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Guest Soloist Triumphs in Redlands Symphony Concert

02/01/10 • by Sherli Leonard • The Riverside Press-Enterprise

The first half of the Redlands Symphony Orchestra's concert on Saturday night has blurred and faded into memory, followed as it was by one of the truly phenomenal moments in the orchestra's history. Cellist Jonah Kim came to perform Dvorak's Cello Concerto, and conquered.

First the orchestra showcased lightness, a deft underplaying that facilitated an inspired and flexible musicality. After a shining and silky English horn solo in Berlioz' "Roman Carnival" bridged to luxurious cello lines, the ever-so-light strings painted an elegant picture. In Schumann's Symphony No. 1, light and lovely winds followed by assertive strings in the first movement opened a quintessential symphony - tidy, grand in places, predictable, much too long, and otherwise unmemorable. But, consider the following.

"Bold, melts into lithe finger work, glistening - never over-played; lush without being maudlin, graceful without sentimentality." These are my notes at the opening lines of Kim's entrance in the Dvorak concerto. I should have brought my Thesaurus.

Jonah Kim, performing on a beefy, bold 1991 Michelle Ashley copy of a Nicolo Amati cello, played the Dvorak concerto as if he composed it on the spot from his own heart. With mannerisms that could have been distracting if they had been disingenuous - for audience closer to the stage, they were, indeed, distracting - he sank into Dvorak's love songs with divine artistry and impeccable technique, and synergized totally with the orchestra.

In the first movement, cello and flute soared over a breathless string tremolo with beautiful sadness. In the second movement, cello and clarinet engaged in a breathtaking exchange, followed by another sweet pairing with the flute. In the third movement, Kim's cello played second-fiddle to concertmaster Pavel Farkas' solo violin in an exuberant and classy interaction.

Artistry aside, Kim's articulate technique elevated the work beyond poignant. Amazing double-stop work, exact octaves, clean, clear notes in high and low registers, articulate arpeggios - the audience was blessed to textbook-perfect technique.

Ah, but Kim's phrasing took us beyond the moment; with light fingering that seemed to barely touch the strings, slight hesitations, breathless lifts, he instilled magic.

And then he played Paganini. After 45 minutes with a tough concerto, he unassumingly settled into a cello performance of Caprice No. 24, composed for violin, and left the audience in a second spontaneous standing ovation. All of Paganini's work is practically impossible to play on the violin, let alone on the cello. In the words of principal second violin Art Svenson, Kim is "from another planet."

Nothing we could have done could show enough appreciation for what he brought to the audience at this amazing moment.

And, what's with this audience? Paper-shuffling, coughing, wriggling, and - hard to believe - applause between movements? This has been the last bastion of concert etiquette, and now - sigh.

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