In his brief four-season tenure with the Utah Symphony—first as assistant, later as associate, conductor—Vladimir Kulenovic made a lot of friends among the musicians of the orchestra as well as among concertgoers. But he decided it was in his best interest to leave Salt Lake City and expand his musical horizons elsewhere.
Starting in the 2015-16 season Kulenovic assumes two new positions: music director of the Lake Forest (Ill.) Symphony and resident conductor of his native Serbia’s major orchestra, the Belgrade Philharmonic.
Kulenovic had his final outing with the Utah Symphony Chamber Orchestra recently, leading the reduced ensemble in a program of Felix Mendelssohn, Max Bruch and Joseph Haydn. At the concert, the final installment of this year’s chamber music concert offerings at the Deer Valley Music Festival, Kulenovic once again showed his mastery of the repertoire and his fine rapport with the players. He elicited nuanced playing from his group and brought clarity and precision to his readings.
Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture opened the concert. Kulenovic captured the character of this wonderfully descriptive piece with his finely crafted interpretation that allowed the musicians to shine. The performance was articulate and filled with spirit.
Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 (London) also received a lively reading at Kulenovic’s hand. It was energetic and dynamic, but unfortunately also overplayed and at times excessive. Because of this it lost much in articulation and clarity, not to mention its charm. Kulenovic’s approach in this work would have been better suited to an early Beethoven symphony, which would have been a better vehicle for all this dramatic effusiveness and vehement expressions.
The real highlight of the concert was without question Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor with guest violinist and fellow Serb Stefan Milenkovich as soloist.
Milenkovich, who made his Utah Symphony debut at this concert, is a remarkable player with fabulous technical acumen and stunning musicality. He brought depth, feeling and intensely focused direction to his performance.
The Bruch isn’t an immense violin concerto like the ones by Beethoven, Brahms or Tchaikovsky, but it has its moments. The ebullient German romanticism of the work is manifested in its bold lines, large statements and passionate drama. And Milenkovich’s account was stellar as he easily captured the essence of work with his highly refined and stimulating playing. It was an intelligent, perceptive and, above all else, musical account that was as gorgeously lyrical as it was dramatic.
Kulenovic offered a well-defined collaborative effort from the ensemble that mirrored Milenkovich’s approach. Kulenovic allowed the soloist to shine while always remaining on an equal footing with him musically and interpretatively.
With the kind of playing that Milenkovich put on display in Park City, one can only hope that he’ll be making his Abravanel Hall debut in the not too distant future.