Dallas- Emanuel Borok played a stellar recital Feb. 17 at Caruth Auditorium on the campus of Southern Methodist University in celebration of the 40th anniversary of his arrival in the United States. As it does for all of us, he mused on how fast that time has passed. He also defined his career in this manner. “I have spent my career as a concertmaster,” he said. “Now, I am a teacher and it is a new challenge and I am enjoying it very much.”
It is of great interest that he didn’t describe his career as being a violinist. He is a wonderful violinist, as this recital proved. But it is a sign of his dedication to being the leader of the orchestra that he considered himself a concertmaster first and a violinist second. He recently retired from that position in the Dallas Symphony after a quarter century of service.
His first time in the chair was in 1971 when he was appointed the co-concertmaster of the Moscow Philharmonic. In 1973, he emigrated to Israel and became the concertmaster of the Israel Chamber Orchestra. In 1974, he auditioned for, and won, the position of concertmaster of the Boston Pops and co-concertmaster of the Boston Philharmonic. In 1985, he came to Dallas and here he stayed. So, it is understandable that he identified himself as a concertmaster. Also, he has always had students, some who have gone on the fame. But once the concertmaster position was gone, being a teacher was what remained.
His program was conservative in nature—nothing written before the turn of the 19th century, but two of the three selections were rarities. Edvard Grieg's Sonata No. 2nd Carl Maria von Weber's Grand Duo Concertante were new to many in the audience.
Grieg wrote three sonatas for violin and piano. All of them demonstrate the composer's gift for melody and the melodic material in all three harken back to Norwegian folk songs. Grieg always considered his second sonata to be the most Norwegian of the three. For one thing, its tragic nature befits the nature of the folk material. Henry Theophilus Finck quotes Grieg in his biography this way. “... a Norway without tragedy is not a complete Norway.“
Borok caught this duality from the beginning. His tone was rich and in the full romantic manner of Grieg's era. His playing was clean and inspiring. He made such a good case for the sonata that a number of people in the audience mention that they were going to buy a recording as soon as possible.
The name of von Weber's Duo Concertante is a bit deceptive. Who is the second player in the duo? As it turns out, that second partner is the pianist. Liudmila Georgievskaya, who did a magnificent job through the program. She really came to the fore in this piece. As always in the composer’s works, there is a lot of virtuosic passagework in the Duo Concertante for both players. The first movement was so spectacular that the audience burst into applause when they finished. This was an audience, many were musicians, that certainly known that, at least in these days, that you don't applaud between movements. This, this spontaneous burst was even more impressive. The work is filled with big operatic melodies reminiscent of von Weber's operas.
The program closed with the masterpieces of the repertoire, Beethoven's sonata in C minor Op 30 No. 2. Here, Borok transformed his style of playing to match the composer's intent. He was firm, but never over played and he saved the loudest notes for their appropriate moment. In a time what soft means almost loud and dynamics go up to super loud, it was a revelation to hear this sonata played with the correct dynamics, the ones Beethoven put in his score, meticulously observed.
We are fortunate to have Borok here. When concertmasters retire, they sometimes leave the area and return to a favorite place to live. Obviously, Borok has chosen to remain in Dallas and we are grateful for that decision. Let's hope that is dedication to teaching includes more recitals like this one.
Moment of Geek: The concertmaster, called the “leader” in Europe, sits in the first chair of the first violin section. Back in the days of the Baroque and early classical eras, when music was much less complicated, the orchestra was conducted by the concertmaster with the assistance of waving his bow to give the tempo. Many times, the composer was the conductor, a job that was accomplished while seating at the keyboard and playing along. The composer/conductor would establish the tempo by giving up one hand to wave. This worked well for the music of the time because there was little variation of the tempo once the piece got started. Later on, when composers wanted much more nuance in their music, someone needed to pay attention to the give and take in the music full time. So, the first chair violinist was demoted to make room for the conductor. The position comes with many critical duties. Concertmasters are really the “leader” of the orchestra and whoever is in that position can make a huge difference. Because the position is so important, some orchestras have co-concertmasters it assure that the position was always covered. During Borok's tenure, this was not the case. But upon his retirement, DSO Music Director Jaap van Sweden went to the co-concertmaster model.
His first time in the chair was in 1971 when he was appointed the Co-concertmaster of the Moscow Philharmonic. In 1973, he immigrated to Israel and became the concertmaster of the Israel Chamber Orchestra. In 1974, he auditioned for, and won, the position of Concertmaster of the Boston Pops and co-concertmaster of the Boston Philharmonic. In 1985, he came to Dallas and here he stayed. So, it is understandable that he identified himself as a concertmaster.