Tag Archive: Arabella Steinbacher

Marek Janowski Conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Schumann’s Manfred Overture, Rhenish Symphony and the Brahms Double Concerto with Steinbacher and Gerhardt

Marek Janowski.

It has been about a hundred years now since classical composers automatically turned to literature for inspiration. Walt Whitman was perhaps the last universal philosopher of the written word to appeal widely to musicians. Expansive, idealistic compositions by Vaughan Williams (A Sea Symphony), Delius (Sea Drift), Hindemith (“When Lilacs last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”) and many others are still vividly with us to prove the point… But in the decades since, our culture has veered off in realistic, therapeutic and scientific directions. Self-actualization of the dramatic sort depicted in romantic verse now seems naive and self-indulgent to us. We do not model ourselves any more on sweeping literary notions of heroism, duty and suicide. They embarrass us slightly.  And this probably explains why one doesn’t very often come across Fountainhead Symphonies, featuring Howard Roark standing naked at the edge of a cliff, or tone poems devoted to Portnoy’s activities of self-discovery in the coat closet. Occasionally, somebody still thinks of himself with sufficient grandiosity to try pulling off a musical Hamlet or Macbeth, but these days we take it all with a grain of salt. Narcissism has migrated to opera, where it can become camp.

San Francisco Symphony: Arabella Steinbacher plays the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto; Charles Dutoit conducts Stravinsky and Bartók.

Her view of the Tchaikovsky was a fraction slower than the usual ones built around the big tuttis—but all the better for the subtlety this permitted. There were literally moments when the orchestra, playing as quietly as it knew how, could not match her for delicacy. One of the mesmerizing features of Arabella Steinbacher’s stage presence was the way she swayed to the orchestra—leaning slowly to one side for several bars, then slowly back the other way for an equal number of bars—a mesmerizing dance to the orchestra’s basic pulse. It kept all eyes on her. Indeed, the absence of any sudden movements was the captivating feature of her presence. Just to lower her head and look down could be measured in the bar lines and pulse of the music. This special elegance has already been noted elsewhere in her career and and compared to the special dignity of Grace Kelly. I must say I concur. There are worse characterizations than for a violinist to be known as “Her Serene Highness.”

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