She has been hyped as “the wild child of the violin” and “the most exciting violinist in the world.” What’s more, she plays onstage with bare feet — even in winter.
She is, of course, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s most attention-getting Artistic Partner, a 39-year-old virtuosa, the offspring of folk musicians from the Republic of Moldavia. As audiences here have discovered the past two seasons, she is, despite all the hype, a restless and irrepressible talent, an unflaggingly intense, though uneven, player and a fierce champion of new music and of new ways of doing old music.
She has pushed boundaries till they squeak. Her theatrical treatment of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” last spring, with Kopatchinskaja dancing a jig onstage in a skeleton costume, was a disaster. Her performance last November of a teeth-gnashing new concerto by Michael Hersch turned out to be as hard on the soloist as it was on the audience. Citing strained hand muscles, Kopatchinskaja bowed out of the final concert.
And now Kopatchinskaja is back in town for a series of concerts at the Ordway Concert Hall that conclude the orchestra’s season. The theme is music of Argentina and Spain. The program includes quasi-familiar pieces by Manuel de Falla and Alberto Ginastera and the premiere of a work for violin, percussion, flamenco dancer and strings by the Spanish composer Mauricio Sotelo. Tito Muñoz, music director of the Phoenix Symphony, is the conductor.
The concert Friday proved to be lively and engaging. Ginastera’s Concerto for Strings, a transcription of his String Quartet No. 2, served as the curtain-raiser. This music often gets muddled when played by a big string ensemble. The Philadelphia Orchestra premiered it in Caracas in 1966. The smaller group that played the piece Friday night — 20 or so strings, playing with infectious gusto — was just right.
The work that followed, Falla’s ballet suite with songs for mezzo-soprano, “El amor brujo” (“Love, the Magician”), was even more impressive. Muñoz underlined the work’s sensuality and rhythmic zest. He obviously knows this music intimately, as does the mezzo Nerea Berraondo, who delivered the songs with just the right quality of passionate gypsy harshness and dark, earthy tones.
Kopatchinskaja joined the astute pianist Amy Yang at the start of the second half for intense readings of selections from Falla’s Suite of Spanish Folksongs. The evening’s finale, the new piece that Kopatchinskaja commissioned, “Red Inner Light Sculpture,” turned out to be an unbuttoned, imaginative romp, an exploration of Andalusian flamenco with exuberant, witty dancing by Ruben Olmo, inventive percussion by Agustin Diassera and energetic, go-for-broke violin playing by the wild child herself. Sotelo, who was present for the performance, joined the musicians onstage at the end to share in the audience’s ovation.
Michael Anthony is a Twin Cities classical music critic.