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Florida Orchestra concertmaster Jeffrey Multer shines as soloist

Florida Orchestra concertmaster Jeffrey Multer showed the precision and expression that has distinguished his career.
Published Dec. 4, 2016

TAMPA — Every year, some of the world's best violinists play on our stages. This year, young sensations Simone Porter and Benjamin Beilman wowed Florida Orchestra audiences. Early next year, Joshua Bell and Itzhak Perlman pass through the bay area.

Most of the time, Jeffrey Multer has been content to play a supporting role, albeit as the Florida Orchestra's most recognizable face. As concertmaster, it's Multer's job to stand before concerts and play a single A-note on his violin, which helps the other musicians tune their instruments. Then he sits on the edge of the first chair to the conductor's left and attacks the score in an almost physical way, as if slipping punches.

It's hard to listen to the biggest names and not wonder, on occasion, how Multer, an accomplished violinist with a national reputation, would fare if given the same workload.

On Friday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, he gave us an answer, soloing in Beethoven's Violin Concerto. The combination of the music, some of the composer's most lyrical, and the event itself created a moment you won't often see. Multer showed the precision and expression that has distinguished his career, which has included playing in a quartet named the best classical music event of 2003 by the Washington Post.

Appropriately in this case, the concerto form of alternating sequences by the soloist and the ensemble was advanced by Beethoven to include passages in which both elements play very much together. The first movement started quietly, then introduced the violin to lead the melody and foreshadow a steep climb to the instruments' highest registers.

A few times in the concerto, notably toward the end of the first movement, Multer alone plays cadenzas he wrote himself. These are ornamental passages that allow musicians to improvise on the composer's themes. Multer's cadenzas are reverent and true to the score, always pointing toward the composer and away from himself.

A tranquil second movement (characterized by what one musicologist called a "sublime inaction") gives way to the brisk waltzlike allegro in the third. The finale closed with a rush, and a full house at Ferguson Hall quickly stood to applaud, as did orchestra members themselves. Multer smiled broadly and accepted a hug from guest conductor Joshua Weilerstein.

The other piece, Dmitri Shostakovich's introspective Symphony No. 10, was a deep and engaging rendering of the composer's tumultuous inner life. After the hostile reception by Joseph Stalin of Shostakovich's ninth symphony, which was supposed to celebrate the Soviet triumph following World War II, the composer was banished and rejected. From 1948 to 1953, he composed film scores, which might help explain why the cinematic sweep with the lower strings at the start of the first movement is so powerful.

The opening movement builds as different sections each underscore an ominous intent, from a doleful clarinet solo to growling basses and piercing flute. The orchestra conveyed fully the theme, which is that some revelation is coming and it's not going to be pretty.

A brief second movement, a furious explosion of a military march, was said to be a portrait of Stalin, explaining the apprehension of the previous movement. The third movement, full of intentional uncertainty, contains the composer's musical "signature," a four-note sequence using English and German musical notation to spell out "D-S-C-H" (or D-E flat-C-B), initials hinting at his name. The symphony's final movement wraps up with a restatement of earlier themes, a kind of determination to survive, if not to be satisfied or happy. The symphony offers brief opportunities for musicians to solo. That included associate concertmaster Nancy Chang, who played first-chair violin. Multer was backstage for the Shostakovich, taking a well deserved rest.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

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