Akemi Takayama is a household name in the Roanoke and New River Valley areas of southwestern Virginia, having performed and recorded with the Audubon String Quartet for several years prior to the Audubon’s epic meltdown around 2000. Takayama became concertmaster of RSO in 2004, and then continued to perform with the Audubon Quartet until the group formally dissolved in 2011. In addition to her work with RSO, Takayama teaches violin at the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia, and she is the mother of four teenaged boys.
The RSO opened with Wagner’s “Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin”. This is David Stewart Wiley’s 20th year conducting RSO, and this lush, romantic overture showcased his outstanding artistry and musicianship. Wiley uses broad arm movements and quirky gestures (“air vibrato” is among them) to extract a huge range of expression from the energetic RSO. In his “spare time” Wiley conducts another orchestra (the Long Island Philharmonic) and maintains a performing career as a chamber pianist (classical and jazz). Wiley is a family man too. He and his wife (herself a notable soprano) have two children who are, of course, talented young musicians as well.
With Takayama waiting offstage to perform her concerto, James Glazebrook took the concertmaster’s seat. Glazebrook is beloved by the Virginia Tech community because he has taught violin at VT for a great many years while also directing the RSO’s youth symphony and the New River Valley Symphony (a hybrid of university and community orchestras). Glazebrook was himself previously concertmaster of RSO but graciously stepped aside when the opportunity to hire Takayama presented itself to RSO.
The Barber concerto is a showcase of melody. Takayama’s sinewy tone projected the haunting phrases of the first movement along the graceful skyline of a sensitive orchestral accompaniment. The second movement is even more lyrical, and Takayama rose to the occasion with a rich palette of tonal colors. That's the kind of music one hopes will go on forever. But Barber had other plans. The third movement is a rollicking perpetuo featuring over a hundred bars of fast triplets. Takayama demonstrated the intuitive synergy of grace and grit in violin artistry, at times whispering and at others hollering to convey the overall structure of the movement and bring the concerto to a dramatic conclusion.
When the orchestra returned after intermission, the flowing red gown of the soloist had given way to the dour black pantsuit of the orchestral violinist, and the faithful concertmaster, now bespectacled, returned to her usual chair. There she supported her colleague, Maestro Wiley, in a gorgeous presentation of the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 in F Minor Op. 36. Just as our nine-year-old daughter was starting to fade, along came that lovely pizzicato Scherzo, followed by the well-known finale, Allegro con fuoco.
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