Nicola Benedetti plays Wynton Marsalis’s Jazzy Violin Concerto in Glasgow


Thomas Adès, Gershwin, Wynton Marsalis: Nicola Benedetti (violin), Royal Scottish National Orchestra/ Thomas Søndergård (conductor), Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 9.9.2019. (GT)

Nicola Benedetti

Thomas Adès – Dances from Powder her Face

Gershwin – A Symphonic Picture of Porgy and Bess (arr. Bennett)

Wynton Marsalis – Concerto in D (for Violin and Orchestra)

This concert was unusual in that it comprised of two pieces written in the 21st century together with one of the most popular American works by George Gershwin. It was also remarkable in that we had an almost full concert hall, a rarity in today’s harsh world, as well as, coming after the Celtic Connections winter music festival held here through January. Certainly, the orchestra in a few months has become a more cohesive unit in precision and accuracy of performance all owing to the new Music Director Thomas Søndergård who has taken to introducing each programme.

Thomas Adès richly orchestrated collection of dances from his opera about the Duchess of Argyle has been heard here before, and in this performance it seems as fresh as never before, the opening overture is richly ribald, approaching vulgarity quickly set the mood for the whole piece and indeed for the evening with the outrageous foxtrot, following by a stunning waltz in triple-time enacted superbly by the brass and percussion showing off all their consummate skills. The strings had their turn to delight us with their precise pizzicato playing and with the rip-roaring tango of the finale; traces of the foxtrot reprised and before we knew it was all over, a superb tour de force again showing this orchestra at a new peak.

The mood continued with Robert Russell Bennett’s Symphonic Picture arrangement of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, opening with the rather quiet beginning somewhat pastoral on the strings soon taken over by a rhapsodic theme, and inflection of blues with the most colourful playing witnessed in the great ‘Summertime’ song, quite deliciously played here. The strings (led by Maya Iwabuchi) were sublime, also one must mention the clarinet playing by guest principal Matt Glendening, and then the colourful slides on the violins; the whole orchestra played with a swagger and great fluency. It was matched in the other great song ‘I got plenty o’ nuttin’ and then ‘It ain’t necessarily so’, finally closing with a quotation of Porgy’s prayer ‘Oh, Lawd I’m on my way’.

The Scottish premiere of Wynton Marsalis’s new piece for Nicola Benedetti was given at Dundee’s Caird Hall two nights ago, and here Scotland’s popular musical ambassador opened with a dirge-like theme on her violin in the ‘Rhapsody’, and when joined by the woodwind, her idea found a bright lustre, the feeling was as if awaking. Then suddenly the whole orchestra erupted with a great burst of sound, developing the theme, and following an extended cadenza for Benedetti it was eventually interrupted by a cacophony from the enlarged brass section and the percussion. There were birdcalls evoked in a beautiful meditative passage from Benedetti; it was evident Marsalis has taken care to write particularly fine music for her.

In the ‘Rondo Burlesque’, there was a sudden burst by the percussion and some startlingly jazzy playing from the violin, accompanied by the orchestra, with an interlude for a quietly reflective cadenza. There was blues modulated swooning in the violins, rising and falling rhapsodically. In ‘Blues’ we heard pizzicato strings exchanging phrases with the brass, like a conversation, eventually dying away as if in church. In the finale, ‘Hootenanny’, a triumphant celebratory mood was apparent from bright stomping and clapping, swelling Scottish folk harmonies, bright and snappy rhythms, and more cacophony from the brass. It intermingled with another brief cadenza before Benedetti took her leave of the stage slowly playing a folk tune to finally close this splendidly uproarious piece. Certainly, it won’t be too long before we hear this stunning concerto again and it could become a calling card for the Scottish violinist, and indeed for this orchestra.

Gregor Tassie

For more about Nicola Benedetti click here.


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