Simone Porter simply marvellous with Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

Alexander Prior, Simone Porter
Edmonton Journal

Those unlucky concertgoers who arrived late at the Winspear Centre for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s concert on Friday may well have no idea what they missed — one of the most exciting performances of the first movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto they are ever likely to hear.

The concerto opened the whole, eagerly anticipated concert, which is being repeated on Saturday. It was conducted by Alexander Prior, who will of course become the ESO’s chief conductor in September.

There was a definite sense of the changing of the guard as he took to the podium. Current music director (and future conductor emeritus) William Eddins still has a number of concerts to conduct in this season — including Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana on June 16 and 17 — but here, surely, was a signal of things to come.
The repertoire Prior chose was, to say the least, substantial. No overture, but instead one of the great violin concertos, and two symphonies that had never been played by the ESO before.

One immediately obvious change was in the layout of the orchestra. The double basses created a back wall behind the woodwind, violins more traditionally placed to Prior’s left, the cellos and then the violas to his extreme right. The trumpets and trombones, up behind the cellos, were matched on the other side of the stage by the horns.

Prior was also responsible for choosing the soloist for the Tchaikovsky, who was making her debut with the orchestra. The 20-year old American Simone Porter made her first professional appearance with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra at the age of 10, premiered a violin concerto by Prior himself at the age of 12, and made her international debut with the Royal Philharmonic at the age of 13.

She is quite simply marvellous. She reminded me most of all of the young Yehudi Menuhin — the same kind of remarkable golden tones and vibrant smoothness, the huge sound, the sense that any technical virtuoso challenges are a figment of the imagination, the seemingly fearless ease of the whole thing. Like Menuhin, she has the energy, the invigoration of youth, but a maturity of emotional expression beyond her years.

She was clearly inspirational to the orchestra, too, as their playing was white-hot in the first movement and again at the end. Typical of the rapport was a marvellously quiet and yet so-intense exchange of the phrases between the violin and the solo cello (Raphael Hoekman) in the final movement.

That was to concentrate on the organic flow of the unfolding of the music, the various elements of the sound overlapping and folding into each other. It’s an effective way of viewing the symphony. If it does lose some of the drama that others have found in the work, in recompense it presents the whole symphony, so to speak, in one long breath.

This was a powerful concert, one that augers well for the future. And if you want to encounter someone who has all the potential to be one of the great violinists of her era, grab a ticket for Saturday while you can, and go hear Simone Porter play. 

Read the rest of the review here