Charlotte Gardner hears the premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Second Violin Concerto at London’s Barbican on 6 January 2022
Omicron was raging; yet, incredibly, when Leonidas Kavakos walked out to deliver the Covid-delayed world premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Second Violin Concerto Scherben der Stille (‘Shards of Silence’), it was before a virtually full Barbican Hall.
Kavakos’s artistry has led to Chin breaking a career-long principle of writing only one concerto per instrument, and the unflashy but technically formidable qualities of Scherben der Stille felt tailor-made for his trademark focused intensity supported by a virtuosic LSO. Kavakos brought to the piece’s solo opening – wispy harmonic-filled triplets tumbling around a two-note rhythmic motif on a pedal G – myriad gradations of colour and dynamic, and the orchestra’s entry grew subtly from soft, rustled tissue-paper tremolo, evocative of rain on a roof. As it gained in power there were striking hypnotic repetitive pulsations married with a strong sense of direction.
Most compelling were the echoes of Chin’s electronic music past, via orchestral sound effects fascinatingly hard to trace back to source. Less compelling was its stock 21st-century conceit of atmospheric episodes punctuated by multicoloured orchestral outbursts – perhaps why the night’s truly frenzied applause went to the orchestra’s tautly ravishing Sibelius Symphony no.7 and a polished, zinging Bartók Miraculous Mandarin Suite.
Photo: Mark Allan