One imagines many in Boston’s musical public watching the ascent of violinist Stefan Jackiw with particular pleasure, as Jackiw grew up locally and launched his career while attending Roxbury Latin School and later Harvard University and the New England Conservatory.
Jackiw, who now lives in New York with a busy international career, made a welcome return this weekend to perform with Benjamin Zander and the Boston Philharmonic. Zander and Jackiw also go way back together, having collaborated in concerts on at least three continents. For their reunion on Saturday night in Jordan Hall, the agenda was Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto.
The solo violin opens this work alone, and it took all of one phrase to realize we were in for a performance of uncommon musical substance. Jackiw naturally has all the requisite virtuosity and technical firepower one would expect from a young soloist these days, but in Saturday’s strikingly self-possessed appearance, he placed technique at the service of a notably refined sense of artistry.
After a first movement of intense lyricism and introspection, he caught the ear at the outset of the Andante with the subtlety of his coloristic imagination: The tone was distant and veiled yet glowing from its core. The utter seriousness and conviction behind Jackiw’s approach here dispelled the whiff of sentimentality that can sometimes detract from this movement. Prokofiev’s whirling finale followed with impressive bite and adrenaline. Jackiw may still be young but it’s clear he has thought more deeply than many of his peers about an essential koan of interpretation: how to wed genuine devotion to a composer’s vision with playing of interior participation and personal freedom.
After intermission, Zander led a vigorous and rewarding tour of Strauss’s “Don Quixote.” The Boston Philharmonic is made up of professional musicians, students, and devoted amateurs, welded by Zander into a single highly committed ensemble. On Saturday the orchestra shone in part by spotlighting the talent within its own ranks. Principal cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer stepped forward to take on the formidable solo cello part and played with accuracy and sustained eloquence. Principal violist Lisa Suslowicz distinguished herself in Strauss’s characterful solos representing Sancho Panza, and violinist Charles Dimmick provided solid leadership as the evening’s guest concertmaster.
The night began with Sibelius’s “Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island” from his “Four Legends From the Kalevala.” Even if aspects of Saturday’s account felt less than fully realized, it was still a pleasure to see a deserving rarity given a place of honor on the orchestra’s season-opening program.