In Rehearsal with Violinist Blake Pouliot

February 23, 2023, 2:03 PM · Rehearsals can be so much more interesting than performances. And I was fortunate enough to be able to observe violinist Blake Pouliot in rehearsal with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra (KSO), where he will perform the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto this weekend.

Blake Pouliot and Aram Demirjian
Violinist Blake Pouliot and KSO conductor Aram Demirjian at Wednesday night's rehearsal.

Pouliot (pronounced POOL-yacht) first came to my attention through, where I learned he stepped in with the Dallas Symphony for an ailing Renaud Capuçon. My next encounter was when he jumped in for Rachel Barton Pine with the Arkansas Symphony. Now suddenly he’s here in Knoxville stepping in last-minute for Philippe Quint.

The first thing one notices when Pouliot takes the stage is his stature and demeanor. Tall, athletic, and seemingly poised for an Olympic event (which the Mendelssohn clearly is), he’s a fearless and unapologetic performer.

Pouliot and the KSO already had one rehearsal the prior day, so I was able to observe a run through. With the Mendelssohn, there’s no lengthy orchestral introduction in which to find one’s footing. The soloist enters in the second bar. That proved to be a wonderful moment for Pouliot, who was able to release his pent-up energy in a dazzling opening. Any question of nerves or anxiety were immediately squashed.

Fireworks are expected in the first movement and we certainly got them. Pouliot’s octaves are (in my humble opinion) perfection. But the adagio was even more impressive. Lush and gorgeous in tone, it also had a youthful ardor that is rarely heard. His playing evoked the true beauty of Mendelssohn’s melodic writing – which is stunning in its simplicity. The third movement was the roller coaster ride we all know and love, with Pouliot meeting every technical challenge as if it weren’t, in fact, particularly challenging.

Pouliot is a highly-energetic, extremely physical player, possessing of a beautiful sound. His 1729 Guarneri del Gesù rang out in the Tennessee Theatre with a clarity I have rarely heard live. There’s a reason that great violins are worth millions of dollars. One could tell by hearing the way this instrument not only projected but responded to Pouliot’s strength that it is a truly fine violin.

Throughout the rehearsal, Maestro Aram Demirjian kept an eye (and an ear) inclined toward his soloist – making adjustments and seemingly memorizing the violinist’s musical nuances. It was a pleasure to observe his attentiveness and his remarkable ability to respond. It was a complete surprise to learn that this is Demirjian’s first time conducting the concerto. And since it was not the concerto Quint was scheduled to perform, Demirjian had to prepare with just a couple days’ notice.

As I sat there observing these two young artists, it occurred to me (and not for the first time) that music is not unlike life. Circumstances are thrown at us at a dizzying pace. And our ability to respond with dignity, confidence, and compassion are the hallmarks of our character. It was thrilling to see the manner in which conductor, soloist, concertmaster (William Shaub), and orchestra were all doing their respective parts to make sure the show would not only go on, but go on at an exceptionally high level.

I had the chance to briefly meet Pouliot after the rehearsal and he was as warm and gracious as one would hope. When I said how grateful we all are that he stepped in, he humbly replied that he was happy he didn’t have any work this week. Pouliot is far from simply being a replacement. He is a fine artist in his own right, one I’m convinced I will be reading about for decades to come.

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Click here for more information about Blake's performances of the Mendelssohn violin concerto this weekend with the KSO.

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February 23, 2023 at 10:07 PM · Diane, I adore your descriptions and the life you bring to each artist you review! This article is no exception. Pouliot’s powerful, dazzling artistry is now something I hope to follow well into the future. Thank you!

February 24, 2023 at 08:10 AM · thanks for bringing yet another wonderful violinist to our attention! it is really astonishing the number of fantastic soloists we have in this day and age.

February 24, 2023 at 09:13 AM · Diana, you have a great eye (and ear) for detail!

February 24, 2023 at 01:29 PM · Christina, Thank you! Yes, Pouliot is definitely one to watch.

Jean, I couldn't agree more. We have an abundance of riches in the violin world today.

Richard, You always leave the nicest comments. Thank you!

Update: I heard that the audience not only jumped to their feet following last night's performance, but Pouliot was called back to the stage three times before performing an encore. I'll be in the audience tonight!

February 24, 2023 at 06:00 PM · We had Blake perform the Brahms Violin Concerto with us two years ago.Magnificent player.He had the Heath Guarneri and what a perfect match up that was!

February 24, 2023 at 08:54 PM · Peter, That's so great to hear! I'm interested as to which orchestra was involved.

February 25, 2023 at 01:03 AM · " is not unlike life. Circumstances are thrown at us at a dizzying pace. And our ability to respond with dignity, confidence, and compassion are the hallmarks of our character." Such a beautiful and true statement - thank you for sharing this portrait of a magnificient violinist!

February 25, 2023 at 05:15 AM · Diana,

I am with the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony Orchestra (In Canada...the Great White North!)

February 25, 2023 at 02:33 PM · Samuel, Thank you for your beautiful comment. I have admired your writing for years, so it is particularly meaningful to me!

Peter, Brrrrrrr!

February 27, 2023 at 06:53 PM · Diana, I want to add my thanks to you for introducing us to this wonderful player. I assume his Mendelssohn was glorious this weekend. There is a recording on YouTube of his playing the Korngold (with piano) that is just stunning. The cultural life in Knoxville seems to be back in full swing!

February 27, 2023 at 07:18 PM · David, The concert was truly remarkable and the audience absolutely loved Mr. Pouliot. You, of all people, would have particularly loved his encore: His own solo arrangement of "The Last Rose of Summer." It was stunning and, honestly, you could have heard a pin drop while he was playing.

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