Utah Symphony brings violinist Karen Gomyo for Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

Utah Symphony brings violinist Karen Gomyo for Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

OGDEN — Ah, the life of a classical concert violinist.

Germany to Switzerland to France to Rhode Island and — finally — to Utah. And that’s just so far this year.

Next up are trips to Scotland, England, Poland, and Germany, then back to the United States for concerts in Detroit.

Life can be a bit of a blur for Berlin-based violinist Karen Gomyo, who performs the Tchakovsky Violin Concerto with the Utah Symphony this week in Ogden and Salt Lake City.

And on top of that, Gomyo has had to do some additional traveling. At least one of those extra stops was for restoration on the exquisite “Aurora” Stradivarius violin, crafted in 1703, that she’s been playing for the past 18 years. It’s on loan to her from a private sponsor.

“Every 50 years or so, violins need to be restored,” Gomyo said. “I was going to wait, but my violin was, like, ‘I need to go now! I need to go now!’ So I had to add in some additional travels to my already set travel plans.”

As a result, Gomyo will be using a loaner violin for the Utah concerts.

The musician says the bond between violinist and violin is a strong one.

“I’ve received a couple of comments here and there where people say, ‘The violin looks like it’s coming out of you,’” Gomyo said. “I like hearing that, because when I think about how to physically play the instrument — when I give master classes and talk about it — I talk about how you want to make sure your body is really connected to the earth, like a tree trunk with roots in the ground. And your violin is an extension of that — you’re one with the violin.”

Gomyo compares using a substitute violin to being introduced to strangers.

“It’s just like meeting new people,” she said. “Those instruments are all wonderful in their own way, but it’s kind of like how you can meet a really extraordinary person, but you may or may not connect with them.”

Born in Tokyo, Gomyo began her musical career in Montreal and New York. She has performed with many of the world’s top orchestras.

This week’s performances won’t be Gomyo’s first with the Utah Symphony; she was here last in 2017. It will, however, be the first time she’s worked with music director Thierry Fischer.

Gomyo said each orchestra she works with has its own personality, and the current makeup of the Utah Symphony is no exception.

“Absolutely,” Gomyo said. “Each engagement is a unique experience in that sense, in that it has to do with different human beings and involves musicians, conductors, directors — all of this.”

In addition to the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, this week’s program will include “An Alpine Symphony” by Richard Strauss. It will also feature another work by Utah Symphony composer-in-association Andrew Norman, in what the orchestra’s website describes as a piece that immerses listeners in “the complex and generous beauty of living music.”

For her part on the program, Gomyo says the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is a wonderful composition.

“It’s a very romantic piece of music,” she said. “Everybody loves it today — that’s why it’s so popular.”

However, it hasn’t always been that way. At the time of its premiere in 1881, critical reaction was mixed to the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. One of the leading critics of the day called it “long and pretentious,” and even went so far as to say it’s music that “stinks to the ear.”

Gomyo is undeterred by such assessments.

“I always think when a piece of music received terrible criticism at the time, it’s a good sign,” she said. “A lot of the music we love today got terrible reviews then — often because this great music was innovative at the time.”

Gomyo confesses that Tchaikovsky did get a bit repetitive in the third movement of the piece.

“There are a couple of short phrases in that movement where he repeats himself maybe a little more than one might have expected,” she said.

Traditionally, violinists of the last century have often cut out those repetitive bits, according to Gomyo.

“This piece has often been played with cuts,” she said. “Without cuts, there is this obsessive quality to the piece that is part of (Tchaikovsky’s) personality and is unique.”

As of Tuesday, whether or not this weekend’s third movement is performed in its entirety — without cuts — is still up for discussion, according to Gomyo.

“I got a text message yesterday from the orchestra, saying that the maestro would like to do it without any cuts,” she said. “I’ve done it both ways, and I like a combination of the two ideas. Traditionally, there are five cuts, and I like having two of the cuts, but that’s something we’ll discuss.”

Although Gomyo enjoys playing the great masterworks from hundreds of years ago, she says she’s strongly committed to performing contemporary works on her violin.

“It’s really important to recognize that the style of music evolves with the times,” she said. “And what is being written currently is as important as what was written historically.”

What contemporary pieces will be around 300 years from now? Only time will tell, according to Gomyo.

“There are many composers out there, and lots of interesting music being written that needs to be performed,” she said. “Over time, some will stay with us, but others might be forgotten.

“And so, certainly, the performing part is something that I feel the responsibility to take a part in. So when there is a composer who is excited about writing music for violin … I’m always interested in choosing things that resonate with me.”

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