was clear within a few moments of its beginning that this performance of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, with guest soloist James Ehnes, was going to be something special. Ehnes and Mitchell gave a reading that was uncommonly poetic, striking a balance between the concerto’s lyricism and drama, showing a thorough understanding of Barber’s brand of mid-century American romanticism. Ehnes played with purity of tone but also with yearning richness of the violin’s lower range required by the concerto’s second movement.” (Backtrack, 3 August 2015)




 


Recital with Steven Osborne at Cottier's Theatre in Glasgow

June 12, 2015 | Reviews


"Ladies and gentlemen, I think we will have absolute unanimity among the capacity crowd that thronged into Cottier's Theatre on Wednesday night for the recital by Canadian violinist James Ehnes and pianist Steven Osborne. Their programme, consisting of the last Violin Sonatas of Beethoven and Brahms (numbers 10 and 3 respectively) was, structurally, a little masterpiece of planning.For sure, I cannot imagine them in better hands. We know both these players well in different contexts. Without understating the import of their greatness, there is a naturalistic, completely unpretentious quality to their performance and musicianship. They come on, down to earth, and do the business every single time; I've never heard either of them give a routine performance. And their playing of Brahms and Beethoven was top-drawer, musically and intellectually: completely stimulating and provocative in that, simply, it made you think again of the composers, their music and their intentions. And I'll tell you this: I cannot remember the last time I saw so many musicians from the orchestras and the community at large attend a concert, on their own night off, to hear other musicians perform. Ehnes and Osborne: musicians' musicians." (Glasgow Herald, 12 June 2015)




 


Recital with Andrew Armstrong at Wigmore Hall in London, UK

May 29, 2015 | Reviews


"Flawless violin-and-piano duo in rich programme of works from around 1915 While the Elgar Sonata was perhaps the work with the greatest personal depth, two movements either side of the interval emphasized an almost hallucinatory imagination both in the music and the performance. What an extraordinary first movement [Elgar] came up with in 1918, starting with almost excessive self-confidence, dwindling by degrees to introspection in more original double-stopping. This is where you know whether you’re witnessing the ideal interpreters, and in leaving us on the edge of tears, the duo got it absolutely right. There was more evasiveness in the featherlight dance steps breaking out in the equally personal central Romance, and a total elevation in the hard-won ebullience of the finale. In all this Ehnes never produced a less than pitch-perfect note, and every phrase lives with him, without showmanship or forced rhetoric. Armstrong (pictured right) has a musical personality to match the heavyweight Russians, producing an enormous sound when necessary, but always rounded, and always fine-tuned to the needs of his duo partner in flawless synchronicity. He needed the weight for the finale of Respighi’s B minor Sonata, a stunner after two not especially original movements: a Passacaglia which is to the violin-and-piano repertoire what the same form is to the conclusion of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony and clearly modelled on its inspiration. The violin, which Ehnes keeps tonally sweet and bright even when fullest of tone, rides the imposing double octaves and solemn chords of an amazing piano part, equally amazingly played. The encores were a perfect pair: from what the violinist described as a vast choice of more music composed circa 1915, we heard a quirky, very brief Mazurka by anniversary composer Sibelius and a typical stroke of miniature genius from Ravel actually composed in 1922, the Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré, in which Ehnes and Armstrong rounded off a singular simplicity with a final supernatural sleight of hand, flawless to the last." (ArtsDesk, 27 May 2015)

"In this interesting programme at the Wigmore Hall, in which pianist Andrew Armstrong partnered Ehnes in works by Debussy, Respighi, Szymanowski and Elgar, the violinist showed that his immaculate technique and cool composure could be made to serve the diversity of idiom and wide expressive range of these four pieces...Debussy’s Sonata (1916-17) constantly fluctuates between contrasting sound worlds, and in the opening bars Ehnes and Armstrong slipped easily from the silky blues-like syncopations of the beginning, to the bright dashing quavers which follow – in which Armstrong’s sharp attack added vibrant tension – blossoming with radiant expansiveness at the climax of the passage. The complex impressionistic textures were delivered with remarkable clarity, every inner motif etched precisely and delicately...Armstrong did much to convey [the Respighi Sonata's] vast reach and weight, and its underlying brooding meditativeness, while always warm of tone and sensitive to Ehnes’ eloquence. The sonata makes great demands on both performers, calling for both considerable virtuosity and sustained musical intensity. Repeatedly rising to stratospheric heights in the opening Moderato, Ehnes played with unfailingly sweet tone, rounded and focused in even the quietest dolce melodies, radiant in more impassioned moments. At the start of ‘The Fountain of Arethusa’, Armstrong’s shimmering piano textures were an iridescent canvas for the violin’s high euphoric song – a truly exquisite melody...Needless to say, Ehnes was more than equal to the technical challenges of the work: the natural and artificial harmonics, double-stops, two-note trills, quarter-tones, and simultaneous bowing and pizzicato were all flawless...However, in Elgar’s Violin Sonata in E Minor, composed in 1918, Ehnes and Armstrong displayed enormous musical and expressive depth, playing with unwavering intensity and a wide tonal range." (Seen and Heard, 29 May 2015)




