By Michael Cameron
In days of yore, the job description of a virtuoso included introducing new compositions from contemporaries, improvising cadenzas to concertos, and even composing works that tested the limits of their instruments beyond inherited standards. Contemporary business models suggest that such flights of fancy carry too much risk, and many violinists and pianists are content to cling to repertoire learned in their teens from mentors who did the same before them.
And then there are the restless souls like Leila Josefowicz, artists who break the cycle of endless regurgitation, refreshing the canon with commissions of new works, promoting neglected older works that failed to make the cut the first time around, and presenting arrangements of works from other mediums.
Last March Chicago audiences were treated to her riveting account of John Adams’ two-year-old Scheherazade.2 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, an important work that deserves induction into the realm of standard violin repertoire. Like most of her concerts, her program Friday night at the University of Chicago’s Mandel Hall with pianist John Novacek was like no other, carrying as it did an invitation to her audience to join her on a mission of discovery.
There was reason to doubt a couple of her choices on paper, but she made a strong case for each of them with performances that were deeply committed, unfailingly compelling, and performed with such sure and confident technique that there was never a doubt about her ability to realize every physical hurdle.