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Violinist to resume his obsession

SANTA FE, N.M. — Dimitri Shostakovich’s “Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Opus 96” made a huge impression on Albuquerque violinist David Felberg when he first heard it decades ago.

“I became obsessed with it,” he explained. “It’s a tour de force, technically and dramatically. I’ve performed it twice in Albuquerque.”

Six years ago, Felberg and one of his musician friends put together an ad hoc orchestra and played the concerto at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. In 2011 he played it with the New Mexico Philharmonic. Next Sunday, Felberg joins the Santa Fe Symphony for his third performance of this demanding work.

“It starts off mysterious, dark and searching,” he said. “Then there’s a headlong scherzo that doesn’t stop. It’s important to keep the energy and drama up through the passacaglia. The violin cadenza right before the final burlesca movement is more than five minutes long. Shostakovich wrote a virtuosic rush to the end. It’s a really incredible piece.”

Shostakovich’s “Violin Concerto No. 1” was written in 1947-1948 during the time of the Soviet Zhdanov decree, which insisted that Soviet artists and writers had to conform to the party line in their creative works. The policy remained in effect until 1952 when it was declared to have a negative effect on Soviet culture. Shostakovich worked on revisions of the piece throughout the early 1950s until its premiere in 1955 by the Leningrad Philharmonic.

The Santa Fe Symphony’s Sept. 29 concert, titled “Mozart, Shostakovich & Beethoven,” also includes W.A. Mozart’s “Overture to Don Giovanni, K. 527” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Opus 55, ‘Eroica’.” At the podium is Steven Smith, who is considered a guest conductor this season since his contract with the symphony expired at the end of last season.

“This year Steven will conduct two concerts,” said the symphony’s general director, Gregory Heltman. “We’re on a search for a new principal conductor. We’re auditioning five people for the position this season. During the 2014-2015 season we’ll be auditioning up to 10 additional candidates.”

The members of the Santa Fe Symphony will be integrally involved in the selection of its new conductor. After each conductor’s performance, instrumentalists will be asked to write their responses to the experience of working with that candidate.

“When a conductor receives a lot of support from symphony members, he will be invited to return to Santa Fe to conduct a concert with totally different repertoire in it,” Heltman said. “It’s going to take three or more seasons for us to find our new principal conductor. We’re also thinking about hiring two associate conductors – one for choral music and another for pop concerts – who would conduct a few of our season’s concerts.”

Felberg, who is the Santa Fe Symphony’s concertmaster, will conduct the orchestra’s Nov. 2 performance, although Heltman says Felberg is not a candidate for the position of principal conductor.