EIF 2014: Royal Scottish National Orchestra Kaddish Symphony, Usher Hall, Review

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Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Edinburgh Festival Chorus, National Youth Choir of Scotland National Girls Choir
Barber, Violin Concerto; Bernstein, Kaddish (Symphony No 3)
John Axelrod (conductor), Christopher Bell (chorus master), Vadim Gluzman (violin), Rebecca Evans (soprano), Samuel Pisar (narrator)
Running time

Vadim Gluzman was the violin soloist in Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto composed in 1942 when Barber was with the US Army Air Forces. The work had a controversial start but Vadim Gluzman showed us how it should be played.

Leonard Bernstein's Kaddish, his third symphony, was first performed in 1963 shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the United States - and is in his memory. The fifty minute long work is a narrative in English throughout, with gaps and over lacing by choir and orchestra. The original weak narrative was Bernstein's.

Samuel Pisar was a young lawyer, born in 1929 in Poland, who was working for John F. Kennedy. He was to become a friend of Bernstein. Later Bernstein read Samuel Pisar's memoir of his life in Majdanek, Bliżyn, Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen, Oranienburg, Dachau and ultimately the Engelberg Tunnel near Leonberg. At the end of the war, he escaped during a death march. Shortly before he died in 1990 Bernstein asked Pisar to write a fresh text. This was first performed in 2003 with Pisar narrating and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under American conductor John Axelrod.

Samuel Pisar, now 85, was the narrator for us whilst John Axelrod conducted the Royal Scottish National Orchestra with the Edinburgh Festival Chorus and, in their red outfit, the National Girls Choir of the National Youth Choir of Scotland. The singers had been well prepared, as always, by Christopher Bell. Memorable too was Rebecca Evans, the solo soprano, when she sung the grandmother's sweet voice.

Much of the narrative could be understood to be a tirade against a god who allowed such atrocities to happen 'Can you pardon my sins, Lord? Can I pardon yours?'. It was a shame that some twenty percent of the narrative in the programme notes differed from the version Samuel Pisar was using - despite the copyright 2014 warning.

The applause lasted fifteen minutes with more than half the audience on their feet.

Concert: Sunday 24th August 2014 at 7.30pm