“It was always my dream to stand in front of an orchestra to play this music,” said violinist Andrew Sords over the phone from his home in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
The musician began piano lessons at age 5 before switching to violin in first grade, and has earned numerous awards in recognition of his talent including the Pittsburgh Concert Society’s Career Grant, the National Shirley Valentin Award and the National Federation of Music Clubs Young Artist Award. His work has taken him all over the country as well as to places like Canada and Australia to perform some of the most well-known concertos and sonatas.
“If you had told me 20 years ago that I would make my living traveling around the world with this wonderful repertoire, I would have said dream on,” he said. “I feel like the luckiest person ever.”
Although Sords has collaborated with over 250 orchestras, this will be his first time in Arizona. Next Friday, he will be featured as the soloist for the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Jean Sibelius’s Concerto for Violin in D minor, op. 47, under the baton of conductor Charles Latshaw.
The Sibelius concerto has been challenging violinists since it was first written in 1903. With the first iteration of the piece, the debut performance was a disaster and it was deemed too difficult. Sibelius then revised it, giving musicians the current composition that’s played today which, while still quite difficult, is a bit easier to grasp.
Sibelius played violin before he began studying composition, and his skills in the latter quickly surpassed those of the former. He attempted to go back to the violin when he auditioned for the Vienna Philharmonic in 1891 but was turned down.
“He was a failed violinist so he sort of took it out on every other violinist with his compositions,” Sords said.
The concerto explores the full range of the violin, beginning with a sweet and expressive phrase that makes use of the violin’s high notes in the first movement. It evokes a cold night spent in a cabin in the woods as most of Sibelius’s compositions were inspired by the Finnish landscapes where he lived. The rest of the 30-minute concerto takes listeners on a varied journey open to interpretation.
“When it comes to preparing the Sibelius concerto, it’s like total immersion,” he said. “Not only is it thorny to learn on its own, it’s such a dense orchestration that it really requires an orchestra and soloist and conductor who are all completely committed.”
Sords has been preparing his solo for a long time and has already performed it with several other orchestras including the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra, which Latshaw also conducts.
“Both are very fortunate to have him; he really knows his stuff,” Sords said.
FSO is in its 68th year of providing classical music to the public, increasing the appreciation and enjoyment of live orchestral music. Masterworks III is the third concert in this year’s series which ends in April.
“No matter what folks have going on during the day, the arts are so essential,” said Sords. “In terms of providing a release, a distraction ... I think that when someone enters a concert hall whether it’s for a play or a symphony or a musical, they are distracted [from] everything else going on.”