 


Recital with Andrew Armstrong to celebrate the 120th Anniversary of the Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg

May 4, 2015 | Reviews


His warmth, sincerity, gentle humour and humility were on full display during the weekend recital... Ehnes attacked [Elgar’s Violin Sonata in E minor's] opening movement with gusto, navigating its tempestuous waters that also provided a first taste of his wide-ranging tonal colour palette coaxed out of his stunning 1715 "Marsick" Stradivarius. He infused his second movement with world-weary resignation in a deeply felt performance, including barely-there runs, hushed tones and a responsive rubato always tastefully matched by Armstrong’s sensitive playing. The finale showed greater force, displaying Ehnes’s bravura, which grew in emotional intensity and depth until its fiery close. Special mention must be made of the Connecticut-born Armstrong...the powerhouse pianist proved his fearless match note for note. The two musicians’ rapport was immediately palpable, as a compelling partnership that is both organic and responsive to each other." (Winnipeg Free Press, 4 May 2015)




 


Nielsen's Violin Concerto with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Thomas Søndergård

Apr. 27, 2015 | Reviews


“Is there any better violinist in the world at the moment than James Ehnes? It didn’t need Saturday’s performance of the Nielsen Violin Concerto with the RSNO, or his immaculate solo Bach encore, to prompt that thought. He has been in Scotland aplenty, and each time he returns he blows us away with his unflinching, impeccable technique and the intellectual probity of his arresting musicianship. And this wasn’t an easy concerto to bring off, given its relative unfamiliarity and its unorthodox structuring – two significant movements that are themselves self- contained entities, combined with Nielsen’s signature questioning and elusive lyrical style. But when delivered so convincingly as this – a virtuoso performance in which every single note bore a ringing precision and clarity of purpose, and in which the long game was always firmly in sight – the exhilaration of the final outcome, the winding emotional journey towards it, was simply sensational.” (Scotsman, 27 April 2015)
“Now that…was an RSNO concert for the memory banks. Canadian violinist James Ehnes [is] a near-perfect, feet-on-the-ground musician who has not sullied a single phrase he has played in Scotland with a blemish of indulgence. James Ehnes's multi-faceted performance of the Nielsen concerto caught the essence of the piece, in its wit, its flashing drama, its high-speed and abrupt changes of temperament, its tenderness and lyricism, and its almost bloody-minded individuality which insists on the mercurial music following its own star and no established template. A splendid concert.” (Sunday Herald, 26 April 2015)
“I was pretty much bowled over by this superb performance of his Violin Concerto. …it is largesse indeed to have someone of the level of James Ehnes to play the solo line. He is surely one of the very finest violinists in the world today, playing at the top of his game, and his playing tonight showed not only that he knew the notes but that he had worked hard to understand the spirit of the piece and what lay behind the dots on the page. The virtuosity was there, of course, with a dazzling opening flourish and stunning cadenzas, with double-stopping that often had me wondering how on earth he was doing it. Even better, though, was the keynote of beauty that ran through his whole vision of the score, from the song-like main melody of the opening movement, through to the focused lightness of the Allegro cavalleresco. Best of all, though, was the melancholy beauty of the melody of the slow movement, which seemed to flow in a seamless, rhapsodic stream out of Ehnes’ violin. The perky finale was brilliantly controlled, and the final strait, after the cadenza, felt like the final act of a great story, brilliantly told. I never thought I’d say that of a Nielsen concert, but I consider myself lucky to have heard this one.” (Seen and Heard International, 25 April 2015)




 


Aaron Jay Kernis’s “Two Movements (with Bells) for Violin and Piano” at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

