The Greenwich Village Orchestra Shines New Light on an Old Warhorse

by delarue

Concert as breeding ground for discovery: plenty of fans of classical music would agree that the Beethoven Violin Concerto is one of the best-loved pieces in the repertoire, while a cynic might say that it’s one of the most-played. And they’d both be right. Either way, there’s no arguing that it’s awash in warm nocturnal lustre and attractive harmony. Orchestras tend to focus on that good cheer and play it buoyantly, setting up the many sizzling solo moments for the violin. Yesterday evening conductor Barbara Yahr and the Greenwich Village Orchestra went deep into it, found a lullaby and then a love ballad and played them with a tenderness that was as evocative as it was unexpected. And violin soloist Itamar Zorman matched that approach: only when the final, quirky scherzo built to a jaunty dance did he really dig in and cut loose on the slithery cascades at its peak, and the contrast was spine-tingling.

What became crystal clear from this performance is that Beethoven had a crush on somebody when he wrote this! Whoever she was, she was gorgeous. Yahr led the group through the first movement with a gentle persistence that became even more muted and gauzy on the second, caressing the melody. As an interpretation of a work that gets played so often in concert and on classical radio, something that listeners might multitask through or drift off to sleep with after a Mets game, it was a genuine revelation.

Elgar’s Enigma Variations weren’t a revelation, but they were a lot of fun. This suite is proto film music, or, as Yahr told the crowd, “a Facebook page.” Its portraits and caricatures – some of them rather mean-spirited – flit by in a split second, so Yahr had the orchestra play some of the juicy bits beforehand as signposts to keep an eye out for. So when the annoying neighbor on his bike, or the guy and his clumsy dog playing catch with a stick at the river’s edge, made their appearance, everybody was ready. And those moments of drollery contrasted with the rather somber self-cameos (musical selfies?), and the ode to the composer’s advocate at the London publishing house who gave him grunt work to pay the bills, which the ensemble played as a rapt hymn.

And before the performance, arriving patrons were treated to some tasty fanfares from the brass section, tucked back on the stairs over the front door! This orchestra is an East Village institution, a throwback to the neighborhood’s historically artsy roots, and continues to represent that vanishing tradition. The GVO’s next concert is Nov 16 at 3 PM with Griffes’ The White Peacock, the Schumann Cello Concerto featuring soloist Brook Speltz and Sibelius’ lush, windswept Symphony No. 1, at Irving HS Auditorium on Irving Place and 17th St., suggested donation is $20/$10 for students and seniors and there’s a reception afterward.