Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot captivated audiences at the Collins Center for the Arts on Sunday when he performed Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra.
Pouliot (pronounced pool-YACHT) was called “one of those special talents that comes along once in a lifetime” by his hometown newspaper, the Toronto Star.
The 29-year-old is one of the most expressive guest violinists to play with the Bangor orchestra in the past decade. He plays with his entire body — channeling the music from his toes up through his heart, down his arms and out through his deft fingers.
Sunday was the first time in 20 years that the BSO has programmed Mendelssohn’s concerto.
Mendelssohn wrote the concerto for a violinist friend and it was first performed in 1845. While most concertos begin with long orchestra introductions before the soloist enters, Mendelssohn has the soloist make a dramatic entrance after just two bars, according to the program notes.
In writing the piece, Mendelssohn seemed determined to use every note the violin is capable of producing and Pouliot wrung each single sound out of his instrument with joy, verve, passion and precision.
The violinist told the audience that the last time he performed the Mendelssohn in a concert hall was March 8, 2020, about a week before the coronavirus pandemic ended live performances for nearly two years.
While he is an excellent player, the unusual violin Pouliot plays gives him a leg up on less talented violinists. It was made by famed luthier Bartolomeo Giuseppe Antonio Guarneri del Gesu in Cremona, Italy in 1729. It is considered to be characteristic of the maker’s work during this period, and has an outstanding tonal quality, according to the Musical Instrument Bank, an initiative of the Canada Council.
As the final note of the concert rolled over concertgoers the audience collectively rose to its feet and roared. The guest violinist returned to the stage three times before treating the audience to an encore — his own arrangement of the Gaelic tune, “The Last Rose of Summer.”
Pouliot’s performance sets a high standard for future guest soloists.
The concert opened with Igor Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella: Suite,” which premiered as a ballet in 1920.The ballet is based on the commedia dell’arte character Pulcinella, who was a bit of a ladies’ man. It was one of many times Stravinsky collaborated successfully with the Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev.
The symphony captured the sparkle and spirit of the piece perfectly.
Conductor Lucas Richman and his orchestra conjured up images of that early form of theater, which was full of physical comedy, pratfalls, pretend beatings but happy endings with stock characters such as grumpy old men, devious servants, and soldiers full of false bravado.
The concert closed with Symphony No. 100 in G major by Franz Joseph Haydn. It was one of 104 symphonies he wrote during his lifetime, Richman told the audience.
The composer added the clarinet, drums and other percussion instruments not normally used in 18th-century symphonic works. The work was nicknamed “Military” because the second movement featured a triangle, cymbals and a bass drum reminiscent of military bands formed by the Ottoman Turks that were heard in Europe, according to the program notes.
It would have been impossible to select any piece that would equal Pouliot’s stunning and energetic performance. For that reason alone — even though the orchestra performed it well — the Haydn felt like a bit of a letdown.
The concert will be available through Feb. 15 for digital streaming. For information, visit bangorsymphony.org. The next concert will be at 3 p.m. March 12, and will feature the world premiere of Kenneth Fuch’s “Star Gazing.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story omitted Conductor Lucas Richman’s first name and title.