Apr. 6, 2015 | News


"The most effective work was Aaron Jay Kernis’s Two Movements (with Bells) for Violin and Piano, from 2007. The piece was written for Ehnes, and together with Armstrong he gave it a moving, virtuosic reading. The bells of the title are not literal, but the piano often hints at them, calling them in from a distance to accompany the violin. Kernis’s writing is strikingly violinistic. His long, arching lines show a great level of comfort with the instrument’s lyrical voice, and his more fiery passages, while technically demanding, never seem to be awkward for the player. The result is breathtakingly expressive, working with the violin’s natural strengths rather than against them. Kernis’s earnest, straightforward tonality feels familiar, but not saccharine. The violin searches, wandering in the direction of a melody, calling to mind shades of Prokofiev in the opening strain of the second movement, 'A song for my Father.'” (New York Classical Review, 3 April 2015)
“Mr. Ehnes and Mr. Armstrong joined forces for Mr. Kernis’s work, which opens with a burst of speed and bright sound. The second movement, “A Song for My Father,” features a poignant violin melody, which Mr. Ehnes played with great tenderness. There are brief echoes of jazzy dance music before the sound grows distant and disembodied, with Mr. Ehnes producing harmonics that sounded at times like a theremin.” (New York Times, 3 April 2015)




 


James Ehnes shortlisted for RPS Award

Apr. 1, 2015 | News


Congrats to James Ehnes on being shortlisted as Instrumentalist of the year for the RPS Awards. Presented by the Royal Philharmonic Society in association with BBC Radio 3, the awards celebrate outstanding achievement by artists and organisations in classical music in 2014. Winners will be announced at a ceremony at The Brewery in London on Tuesday 5 May 2015. Visit the RPS Awards website for a look at the full shortlist




 


Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Concerts

Mar. 31, 2015 | News


"James Ehnes and Gloria Chien gave an elegant, unhurried interpretation of this delightful work [Mozart’s A-major Violin Sonata] that emphasized lyricism…Ehnes’s tone is consistently sweet, smooth, and true, and he was evenly matched by Chien’s eloquently plain-spoken phrasing and pearlescent tone.” (Classical Source, 30 March 2015)
“Mr. Ehnes and pianist Gloria Chien established themselves at once as asimpatico duo; throughout their rendering of Mozart's Sonata in A major for Violin and Piano, K. 526 (1787), they showed an acuity of dynamic sensibility that really drew me in. Regarded as Mozart's last significant violin sonata, the music calls for harmonious elegance of delivery, and the Ehnes/Chien partnership embraced it with lyrical affinity. In the central andante, their sense of the music's intimacy was particularly appealing, and Mr. Ehnes's ability to sustain long tones with a silken softness was impressive. Ms. Chien's fluidity of scale passages propelled the concluding Presto to its sparkling conclusion.” (Oberon’s Grove, 31 March 2015)




 


Bartok Disc Wins at the JUNO Awards!

Mar. 15, 2015 | News


James collected his *10th* JUNO Award on Saturday night. His CD of Bartók chamber works (Chandos) won in the category of Classical Album of the Year: Solo or Chamber Music. James was joined on this disc by amazing colleagues Amy Schwartz Moretti, Andrew Armstrong, and Michael Collins. Congratulations to all!




 


World Premiere of James Newton Howard's Violin Concerto with the Pacific Symphony with Carl St.Clair

Mar. 13, 2015 | Reviews


"Film composer James Newton Howard has written a fresh-sounding new violin concerto, which received its world premiere performance in the hands of conductor Carl St.Clair, the Pacific Symphony and violinist James Ehnes on Thursday night in Segerstrom Concert Hall. The opening theme recalls Gerswhin’s “Summertime,” with its bluesy tint and lilt. The composer calls the second movement’s theme “a child’s melody” – it is simple and lovely but never saccharine. The finale features a folk-like dance melody that could have come from Bartók or Holst. The entire piece has a kind of pastoral feel to it, of bright sunshine and green meadows.
Though the solo violinist is occasionally called upon to play fast and furious, this is not really a virtuoso showpiece, nor is it a competition between soloist and orchestra. Even the solo cadenzas are more meditative than showy. On first hearing, Howard seems not to have forced anything in the work. If the concerto sometimes sounds like movie music (we all know what that means without being able to define it), it also avoids cliché, is tightly-knit and warmly, not cinematically, orchestrated.
Ehnes, a distinguished Canadian violinist, played the work, surprisingly, from memory...I liked the way he played it all calmly, neatly, honestly. These musicians will record the work this week during concerts and it will join “I Will Plant a Tree” on CD. The second movement of Howard’s work is dedicated to the memory of St.Clair’s son, Cole, as was the first piece on the program, Frank Ticheli’s “Rest,” this version for strings and mixed chorus. A setting of a poem by Sara Teasdale, the hymn-like “Rest” is tightly harmonized and Coplandesque in its simplicity. The Pacific Chorale donated its services for the performance, which was lush and peaceful."
(OC Register, 13 March 2015)




 


Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Naples Philharmonic and Andrey Boreyko

Mar. 7, 2015 | Reviews


“Ehnes dug into the cadenza, one written by violin virtuoso Fritz Kreisler, and tackled a set of sophisticated variations as if channeling them from the master. Ehnes’ economy of arm movement made its blistering passages look natural. He’s worth watching for his trills alone — silky smooth, even and sustained. Ehnes sailed through sustained trills that would cramp most fingers in no time. After the concerto, he rewarded the standing ovation with a Kreisler encore, the Caprice Viennois. Music Director Andrey Boreyko has made good on his promise to bring the Naples Philharmonic into encores this season, and the result was a rarely heard treat.” (Naples Daily News, 7 March 2015)




 


Prokofiev Violin Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Stéphane Denève

Feb. 23, 2015 | Reviews


“In Prokofiev’s concerto, however, the clear, elegant playing of violinist Ehnes seemed to put the orchestra on its mettle, as the soloist duetted prettily with individual players in the first movement and meshed as the principal voice in the organ-like orchestral sonorities of the finale. Denève deftly partnered him in weaving the work’s rapt atmosphere. The presence of Ehnes’s violin tone in the large hall seemed as intimate as chamber music, as he effortlessly projected the finest details of Prokofiev’s fantasy-like score. In the piece’s central scherzo, the violinist dazzled with scorching scales, left-hand pizzicato, slashing martellato, and fast, whistling harmonics, all without losing his impeccable cool. Ehnes received, and deserved, the biggest ovation of the night. He obliged with an encore, a tastefully swoony rendition of the Largo from Bach’s Sonata for Solo Violin in C major, BWV 1005.” (Boston Classical Review, 20 February 2015)

“[Ehnes] was as elegant as ever. Ehnes was sheer perfection.” (Musical Intelligencer, 21 February 2015)




 


Double JUNO Award nomination...again!

Jan. 27, 2015 | Reviews


The 2015 JUNO Award nominations were announced today at a press conference in Toronto and James is once again up for two awards: the final volume of his Bartok project with Chandos, Contrasts, Sonatina and 44 Duos with Michael Collins (clarinet), Amy Schwartz Moretti (violin), and Andrew Armstrong (piano) is nominated in the category of Classical Album of the Year: Solo or Chamber Ensemble and his recording of concertos by Khachaturian and Shostakovich (Onyx Classics) is nominated in the category of Classical Album of the Year: Large Ensemble or Soloist(s) with Large Ensemble Accompaniment. The awards will be handed out at ceremonies on March 14 & 15. Check back for updates!




 


Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the New World Symphony and James Conlon

Jan. 13, 2015 | Reviews


Canadian violinist James Ehnes...gave a terrific performance of Mendelssohn’s concerto Saturday night at the Arsht Center in Miami with the New World Symphony led by guest conductor James Conlon. Of Ehnes’ virtuosity, there was no question, and he played without a trace of effort to disturb the smooth surface. But beyond that he brought an early Romantic sensibility to the performance, playing in an expressive but compact manner that brought out the concerto’s youthful vulnerability and high spirits. With a slender but singing tone, he phrased the plaintive opening melody with intensity and a touch of fragility, inflecting it in a manner that expressed its emotion without larding it with vibrato. The violinist was assertive and vigorous but never rough in the rapid-fire passagework and brought a keen sense of drama to the cadenza, suddenly dropping the volume and raising the speed as he began a series of trills that led up to a climactic passage of chords and arpeggios. In this dark minor-key melody [of the Andante], which climaxes with an ascent in octaves, Ehnes brought to the music a raw emotional intensity rarely heard in Mendelssohn but absolutely convincing in this passage. The last movement was a whirl of light, effortless virtuosity. Rarely will an encore eclipse the main event, but Ehnes’ performance of the Allegro assai from Bach’s Sonata No. 3 for solo violin came close. Although the work never calls for playing on more than a single string at once, Ehnes played it with brilliance, speed and dexterity. Most impressive was his overarching sense of structure, bringing out the polyphonic grandeur of Bach’s music, and showing why the composer’s solo violin works can still amaze after nearly 300 years." (Miami Herald, 12 January 2015)




 


Bruch Violin Concerto No.1 with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Michael Seal at the Corniche Breakwater in Abu Dhabi

Dec. 16, 2014 | Reviews


“The second piece was dedicated to Ehnes, who stepped on stage to take on Bruch’s ¬Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, op26. The 1866 concerto is renowned for its advanced technicality, with three movements exhibiting disparate moods and pace. The first section had Ehnes slowly making his impression felt. He quietly emerged from behind the flutes with a brisk cadenza, repeating the theme with increasing muscularity. The second movement was rich in melody as the violin introduced new ideas over an orchestra constantly on the move. Ehnes took on a more rhythmic sound on the final section with the violin almost galloping over the orchestra to conclude with a energetic flourish.” (The National, 16 December 2014)




