A Hampton Roads native returns home as the featured soloist in the season finale of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s 2017-18 Williamsburg Classics Series. The concert, which celebrates the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and William Walton, resonates at CrossWalk Church Friday.
Originally from Chesapeake, violist and Juilliard graduate Andrew Gonzalez serves as the centerpiece for the concert’s interpretation of Walton’s “Viola Concerto.”
“There aren’t that many. It’s an instrument that didn’t really have concertos written for it for many decades,” conductor Benjamin Rous said.
But that began to change during the 20th century, when composers such as Walton embraced the instrument’s sound, which Rous said is not as high or projecting as that of the violin.
“Viola’s got a unique voice and composers like Walton showed that they could give it a unique repertoire and a distinctive kind of concerto,” he said. “Walton figured out how to make a big, epic journey out of this concerto with a real heroic role for the solo voice.”
Rous emphasized the significance of a local musician performing at the level of an organization such as the VSO.
“There are not many people of that level from anywhere,” he said. “It’s really a great opportunity for the audience to hear a local artist.”
For Gonzalez, it’s a moment of coming full circle. While he was in fifth grade, a VSO concert served as his first meaningful experience with an orchestra. A decade and a half later, Gonzalez is a New Yorker who regularly plays inside Carnegie Hall, but his resume doesn’t preclude the butterflies in his stomach as he returns for a performance closer to home.
“It’s nerve-wracking, because I want to do my best and show people where I’ve come and how far I’ve come,” he said. “It’s really exciting for me to be playing for them. It’s amazing.”
Gonzalez praised the Walton concerto’s emphasis on the orchestra as a whole rather than on the soloist, as well as its unique sound.
“I think it’s very personal and there’s something very special and beautiful about it,” he said, adding that Walton continued to return to revise the piece throughout his life. “He was never really, fully satisfied with it. Because he had a struggle with it, you hear it in the music.”
Gonzalez said Walton’s heavy romanticism contrasts nicely with the concert’s lighter Mozart pieces, the “Don Giovanni” overture and 35th symphony, also called the Haffner Symphony.
The overture’s falling octaves and minor key contrast the Haffner Symphony’s rising octaves and major key, Rous said.
“It’s sort of like the symphony and the overture are long estranged twins. But they have the same DNA,” he said. “They’re also just two perfect pieces by Mozart, and you can’t go wrong with Mozart.”
Beyond showcasing Gonzalez’s talent, Rous said the concert offers the community an opportunity to hear Mozart brought to life alongside a lesser known Walton piece, with all the vivacity a living, breathing ensemble can provide.
“It’s something you really only get when you hear it live,” he said.