by Anthony Kershaw
Jan 31, 2013. Markham Theatre, Markham, ON — A homecoming of sorts for virtuoso, Leila Josefowicz. The 35 year old violinist was born in Mississauga but moved with her family to sunny California when she was three. Her scientist parents believed in a strong, public education and coupled this with immersion in the Suzuki Method (parents and young children take music lessons together on the same instrument). Her facility was recognized early and the family upped sticks to Philadelphia so the 13 year old Leila could to study at famed Curtis.
Beautiful and talented, Josefowicz was courted by Chanel and employed as a model at 20. But that life and a much publicized divorce (from Estonian conductor, Kristjan Järvi) are in the past. Josefowicz and her sons, Lucas and Rex, now make their home in New York City.
Josefowicz has been the inspiration for the publication and premieres of new works for the violin. Composers such as John Adams, Oliver Knussen and Esa Pekka Salonen have written works for her.
The program she chose for the Markham Theatre opened with masterworks by Brahms and Schumann and spiced considerably after the intermission with de Falla’s Suite Populaire Espagnole (6 songs arr. for violin and piano, from ‘7 Canciones populares españolas’), György Kurtág’s Three Pieces (1979) and John Adams’ Road Movies (1995).
Let’s get the bad out of the way first, and no fault of the faultless Josefowicz and her superb accompanist, John Novacek. The acoustics! Probably, the worst I’ve heard in a ‘concert hall’. Why did they book an artist of Josefowicz’ stature in a poster child to the worst of mid ’80s architecture? Ugly, dark brown, plush, oblique angles with boxes, and neither intimate or large. And, the non acoustics were worse. That said, the small but very appreciative audience (braving an unannounced snow storm to get there) loved every minute.
Always the consummate pro, Josefowicz over came the dull ambiance with warm and very musical interpretations of Brahms’ Sonatensatz and the spellbinding Sonata No. 1 by Schumann. The balance between violin and piano was certainly askew in the opening Brahms but improved slightly in the Schumann. Josefowicz’ Guarneri violin is not a powerhouse and she is well known for her sweet sound, never forced. She came close a couple of times, pushing her instrument farther than it wanted to go. In any number of Toronto halls, ‘that’ sound would be caressed and loved. Here, in the epitome of concrete suburbia, her sound was compromised.
The nature of the second half program made projection a little easier between players and audience. Whether muted violin, fiery pizzicatos, high flying melodies, incise rhythms, the de Falla Suite was mesmerizing. So, too, the Adams work. All tumult and trouble. But, my favourite performance was of Kurtág’s Three Pieces. Inspired by Webern, these three serial gems wowed and wooed me. Stunning, with minimal rhythm and melody, but incredibly effective as pure music. And from the middle of the second Piece, a melody of such staggering beauty. Out of nowhere. And even more powerful because of it. I shall take great pleasure in exploring more Kurtag works. Needless to say about this champion of new music for the violin, Josefowicz’ performance was absolutely brilliant. How does her bow arm move so slowly while producing such a centred, quiet sound?
Josefowicz’ website has details on her all musical activities and tours. If she’s in your local concrete jungle, I urge you to hear this great artist.