Kavafian Plays Mozart at the New Haven Symphony Orchestra

Isaak Kifle

On Thursday, November 10, the Music Department and Honors Program organized a trip to the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. A bus packed with students, led by Music Chair Michael Kaloyanides and Honors Program Coordinator Lynne Resnick, went to Woolsey Hall in New Haven to watch a concert titled Kavafian Plays Mozart, featuring violinist Ani Kavafian.

Before the concert started, students had the chance to go to Yale University’s Oral History of American Music a short walk away from Woolsey to listen to a brief lecture by Libby Van Cleve, the director. Cleve spoke on Charles Ives, the composer of The Unanswered Question (1906), one of the other pieces included in the concert. Adding to the lecture were several recordings by close friends and associates of Ives, who gave insight into Ives’ brilliant and quirky personality, which helped give the audience a better understanding of his piece when it was heard later that night.

Following the lecture, students preceded into Woolsey Hall for the concert. It began with Music Director and Concert Composer William Boughton giving a brief introduction and overview of the concert, then beginning with the first piece of the night: Le tombeau de Couperin (1914-17) by Maurice Ravel. Despite the title (referring to Baroque composer Francois Couperin) translating to “Couperin’s grave,” the four-movement piece seemed to dance off the page and possess a very whimsical yet elegant presence in the concert hall.

The second and primary performance of the concert was Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 1 in B-flat Major, K.207. This three movement piece featured soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician Ani Kavafian, who has performed with the New York Philharmonic and the symphony orchestras of Philadelphia and San Francisco, among many of America’s other leading orchestras. The audience burst into applause the moment Kavafian walked onto stage, yet was mesmerized with silence once the performance began. Kavafian’s performance on her violin was stunning and the accompaniment consisting of the other strings perfectly complimented Kavafian’s solo parts. The final result was the highlight of the entire night.

After the concerto concluded, a brief intermission took place, followed by The Unanswered Question. Describing this short piece, Ives said that the strings represent “the silences of the Druids, who know, see, and hear nothing” while the trumpet poses “the Perennial Question of existence.” Ives also explained the flutes as the “Fighting Answerers seeking the Invisible Answer” to no avail and the trumpet posing “the Question” one more time. It is difficult to describe this haunting piece otherwise as it is something that has to be heard to be understood.

The finale of the night was the “London” Symphony no. 104 in D Major (1795) by Franz Joseph Haydn. This symphony marked a return to the full orchestra from Le tombeau de Couperin, but with added percussion and louder notes, resulting in a big, booming finale to the night. Regardless of how many times you hear a piece of music, hearing it performed live is a unique and unforgettable experience, especially when performed by a group as talented as the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. A big thank you to the Music Department and Honors Program for organizing this trip!