With his powerfully spare piano piece “Für Alina” in 1976, Estonian composer Arvo Pärt found a new monastically strict style that turns for inspiration, like many others before him, to the Orthodox church. In “Fratres,” the first piece on the Masterworks program led by guest conductor Jan Wagner, somber murmurings were carefully shaded, diminishing from what felt like as soft as possible to even softer. The chant-like set of variations benefited from a rich tone in the lower strings, who transformed the shaky, distant melody offered by the violins into a profound, enigmatic query.
Breaking that mood, the ASO reset to celebrate its concertmaster, Daniel Szasz, with the piece he performed as his first solo with the orchestra, Samuel Barber’s violin concerto. Keeping a low-key profile, Szasz played beneath and within the sound of the orchestra as often as he’s oared above it. Striving perhaps for a more modest, integrated approach, he nevertheless brought an arresting strength to Barber’s cadenza before a last exchange with principal clarinetist Kathleen Costello on the main theme she had characterized wonderfully throughout.
In the second movement, taking the lead from principal oboist James Sullivan’s beautiful solo, Szasz filled out the aching contours of his melody with an ample, impassioned sound. The wickedly erratic rhythms of the third movement tumbled and stumbled to the end of a satisfying
tribute for the seasoned concertmaster.
Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 was written in 1884 for the London Philharmonic Society, who had recently elected him as an honorary member. In it, the composer tried to bring the character of
his Czech homeland to an international audience. In Wagner’s grand reading with the ASO, the symphony’s national flavor came to the fore in the third movement’s dancing cross-rhythms.
The brass and particularly the French horns (as happens often in Dvorak’s work) shone in their contributions, often navigating difficult sustained, soft and high passages.
Wagner and the ASO coordinated well throughout to give these three exquisite pieces a fittingly solid performance.
Jan Wagner, conductor
Daniel Szasz, violinist
Friday, May 5, 2017
Alys Stephens Center
Music by Pärt, Barber and Dvořák
Repeats Saturday, May 6, 2017 at 8 p.m.
"Under the more than capable direction of conductor Jan Wagner, Marsalis debuted his Blues Symphony last night in a performance with the Shenandoah Conservatory Symphony Orchestra, the culmination of his semester long residency at Shenandoah University as part of Washington Performing Arts’ “The Art of the Orchestra Series.”
The complexity of the piece is staggering, but it works because Wagner and the Shenandoah Conservatory Symphony Orchestra clearly put in the time and commitment to uncover the nuances of the piece and to tell the story with zeal...the audience experienced what happens when passions collide – in this case the passions of Marsalis, Wagner, and the orchestra."
Diane Jackson Schnoor on February 5, 2015
DC Metro Theater Arts
"The new principal conductor opened the new season. And he did it in such a way that none of us
who were present will forget. Never before has Gustav Mahler sounded like this Odense.
Jan Wagner can play Mahler in a way that convinces me that Mahler cannot be heard
much better anywhere in this world. The exceedingly high caliber of Wagner's conducting became apparent in Mahler's 1st Symphony, also known as "Titan".
Wagner could achieve what only the very great Mahler conductors can, namely tame the enormous forces to pianissimo in such a way that none of the power and none of the tension is lost. He could, so to speak, hold the wild animal with one hand, on a short leash at that, and then occasionally unleash the wild animal with enormous discharges of energy, but always get hold of the leash again.
The orchestra, which was expanded by a large number of music students from Danish academies of music, played prodigiously well. There was a rare zest, commitment and flexibility. The balance between the sections of the orchestra was subtle. The orchestra functioned on the whole as a homogenous, athletic
and well-proportioned body. Jan Wagner took us - his audience - by storm."
Morgenposten, 6th September 1997
"Here we saw why he has done so well in competitions.
Wagner has an eye for conductor-orientated music and knows his score well; he conducts with determination and power. The result was a rough-hewn and very authoritative interpretation of Gustav Mahler's First Symphony."
Folke Forsman, Huvudstadsbladet, 21st February 1997
"Opening with Strauss, the South American proved himself a caring creator, capable of bringing music to life, as he carefully shaped the sound of the large orchestra with his hands. A balanced co-operation between the singer and the orchestra was made possible by the conductors sensitivity, unfolding the stories of Death and the drunken peasant or the Grim Reaper on the battlefield in all their gruesomely eerie beauty. After the interval came Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances - passionately shaped into musical dreams. The audience visibly warmed to this conductor who was able to captivate them so effortlessly."
OF - Post, 18th November 1996
"It [Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony] can go terribly wrong for the conductor but I have rarely experienced a performance as controlled and organic as when Jan Wagner conducted the Radio Symphony Orchestra on Thursday. The Symphony was indeed truly symphonic. It was brilliant in every way."
Jakob Levinsen, Berlingske Tidende, 8th February 1997
"from the first bar of Bela Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra Jan Wagner showed himself as a great and outstanding talent. It was his music and his composition and it sparkled. The orchestra had no choice but to follow.
He is a great conductor, no doubt about it."
Morgenposten, February 1996
" I think the choice of Jan Wagner [for principal Conductor Designate ] is an excellent one. He might be young, younger than we are used to, but it is very rare to find a conductor that knows every corner of the score in advance. He knew every note, shaping and lifting the music to the highest level. I sensed that he shaped the music within himself before passing it on to the orchestra - a significant sign of a great conductor Jan Wagner gave us a really rare experience."
