Hilary Hahn performs Tchaikovsky's "Violin Concerto" with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, led by guest conductor Elim Chan. (credit: Rand Lines)

Hahn excels in Tchaikovsky, while Chan and the ASO find their better half in Shostakovich

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
December 1 & 3, 2022
Atlanta Symphony Hall, Woodruff Arts Center
Atlanta, Georgia – USA

Elim Chan (陳以琳), conductor; Hilary Hahn, violin.
Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 10

Mark Gresham | 2 DEC 2022

On Thursday evening, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed to a sold-out house. That goes for this Saturday, too, when the program repeats at Atlanta Symphony Hall. The reason, plainly stated, is the matchup of superstar violinist Hilary Hahn and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. The combination is a box office dream ticket.

Hong Kong-born conductor Elim Chan (陳以琳) made her Atlanta debut leading the ASO in the all-Russian program, which paired Tchaikovsky with a modern orchestral heavyweight, the Symphony No. 10 of Dmitri Shostakovich.

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Hahn, one of the world’s great interpreters of violin music, performed her solo part of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto brilliantly. She is a violinist who plays with a strong sonic presence and projection, something not always the case even within the professional circuit. Curiously, however, the orchestra sounded throughout more lean than lush in the piece; a bit too accompagnamento rather than a full collaborative partner.

While Chan and the orchestra rightly made sure not to overwhelm the soloist, they backed off far too much in this instance. There was an insufficient body of orchestral sound to underpin and support a strong soloist like Hahn, and there were many times when it felt like she was left hanging out in front alone, with the orchestra far in the background. There were occasional bursts of forte playing for the orchestra, but strangely little dynamic middle ground in those places where it was needed under Hahn’s solo violin.

Violinist Hilary Hahn and conductor Elim Chan with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. (credit: Rand Lines)

Violinist Hilary Hahn and conductor Elim Chan. (credit: Rand Lines)

That did not, however, dent Hahn’s lusterously-executed performance nor dampen the audience’s enthusiasm for her playing.

For an encore, Hahn played the “Sarabande” from Bach’s Violin Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004, dedicating it to the memory of the ASO’s longtime principal cellist, Christopher Rex, who passed away in March.

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Only after intermission, with Shostakovich’s sprawling Symphony No. 10, did Chan and the orchestra hit their groove and come into full bloom. Although almost an hour long and on the emotionally darker side for the most part (like much of the composer’s music), the piece was quite stupendous.

Completed in 1953, not long after the death of Joseph Stalin, Shostakovich’s Tenth is an impressive example of a densely-packed symphonic form, composed when writing symphonies was falling out of favor with many composers. Expressively, it is a monument of tragedy, despair, savagery, and trepidation, crowned at the end with two minutes of triumph and liberation.

Elim Chan leads the ASO in "Symphony No. 10" by Dmitri Shostakovich. (credit: Rand Lines)

Elim Chan (陳以琳) leads the ASO in “Symphony No. 10” by Dmitri Shostakovich. (credit: Rand Lines)

The Tenth proved a genuinely redemptive second-half performance for the ASO and gave the audience a much better yardstick for assessing Chan’s positive conducting capabilities than did the Tchaikovsky. Chan’s upcoming appearances in December include concerts with Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, and Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (Munich), followed by the Oslo Philharmonic in early January.

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra repeats this program on Saturday, Decemeber 3, 2022, at Atlanta Symphony Hall.

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Mark Gresham

Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer of EarRelevant. he began writing as a music journalist over 30 years ago, but has been a composer of music much longer than that. He was the winner of an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism in 2003.