By MIKE CHAIKEN
The Scottish highlands will be evoked through music this weekend when the Hartford Symphony Orchestra presents “A Scottish Fantasy” as part of its Masterworks series.
The evening will feature guest conductor, Stefan Sanderling, Mike MacNintch on highland bagpipes, and Gareth Johnson on violin. This program includes Maxwell Davies’ An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise, Bruch’s four-movement Scottish Fantasy, and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, “Scottish.”
Violinist Johnson will be performing classical music when he arrives in Hartford. But his musical resume shows a considerable background in more modern genres such as pop, contemporary, and hip-hop music.
“I love the modern sounds of music, and so do large audiences all over,” said Johnson in an email interview, “but classical music is my foundation and is where my love for being an artist stems from.”
“Each dimension of the styles that I work in is just part of who I am and who I’ve always been,” said Johnson. “I was raised around classical, pop, hip hop, and New Age music.”
“All of the romantic violin concertos are the reason that I truly fell in love with the violin,” said Johnson.
Bruch’s piece is not new to Johnson, who has performed it in other venues besides upcoming concert at The Bushnell.
“Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy definitely ranks amongst the top 10 for me,” said Johnson. “My appreciation of the piece grew for this performance due to the need for a high level of maturity in an artist’s tone and phrasing. I think you have to experience a roller coaster of emotions in life to have a decently convincing interpretation of this work.”
When he was invited to perform with HSO, Johnson found the opportunity appealing.
“HSO is one of the most respected large ensembles in the world,” said Johnson. “Of course, I considered it an honor to be invited as a soloist. It’s wonderful that we’re paying homage to Scotland as I myself have Scottish roots. I feel privileged to perform such a prestigious piece connected to my ancestry.”
“Honestly though,” said Johnson, “I would have joined HSO for about anything, and hopefully we will do more. Paganini from Italy, Tchaikovsky from Russia, as we say where I’m from, ‘I’m down for whatever.’”
For audiences unfamiliar with the Bruch piece, Johnson explained, “The Scottish element of this piece is all throughout in Scottish folk melodies. They are really quite clear as well.”
“The fantasy is mostly taking place in the third movement after the solo violinist has stated the main theme of the new melody,” said Johnson.
Often when audiences think of Scottish music, especially due to the influence of the bagpipes, thoughts turn to two extremes—either very joyful music or very mournful music.
However, Johnson explained, “(Bruch’s) piece dispels the musical stereotypes of Scottish music beautifully. The slow movements are extremely passionate and mournful, while the fast movements are filled with sounds of courage, confidence, and pride.”
“If you’re listening to Bruch Scottish Fantasy for the first time, I like to tell people to imagine a dramatic story,” said Johnson. “The movie ‘Braveheart’ with Mel Gibson is a perfect example. If you can listen with an open mind for sadness, possibly death, revenge, pride, and love then I think you’ll enjoy your first listen.
Hartford Symphony Orchestra presents ‘A Scottish Fantasy’ Friday to Sunday, Jan. 19 to 21 at the Belding Theater at The Bushnell, 166 Capital Ave., Hartford. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Tickets start at $35, or $10 for students with identification. For tickets, call (860)987-5900 or www.hartfordsymphony.org