On Thursday at Symphony Hall, guest conductor Karina Canellakis paired the stirring, exquisite Beethoven overture, electric and dynamic in parts, with Alban Berg’s violin concerto. (Runnicles also led the most recent classical subscription performance of Berg’s concerto at Symphony Hall in 2010.) Hearing the overture against the stark, modern concerto, a tuneful but still disparate and spindly composition, was a bit jarring. Berg’s composition follows the twelve-tone technique created by Schoenberg, Berg’s guiding light, but the piece isn’t a slave to music-theory logistics.
Violinist Itamar Zorman began the concerto by slowly arpeggiating the tone row, a set of notes that forms the musical lexicon of the work, at a near whisper while clarinets tiptoed along softly behind. Soon he moved through wide, disjunct leaps of notes, overflowing with expression. At times, the work is unsettling both tonally and in the schizophrenic violin part – dashing through blistering runs of 32nd notes, then moving to sweet, careful long tones. In the second movement, Zorman’s violin developed a bite as he percussively attacked endless, dizzying strings of notes, the orchestra echoing his passionate playing. He is an exceptional violinist with broad depth to his sound. Zorman hurdled the tricky intervals and complex language of the concerto with ease and a scintillating musicality.