Mateusz Wolski checks Dvorák concerto off performance bucket list with this weekend’s symphony performances

January 16, 2019

Violinist Mateusz Wolski will look a little different come Saturday and Sunday, when the Spokane Symphony performs “Classics 5: Dvorák and Rachmaninoff.”

Sure, he’ll still be dressed in his best concert attire, but “Dvorák and Rachmaninoff” finds Wolski trading his concertmaster hat for his soloist hat for his performance of Antonin Dvorák’s Violin Concerto.

“For a week I get to be somebody different,” he said. “I’m not saying I love one over the other, but it’s a fantastic experience to have.”

The concerts, Saturday and Sunday at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, will also feature performances of Miguel del Aguila’s “Chautauquan Summer Overture” and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “The Bells (Kolokola).”

The weekend also will feature the Eastern Washington University Symphonic Choir, the Spokane Symphony Chorale and guest artists Dina Kuznetsova (soprano), Kirk Dougherty (tenor) and Kerry Wilkerson (baritone), directed by Kristina Ploeger Hekmatpanah.

Dvorák’s Violin Concerto is one of Wolski’s bucket list pieces to perform, so when music director Eckart Preu asked him if there was a concerto he’d like to play this season, he was quick to suggest it.

Wolski doesn’t focus too much on the composition of the piece, which features interconnected first and second movements. Instead he thinks about how the concerto makes him feel, much like he did when listening to and loving the Beatles at a time when he didn’t speak English and couldn’t understand the lyrics.

“Even without understanding the words, the emotion that was encapsulated in those songs, in the beat, in the melody really spoke to me,” he said. “I listened to (the concerto) and it’s instantaneously falling in love with what it sounds like and what it makes you feel like. I don’t necessarily analyze why. It just does.”

Wolski also enjoys the concerto because it has both beauty and flash, which makes it quite a challenging piece to perform.

“Every violin concerto I play, I’m striving to stretch my chops and look for new challenges to see ‘Can I get better?’ ” he said. “This definitely provides those opportunities because it’s has both beauty and it’s super flashy, the best things you can find in a piece for a violinist.”

To prepare for his performance, Wolski had to switch his mindset from team player to soloist.

As concertmaster, he said, he has to be flexible and adjust so that all the pieces of the orchestra come together to make the conductor’s vision a reality.

But as a soloist, things are the other way around, with the orchestra and Preu adapting to how Wolski wants the Dvorák concerto to sound.

“You’re hopefully on the same page,” Wolski said. “One of the wonderful things about Eckart, when he’s using the orchestra to accompany a soloist, it makes you feel supported. He becomes flexible in his vision to accommodate your needs.”

Wolski is looking forward to hearing how the concerto fits in with the other two pieces in the program.

Del Aguila’s “Chautauquan Summer Overture” was inspired by the changing landscape around Chautauqua Lake, New York, where del Aguila spent three years as resident composer of the Chautauqua Institution Summer Festival.

Rachmaninoff’s “The Bells (Kolokola)” was inspired by Russian poet Konstantin Balmont’s translation of the Edgar Allan Poe poem of the same name.

The latter piece also features a choral and solo vocalists.

“This is a program where (Preu) gets to use all the horsepower and then some the orchestra has,” Wolski said. “The reality is that we have a big band and we’re going to use it … This is a show for the audience if you want to experience magnificent sounds, and a real feeling that you have people playing music just for you.”

Things got a little hairy while Wolski was preparing for the performance when one of the seams on his violin became unglued just slightly.

The audience wouldn’t have been able to hear it, Wolski said, but the loose seam made the violin produce a buzzing sound when he played, so he spent the day at Violin Works using “a little science and a little black magic” to make his violin performance-ready once again.

It’s these moments of discovery that keep things fresh and remind Wolski, who also explores how far he can push the violin during his “M Show” performances, why he began playing the violin in the first place.

“It never ceases to amaze me and makes me get out of bed,” he said. “I’m definitely doing what I love to do. I don’t know how many people are as lucky as I am. I’m living the dream.”