Last week we had a concert with Chinese violinist Ning Feng, and it was by far the best concert of the entire season. Ning Feng is billed as the "Chinese Paganini," and he delivered two incredible performances while he was in Bosnia. Our first concert was in the Narodno Pozorište Sarajevo, and the second was a run-out to the Bosansko Narodno Pozorište in Zenica, a small town about an hour's drive away.
The program for this concert was W. A. Mozart: Overture to Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), N. Paganini Concerto for Violin and Orchestra no. 1, op. 6 in D minor and Antonín Dvořák Symphony no. 8. in G major, op. 88. It was such a refreshing change to play a real symphony, and then to listen to Ning Feng's excellent playing. I enjoy playing in pits, but I didn't realize how repetitive and frankly boring it had gotten until we played symphonic literature. It was also wonderful to work with such a talented and passionate conductor. Our conductor Mihnea Ignat is a teacher in Spain, so he brought a sense of learning and improvement to rehearsals, instead of the "let's just put this together quickly and do a decent performance" vibe we've gotten from many of the other conductors. Ignat was not pretentious or pushy, but he had a vision and encouraged everyone to follow him. He had infinite patience; there were moments when I would have snapped at some of our musicians for making lazy mistakes.
Mattia and I played the first and second horn parts on the overture. Mattia is very exact when it comes to playing Mozart, he has a strong vision of style and modeled an excellent standard playing first. The conductor was appreciative of his lead I think; he put extra emphasis on the sfz crescendos and played all the sustained whole notes as if they were marked fp, and conductor indicated that he wanted even more of this.
The Paganini had two horns as well, so Mattia and I did not play. I'm actually really glad I didn't play in the violin concerto, because I was able to watch both performances from the audience and enjoy Ning Feng's playing without having to pay attention to my own part. Ning was an incredibly gracious soloist. He easily had room to be a divo, and some of the mistakes the tutti strings were making in rehearsal could have justified a rude comment from him. But he was just as infinitely patient and professional as the conductor, rehearsing with poise without a hint of negativity.
Ning Feng's performance in Sarajevo was probably the better of the two, because our hall did more for his sound and presence than the much smaller space in Zenica. It was nice to hear him in a different space with better detail, but because he plays with such energy you could hear the small blips and scrapes more in Zenica than Sarajevo. I don't mind this in general, I think it's part of the beauty of a live performance, but he was particularly aggressive so the difference was significant between the two halls.
Regardless, Ning is an amazingly virtuosic player, and his technique and facility on the violin are impressive. My favorite part of either concert was the encore in Sarajevo:
Apparently this is a piece for two violins, and he was playing both parts. The iPhone microphone doesn't really do him justice, and it's hard to capture how intense the quiet was after a long, virtuosic concerto.
Here's another older video of Ning Feng tearing it up:
And I managed to get part of the first movement with the amazing cadenza when we were in Zenica... my phone was dead during the Sarajevo concert and I don't think Mattia put up the video we took on his phone yet. So here's the Zenica performance:
So if witnessing Ning Feng wasn't enough, we also played Dvořák 8. I love Dvořák symphonies, and I only wish I was playing 1st or 2nd so I could do the crazy trills in the fourth movement. Rebecca and Asim had lots of fun putting their horns up and imitating elephants. I have had a love hate relationship with the Yamaha 667 I have to play for this orchestra, but on that symphony it came in handy. It doesn't take much to get that horn to play loud and bright, and the conductor was constantly asking us for more. We actually sat behind the woodwinds on this concert instead of in front of the trumpets, so we were playing into the corner of the stage with nothing behind us. It felt great to really slam out some of the low accents with the power and edge that horn gives with so little effort. Woohoo!
This was definitely an excellent ending concert for the season. We played the Merry Widow last night for our final operatic performance, and all that is left is the Ramadan concert on July 6th! I can't believe I'm so close to the end of the season here. It's been a great year with some fun colleagues.