Guitarist Vieaux serves up two concertos and a premiere with the Fairfax Symphony

Sun Mar 12, 2023 at 12:30 pm
By Andrew Lindemann Malone

Jason Vieaux performed music of Rodrigo and Sylvie Bodorová with the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra Saturday night at George Mason University. Photo: Tyler Boye

Most concerto soloists just perform one work per concert, maybe adding an encore if the audience claps enough. Star guitarist Jason Vieaux, on the other hand, worked overtime on Saturday night, playing a concerto to conclude each half of the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra’s stimulating concert at the Harris Theatre at George Mason University.

Vieaux had help in his second performance from double bassist Aaron Clay, principal in both the FSO and “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band. This unusual duo gave the U.S. premiere of Sylvie Bodorová’s Bruromano. 

Christopher Zimmerman, the FSO’s music director, has long championed the Czech composer’s work, and indeed presented the U.S. premiere of her Symphony No. 1 in 2015 with the FSO; here, he led the orchestra’s strings in accompaniment.

In the first movement of Bruromano, static string textures were interrupted by bowed double-bass melodies and guitar punctuation, an effect repeated so much that it went from tense to repetitive.

The emotional temperature went up in the second movement, marked “Pianto” (“crying”) and dedicated to the memory of Bodorová’s composition teacher. Here Vieaux plucked out a Spanish-inflected lamentation while the FSO strings shimmered with gauzy harmonies. When the double bass finally entered, Clay used it to make a big singing sound with a dusky tone, furthering the intensity.

The “Feroce” finale made a powerful contrast, with the strings’ dynamic rhythms pushing a simple melody forward and Vieaux and Clay trading riffs. This performance made one want to hear Brurumano again and see what else there is to find in it. And perhaps find out what the title means as well, since the program notes offered no clue.

Both Vieaux and Clay played with amplification in Brurumano; it would have been extremely difficult to hear both of these reticent instruments otherwise. 

Vieaux’s guitar also got a boost in Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, the first half’s main course, but the amplification in that work made his guitar slightly obtrusive—at some points Vieaux sounded like he was whispering through a megaphone during his intimate dialogues with the FSO’s soloists.

That was a shame, because otherwise this was an impeccable performance. Vieaux showed a kaleidoscopic array of tone colors, going from stony to golden to quivering to reflect the prevailing mood, and his quicksilver runs and rhythmic flair gave all the technical thrills one could desire. In the second movement, the emotional core of this work, time seemed to stop both when Vieaux took up the main theme, sounding it with a wistful nobility, and later when the FSO played it tutti, with the strings swelling and sighing.

Zimmerman and the FSO were also alert to the dynamic markings Rodrigo used so that the orchestra would not overwhelm the soloist—making it all the more ironic that the volume was too high on Saturday.

The FSO’s assistant conductor John Murton led performances of short, playful works before each of these concerti. Charles Ives’ “Country Band” March opened the concert with its genial depiction of a ragged ensemble mustering up snatches of several American songs, and Murton managed the crescendo of chaos well.

Jacques Ibert’s delightful Divertissement demanded more precise playing from the FSO, and here Murton showed a terrific sense of comic timing, particularly in the groaning trombone blares that keep threatening to sink the waltz movement and the Looney Tunes-esque finale. When Ibert paused the hijinks for a melancholy moment in the Nocturne, Murton and the orchestra took a breath and made the most of the interlude. The Ives and Ibert didn’t quite jibe with the substantial guitar works on the program, but they were fun diversions nonetheless.

Pianist George Li joins the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra in its next concert on April 22, for a program of Rachmaninov and Elgar.

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