When violinist Leonidas Kavakos returns this month to Orchestra Hall, he will join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Riccardo Muti in one of his signature works, the Brahms Violin Concerto.’
Kavakos classifies it among his favorites. "There have been times when I've played it more than 30 or 40 times in one year," he has observed. In 2013, he recorded the work with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, under Riccardo Chailly, for Decca. The recording received universal acclaim. The Guardian wrote: “Leonidas Kavakos’ account of the Brahms Violin Concerto is the finest to appear on disc in years. Fabulously poised with an exceptional dynamic range, Kavakos’ playing misses nothing, yet never draws attention to itself unnecessarily.”
In the disc's liner notes, Kavakos points out: "What is special in this case is that the concerto is recorded with the orchestra that actually premiered the piece. The first performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto was in Leipzig from the Gewandhaus Orchestra, with Brahms himself conducting [19th-century virtuoso] Joseph Joachim. So this is a wonderful, fantastic tradition that the orchestra has kept and has cherished all these years. The way they play still is a very specific and very personal way, and the sound, the form and the ensemble attitude they have is quite special."
Ahead of his CSO concerts Sept. 30 and Oct. 1-2, Kavakos performed the concerto this summer, including in mid-August with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, under Herbert Blomstedt at the Tanglewood Music Festival. (Kavakos also returns later this fall for a Symphony Center Presents duo recital Nov. 7 with pianist Yuja Wang.)
Kavakos also appreciates how Brahms wove folk music into his concerto. In an interview with the site the Violinist, he said, "It [folk music] is everywhere, and you have many times this very strong atmosphere, for instance, in the second entrance of the violin, after there's the introduction, the first big entrance of the violin, and then there is the next big tutti and then the second entrance of the violin, this is as Hungarian, almost gypsy, as it can be. And this is in the first movement.
"In the third movement, of course, it's extremely obvious that this is a Hungarian dance. For me, the message behind all this is that folk music focuses on human life, which is something that, in our time, is needed more than ever before."
Now several decades into his career, Kavakos feels satisfied with his progress. “The way the planning is designed gives me the possibility of doing artistically what I think I should be doing," he said in a 2018 interview. "I’m not somebody who likes the words ‘career’ and so on, even though they are very much realistic words. But somehow I don’t see it like that, because a career is like a race. For me, it’s not like this. It’s more like an artistic searching in order to be able to develop in the direction I believe I should be going as an artist and a human being.”