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May 11, 2010

This Day in UMS History: Philadelphia Orchestra with Isaac Stern (May 11, 1963)

By Paula Muldoon

This Day In UMS – May 11, 1963
Hill Auditorium

The Philadelphia Orchestra
Eugene Ormandy, conductor
Isaac Stern, violinist

Trumpet Voluntary – Purcell
Concerto in e minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 64 – Mendelssohn
Concerto No. 1 in D major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 19 – Prokofiev
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73 – Brahms

While virtually everyone recognizes the Mendelssohn violin concerto, Prokofiev’s beautiful first concerto is still somewhat of an unknown piece, eclipsed by his more famous second concerto.  As it happens, I became familiar with the piece through Stern’s own recording; I have never heard the entire concerto performed live.

It’s interesting to note the difference which chronological perspective makes on one’s criticism of a piece.  For me, first approaching it with late 20th century ears, it sounded modern – stark (a bit reminiscent of the opening of the Sibelius violin concerto with the quiet string background, and possibly of Debussy as well in its tone colors) and perhaps a bit harsh.  However, I discovered that when it was first composed, it was rejected as being too Romantic; one critic even damned it as being “Mendelssohnian.”  I wonder what such critics made of the hopelessly romantic (and lovely) second movement of the second violin concerto.  I also wonder whether Stern viewed the concerto as harking back to Mendelssohn, and whether any similarity (or perhaps difference) was behind his programming the two concerti on the same concert.

Stern, of course, had a long history with UMS, with his first performance in Hill Auditorium in 1947, four years after his Carnegie Hall debut at age 23.  He subsequently appeared 11 additional times (five recitals and six orchestral performances), with his last performance in 1992.  In 2000, he was presented with the UMS Distinguished Artist Award at the Ford Honors Program.

While a video recording of Isaac Stern performing Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.1 isn’t currently available, you can hear Vadim Repin here:

“This Day in UMS History” is an occasional series of vignettes drawn from UMS’s historical archive.   If you have a personal story or particular memory from attending the performance featured here — or any memories of Isaac Stern’s many appearances in Ann Arbor — we’d love to hear from you in the comments.


Paula Muldoon is a UMS Marketing Intern. She recently graduated from the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance with a degree in violin performance.