Strings of Splendor: María Dueñas and Yannick-Nézet Séguin Shine in a Night of Symphonic Magic

In a remarkable and heartening turn of events, L’Orchestre Métropolitain under the baton of Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin took the stage at Montreal’s Maison Symphonique on Saturday, presenting Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony No. 7 alongside a recently rediscovered violin concerto by Johan Halvorsen.

The exceptional nature of the discovery and it’s pairing with the Symphony was underscored by the fact that the fourth program of the OM’s season played to a full house both on Friday at the Salle Marguerite-Bourgeoys du Collège Regina-Assumpta and on Saturday at Place des Arts. A truly astonishing feat for a concert featuring (until recently) an unknown concerto and a lengthy, demanding symphony….

Orchestre Métropolitain Violinist Maria Dueñas and maestro Yannick Nézet-SéguinPhoto: Denis Germain

The Orchestra’s Musical Director and Conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, recounted with much gusto the remarkable circumstances surrounding the find of Norwegian composer Johan Halvorsen’s Violin Concerto, Op. 28.

After hearing the prodigious Alberta violinist Kathleen Parlow (1890-1963) perform in Oslo in 1908, the composer, himself a virtuoso violinist, decided to pen a concerto for her. She premiered it in the Netherlands the following year.

In spite of receiving enthusiastic acclaim from both the audience and critics, the concerto was consigned to a drawer and likely destroyed by the composer towards the end of his life.

Its survival is credited to Parlow, who had tucked her score away in her archives until its rediscovery in Toronto in 2015.

Since then, the composition has been recorded on at least two occasions.

Regal Resonance

María Dueñas made her first appearance in Montreal back in 2019 at the Prestigious CMIM (Concours Musical International de Montréal ) competition. Since then she has risen to fame as the 1st prize winner at the 2021 Menuhin Competition, as well as winning the Audience Prize award.

Currently a rising star of Deutsche Grammophon, the young Andalusian violinist, poured her heart and soul into this athletic 22-minutes composition. With a style not dissimilar to Grieg’s, the composition provides significant virtuosic content for any accomplished concert soloist.

With impeccable ease, precision, luminosity, and brilliance of the high notes, from the dazzling initial cadence to the expressive folkloric themed finale, Dueñas captivated the audience with eloquence and regal resonance.

Both her low and high notes were admirably projected with undeniable richness.

As an encore, Dueñas fittingly performed “Veslemøy’s Song, / The Young Girl Sings” initially transcribed for violin and orchestra by Halvorsen for Parlow.

María Dueñas Photo Credit : Denis Germain – Orchestre Métropolitain

A Symbol of Hope and Solidarity

Conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin leading the Orchestre Métropolitain

After the intermission, a complete change of mood ensued with the over 80 minutes Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 in C Major, known as the “Leningrad,” conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

The start of the second part of the concert was brilliant especially in the first movement with an “invasion” theme that displayed immense power in both dynamics and expression. However every movement had its moments of glory and emerged with honors. In the Finale the woodwinds built upon previous themes found in the Symphony until the violins took over with another theme that led towards a dramatic climax.

Written during World War II, the Leningrad symphony instantly became a symbol of hope and solidarity. Nearly a century later, it’s stills rings true.

Séguin was no stranger to this masterpiece as he had previously led it at the Lanaudière Festival five years ago.

The audience’s enthusiastic response and standing ovation at the close of the concert was commensurate with such an accomplishment, marking a triumphant conclusion to an extraordinary performance.

Learn more

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*** This article was co-written by Genevieve PM Roy and Monica Wong