 


Walton Violin Concerto with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Andrew Litton

Dec. 12, 2014 | Reviews


"The virtuosity and versatility of the Canadian-born violinist James Ehnes is sometimes taken for granted, such is the apparent ease and nonchalance with which he plays. Inviting comparison to the great virtuosos of the past, this afternoon matinee, in which he played the Walton Violin Concerto – written for Jascha Heifetz – with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, was only the first of his two performances that day. In the evening, Ehnes played the Brahms Concerto, dedicated to Joseph Joachim, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, replacing their stricken soloist. When, on the Symphony Hall stage, conductor Andrew Litton announced that the concert would be broadcast live on Radio 3, Ehnes just raised his eyebrows in surprise and then smiled. Ehnes’s fearless response to both works spoke for itself. The fine balance of Walton’s reflective lyricism and its capricious displays of technique were handled with flair, and the tone that Ehnes produced high on the E string lent a sweetness to the music too often lost in more effortful performances. Litton’s instinct for the jazzy element in Walton’s score added to the scintillating effect." (Guardian, 12 December 2014)

“Ehnes delivered a wonderfully poignant, soul-searching account of the Walton, his rich, full tones seamlessly singing with resigned regret and Litton and the CBSO reciprocated with arching phrasing and piquant interjections.” (Birmingham Post, 10 December 2014)

“Ehnes gave a slender, poignant rendition of Walton's Violin Concerto...his rapid, yet very clean, double-stops and jumps morphed seamlessly into sweet, lyrical lines, whose clear and round sound in the lower and middle register was topped with filigree high notes.” (Bachtrack, 12 December 2014)




 


Two concertos - Two cities - Two orchestras - One day!

Dec. 10, 2014 | News


All in a day's work! A couple of hours before he was scheduled to go on stage with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at 2:15pm to perform the Walton Violin Concerto, James received a call asking if he could step in that same evening in Liverpool to perform Brahms's Violin Concerto with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Andrew Manze to replace an indisposed soloist. To make matters even more interesting, the RLPO concert was to be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 with no time for rehearsal. Always game for an adventure, James commented on Facebook: “A crazy day today...but two of my favorite concertos with two of my favorite orchestras in the same day...... how could I refuse?”




 


Prokofiev Violin Concerto No.2 with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Thomas Søndergård

Oct. 13, 2014 | Reviews


“The Canadian James Ehnes was the soloist, and the lovely lyrical first theme on solo violin drew immediate attention to his considerable strengths – clarity of purpose, impeccable intonation, warmth of tone and understated virtuosity…Ehnes is one of those musicians who one senses immediately is there to serve the music, not some kind of Paganinian ego… Balance and sensitivity to the solo line was paramount here, every note from Ehnes ringing out clear as a bell… Ehnes tossed off the skittering scalic moments without batting an eyelid as he raced across the finish line to glory. This was flawless playing, and equally flawless was the Allegro assai from Bach’s Third Solo Sonata, which he offered as a welcome encore.” (Limelight Magazine, 11 October 2014)

“Brilliant Canadian violinist James Ehnes gave a compelling performance of Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No.2 in G minor, Opus 63 with a sound of utmost clarity and blemishless beauty. His playing has transparency and strength yet betrays no hint of undue forcefulness or harshness. The brooding opening of the first movement was purely shaped and musically cogent, while the second movement found a serenity rare in 20th-century works. The closest to anything boisterous came in the finale with its rustic double-stopped theme but Prokofiev ends with the stark originality of bare plucked chords.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 12 October 2014)




 


Korngold Violin Concerto with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop

Sep. 28, 2014 | Reviews


“The concerto's refined lyricism could not ask for a more eloquent advocate than James Ehnes. The violinist's seamless technique, sweetness of tone and poetic instincts had the music soaring and sighing to compelling effect. He enjoyed supple backing from Alsop and the BSO (some muddling in the final measures aside). The Hollywood theme continued after the concerto, as Ehnes gave an eloquent, subtle account of John Williams' Theme from "Schindler’s List," again beautifully partnered by conductor and ensemble.” (Baltimore Sun, 27 September 2014)

“James Ehnes, is my kind of musician — fastidious, conscientious and unconcerned with showmanship. The difficult double-stops rang out thanks to his pinpoint intonation.” (Washington Post, 28 September 2014)