Leah Hollingsworth attends the performance of Tormis, Britten and Prokofiev at New York’s David Geffen Hall on 17 November 2023 

Alena Baeva: an assured debut

Alena Baeva: an assured debut. Photo: Chris Lee

The New York Philharmonic’s concert began in dramatic style with Estonian composer Veljo Tormis’s Overture no.2, with furious playing in the strings and energised percussion before the frenzy dissolved into a touching cello solo played by Patrick Jee.

Britten’s Violin Concerto followed, marking the New York Philharmonic debut of Alena Baeva, a violinist who fled Kyrgyzstan as a child and grew up in Kazakhstan. Immediately her sweetness of tone captured the ear and she proved herself to be an artist possessing both elegance and power. She addressed Britten’s virtuosic runs, double-stops, up-bow spiccato and all manner of technical challenges with precision and flair.

The second-movement Vivace began with confidence and, even in its most technically daunting moments, Baeva was completely in control of sound production, tone colour and phrasing, skilfully navigating Britten’s challenges with playing full of purpose and character. The way she pulled sound out of the violin was utterly captivating – whether in high position on the G string or the E string – and throughout the work, her poise and precision carried through. I was happy to see a standing ovation from many, and as an encore she played the first movement of Ysaÿe’s Solo Violin Sonata no.5, again displaying power and elegance in tandem.

Prokofiev’s Symphony no.6 followed the interval, with poignant viola solos played by Rebecca Young and an interpretation that captured the pain of the cultural moment in which the symphony was written – mirroring the pain in our world now.