Morgenposten, 7th December 1996
" Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 in F. Rich in rousing material, packed with orchestral interest, distinguished for its clear lines and emotional persuasiveness, it was heard from the Melbourne Symphony three months ago under Andrew Litton: this time around, Jan Wagner brought quite a different interpretation. Wagner emphasized the symphony's majestic authority, right from the opening horn and bassoon fanfare and he kept the latent hysteria of the two outer movements well under control. Instead of giving us a series of spectacular orchestral outbursts, the conductor wove the melodies of the opening two movements into substantial sentences, giving the score a coherence that escapes many among his flashier, attention grabbing peers."
Clive O'Connell, The Age, 6th March 1998
Wagner extracts Halle's best
"A popular programme of music by Grieg, Sibelius, Debussy and Stravinsky - under the baton
of the Venezuelan-born, Vienna-trained Jan Wagner - drew superbly disciplined and impassioned playing. Wagner's sensitive phrasing and control of dynamics brought even new dimensions to an orchestra which, throughout this season so far, has been magnificently on top form. With all instrumental colours flying high, a magical account of Stravinsky's Firebird was almost a foregone conclusion."
Oldham Evening Chronicle, 13 January 2000
Short and suite night of delight
"Jan Wagner has a gift of building a controlled and energetic climax, which he duly did."
Manchester Evening News, 13 January 2000
"Jan Wagner's talent for creating a pliable sound picture from the various shapes and contrasts in the instrumentation came out to the full. Under Jan Wagner's direction, Nielsen's "Inextinguishable" was like a huge buoyant structure - supple and seamless from beginning to end."
Fyens Stiftstidende, 16th October 1999
"The Odense Symphony Orchestra and Jan Wagner proved their professionalism and artistic
commitment by shaking off their exhaustion and taking an expectant - and spoilt -
New York audience by storm.
Chief conductor Jan Wagner accompanied the soloist with precise and transparent orchestra playing.
Suppleness and elegance were also the hallmarks of Wagner's interpretation of Nielsen's "Inextinguishable".
Berlingske Tidende, 2nd November 1999
"Jan Wagner, the conductor, had a clear and expressive technique. He kept the orchestra on
the qui vive throughout the program. Especially in the Nielsen, he showed an unflagging ability to keep the brilliant sound of the orchestra billowing out, no matter what the dynamic level."
Selburne News, 4th November 1999
"Jan Wagner conducted the work with an energy and an intensity, but most importantly, with a sense of architecture which raised the music into the cosmic realm, a realm which only music can describe. As a conductor Jan Wagner has - in my experience - two sides. He either conducts with great fantasy or with straight forward, honest craftsmanship. In the Mahler symphony he was fantastic; all of the music was inside him, and he transmitted this to the players and hence also to us. It is a performance like this that
makes one realize that he truly is something special."
Svend Erik Sørensen
Fyens Stiftstidende, 4th September 1999
"Wagner has a radiant manner, a fine intuition for the musical line and a deep understanding of how to make the musical structure live: furthermore, he knew how to put this across to both orchestra and audience. A rare combination and ability."
Aalborg Stiftstidende, 12th January 1997
"Brahms C minor Symphony is great and exciting music but can have a common interpretation. This was not the case with Jan Wagner on the podium. The music unfolded with broad strokes, sensitivity and beauty Wagner had all the power to carry through a consistent expressive interpretation extraordinarily free and charged sound".
"... Sacre rose as a forceful monolith under Jan Wagner's baton and the impression of the work being one of the great gateways into our century was striking."
Morgenposten, 25th April 1998
"Jan Wagner conducted the symphony with extraordinary concentration and profound knowledge of the score. The concert was Wagner's through and through. He showed great courage and accomplishment, and it is to be hoped that similar surprises will be in store in the future. With the news that Jan Wagner is to stay in the post until 2002, the Odense Symphoniorkester is at the beginning of one of its best seasons."
Fyens Stiftstidenede, 9th September 1998
"The young conductor Jan Wagner elicited some splendidly glowing playing from the Aarhus Symphoniorkester."
Jyllands Posten, 24th October 1998
"Jan Wagners concert this evening with the Aarhus Symphoniorkester was nothing less than a tremendous success."
Berlingske Tidende, 24th October 1998
"In the hands of Jan Wagner and the Odense Symphoniorkester, Shostakovich's score to Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin was a masterpiece"
Fyens Stiftstidende, 8th December 1998
"This was Jan Wagner at his best"
Fyens Stiftstidende, 31st October 1998
"The performance was loaded with intensity throughout, closely enveloping the passion and violent, fatal feelings that develop in the love triangle between the young Mellisande and the brothers Golaud and Pelleas. The work with its surging expressiveness can seem overwhelming, but Jan Wagner's well structured interpretation enhanced the refined and highly developed instrumentation of the 29-year-old Schoenberg. In the same way, he portrays clearly and effectively the extreme contrasts in the work".
Jyllands Posten, 18th October 1997
"The work is late romantic, the textures very concentrated, compact, Germanic and heavy. And since there is such an incredible abundance of counterpoint, much of which one can only sense, it is definitely music which demands a first-rate conductor. Jan Wagner really did succeed in turning this great animal into music, transparent and alive. One had a feeling that not so much as a single note was outside the control of Jan Wagner. There was throughout a taut and springy sense of development and a fine balance between the instrumental groups. Seldom have I heard such huge and powerful forces let loose in the big concert hall of Odense, but it was all music, not noise. That Jan Wagner is an important conductor was proved in
the main work of the evening, Pelleas and Melisande".
Morgenposten, 18th October 1997
"Jan Wagner demonstrated his greatness and conducted a Sacre that Tivoli is guaranteed never
to have heard before .. His precise attacks came like lightning and at the same time Jan Wagner
had the capacity to maintain the context and inner surprise in Stravinsky's music .. Jan Wagner, together with fantastic playing from the orchestra, delivered a performance that shows him as one
of the truly great conductors."
Morgenposten, 19th June 1998