Stepping in is stroke of luck for violinist
When violinist Liza Ferschtman was called to step in for Janine Jansen on a tour with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, she found herself faced with a series of “firsts.”
She had never played in Hungary before or worked with conductor Ivan Fischer. And she had never played Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade for Violin and Orchestra.
“It’s been quite a ride,” she says.
Ferschtman, 33, may not be all that well known in the United States, but she has toured all over Europe, including appearances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.
The daughter of Russian musicians, Ferschtman began playing at age 5 and studied with Herman Krebbers at the Conservatory of Amsterdam and with Ida Kavafian at the Curtis Institute. In 2006, she received the Dutch Prize for Music, the highest award for musicians in the country, which she likens to the American Avery Fisher Grant.
Beyond her experience, a long-standing affinity for the Bernstein piece has prepared her well for her upcoming performances, which include concerts at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark on Saturday — her debut at the venue — and at Avery Fisher Hall in New York on Sunday.
“I heard the piece for the first time about 10 years ago on the radio,” she says. “It’s not played that often in Europe.”
Ferschtman bought a copy of the music and played through for herself. But because of her busy performance schedule — and several record releases, including Beethoven’s Violin Concerto — she never had the time to fully prepare the work.
“I’d seen (in) the concert program that Janine Jansen was going to do it, and I remember registering it like, ‘Oh, wow, she gets to do that.’ ” (Jansen withdrew from the tour for health reasons.)
Now that Ferscthman gets to do it herself, she finds herself enjoying the piece more and more. Although he’s not strictly programmatic about it, Bernstein loosely uses Plato’s “Symposium” as a template. The orchestral work gives voice to Plato’s group of philosophers, including Socrates, who give speeches in honor of love at a dinner.
As the composer marks in his notes, the work’s five movements represent various characters’ distinctive viewpoints on virtue, desire and devotion, from lyrical musings to a scherzo describing bodily harmony.
The conclusion features a raucous party — not strictly in line with music fit for Greek revelry, but instead infused with the jazz inflections that Bernstein favored.
“If you see Bernstein in videos, you can so much imagine him having that kind of dinner party on an intellectual level with his friends,” Ferschtman says.
Ferschtman describes the piece as very fulfilling as it shows many sides of the performer, with humor as well as depth.
“I find it very important to tell a story, and in this piece, you’re presented with the material to really speak,” she says.
Fischer will also lead the BPO in Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 and Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite.