A big chunk of history — older than Mobile itself — will be represented onstage at the Saenger Theatre (6 S. Joachim St.) on Jan. 12 and 13. That’s when special guest violinist Vadim Gluzman joins the Mobile Symphony Orchestra and, according to an MSO statement, he’s tucking a time machine under his chin.
It’s the 1690 “ex-Leopold Auer” Stradivarius violin he uses on loan through the Stradivari Society of Chicago. What kind of timespan does an instrument like that represent?
In 1690, Johannes Sebastian Bach was 5 years old. The planet Uranus had first been sighted and recorded. Isaac Newton’s world-shaking scientific work “Principia Mathematica,” which forever altered physics, math and science, was only 3 years old.
It was then that Gluzman’s instrument was made in Italy by one of the world’s master craftsmen. As indicated in its name, it was previously owned by a legendary musician, a violinist whose talent prompted Tchaikovsky to compose his Violin Concerto in D Major in 1878.
“Vadim did have that Stradivarius when he played the Tchaikovsky concerto with us,” MSO Music Director Scott Speck said. “This will be, I believe, his third time with us.”
That initial appearance was in 2003 and the follow-up in 2010. Since then, Gluzman’s reputation has soared.
“Within the last few years he was asked to play with the Berlin Philharmonic, and they’re pretty much my model of the best orchestra in the world,” Speck said.
In addition to Berlin, Gluzman has played with the London Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Japan’s NHK Symphony, Munich Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra and many others.
“He’s one of the violinists I admire most that’s working today. Apparently, that admiration is echoed by others around the world, because the best orchestras in the world are hiring him,” Speck said.
Gluzman was a globetrotter of sorts before he finished school, encouraged by his musicologist mother and his father, a conductor and clarinetist. At age 7, he began studies in Russia. Then he moved to Israel where the illustrious Isaac Stern became a mentor. Then he was on to the U.S., where he studied at Juilliard.
The maestro and his cohorts have fashioned the Mobile experience to the talent at hand. The concert’s eponymous work is Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major (1878), one of “four great German” concertos for the instrument. It’s known for formidable technical demands, rapid ascents and rhythmic breaks.
“Vadim is such a great violinist. He’s just trying to let the thoughts and emotions of Brahms come through in his playing, presenting the piece in its glory and beauty without his own extra melodrama,” Speck said.
It’s preceded by Czech composer Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G Major (1890), a lyrical piece filled with regional influence. It was so rooted in his ethnicity that when a publisher wanted to print the movement titles and composer’s name in German, Dvorak refused “as a proud Bohemian.”
“The Dvorak is a great tribute to his native Bohemia because it has that Slavic, Eastern European feel,” Speck said.
The opening work is Bedřich Smetana’s overture to the comic opera “The Bartered Bride” (1866). The composer set the standard for Czech opera as there were basically few precursors, and unabashedly utilized popular forms to tap into regional sensibilities.
“‘The Bartered Bride’ overture is great because Smetana was kind of the inspiration for Dvořák. I like interconnections and all three composers are related because Brahms was an early supporter of Dvořák. Smetana was pretty much a founder of the Czech style, so it all goes together,” Speck said.
The special guest has his own relationship to the eastern end of the European continent. Though now Israeli, he was born in Ukraine.
The Saturday, Jan. 12, concert begins at 7:30 p.m. The Sunday, Jan. 13, matinee is at 2:30 p.m.
Attendees can enhance their concert experience with TakeNote, a pre-concert talk. It begins 6:30 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday in Room 1927, adjacent to the Saenger entrance on S. Joachim Street. It is supported by a grant from the Alabama Humanities Foundation, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Tickets cost $15 to $80 and are available by phone at 251-432-2010, at mobilesymphony.org or at the MSO box office (257 Dauphin St.). Student tickets are $10. Through the MSO Big Red Ticket program sponsored by Alabama Power, students in grades K-12 can attend Sunday’s performance free when accompanied by a paying adult. More details are at mobilesymphony.org.
The concert is sponsored by Volkert and the J.L. Bedsole Foundation.