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Eugene Fodor, violinist, plays Tchaikovski - A Review

Breathtaking virtuosity with Eugene Fodor as the Vancouver Island Symphony soared to new heights

A review by Rosemary Phillips, May 1999

Eugene Fodor - Violinist
Eugene Fodor
UPDATE 2020: Eugene Fodor passed away in 2011 after an illness. He was only 60 years old. This writer remembers his virtuosity, his brilliance in playing, and the fact that after this particular concert in 1999, he joined the musicians of the orchestra in a celebratory end-of-season party. I can hear and see him even now as I type these words.
A search on the Internet will find many articles remembering Eugene and his incredible career, and there are videos of him performing with various orchestras, including the Perry Como Christmas Show. Mostly he is remembered for playing Tchaikovsky and Paganini. He was plagued by substance abuse and yet he was such a brilliant artist. Listen to the video below of the Violin Concerto in D Major - and view the Post-Script and interview with Johnny Carson in 1990.

"They evidently saved the best until the last concert," said a voice behind me as international violinist Eugene Fodor completed his breathtaking performance of Tchaikowsky's “Violin Concerto in D Major” with the Vancouver Island Symphony. Maestro Marlin Wolfe and Fodor shook hands as patrons rose to their feet shouting "bravo" and enthusiastically applauded a most remarkable performance.

And that was only the first half of what VI Symphony president Eveline O'Rourke described as being "a wonderful finale" to the 1998-99 season.

On this particular evening enthusiasm was high as patrons of all ages entered the Port Theatre, attired in everything from blue jeans and hockey sweaters to semi-formal dress. The programme, designed by artistic director Marlin Wolfe, was guaranteed to be another winner.

The opening piece, “Diversion for Orchestra” by Murray Adaskin, one of Canada's leading composers, was a brief, light-hearted work with alternating passages for full orchestra and groups of solo instruments. It brought to mind the complexity of contemporary compositions, particularly those written for cinema. I sat imagining a huge screen, in front of the conductor, on which action and mood determine the timing and sounds to come from the different sections of the orchestra - a rhythmic test.

Eugene Fodor performing Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major, Op 35

Eugene Fodor plays Tchaikovsky and Sarasate

Then came Eugene Fodor and “ Violin Concerto in D Major”. From my seat in the front row I watched resin chalk puff up into the air from Fodor's bow as he pulled it across the strings in vigorous motion. The next moment it felt like everyone in the hall was holding their breath as Fodor quietly, gently, tenderly stroked his violin to sing like a bird in the heavens. I floated away with the magic of it all. The concerto, opening with powerful energy, became lyrical, with gentle melancholy, and lead to a dashing finale. It was hard to sit still and not jump up with excitement at the precision, the drama, and the passion coming from Fodor's violin.

"The public was great and attentive," said Fodor later. Gasps of breath and whispers of "wow" were heard faintly throughout the audience. Fodor responded with more, and more, technically and passionately interpreting, as he states, "Tchaikovsky's enthusiasm in evolving his greatest invention."

"That was so moving," said one woman in the lobby during intermission. "I was brought to tears in the first movement."

For the second half of the concert Fodor returned to perform “'Carmen' Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra” by Pablo de Sarasate. Again there was excitement and tenderness, reflective of Bizet's Spanish opera from which this piece is derived, as violinist and orchestra wove circles around each other, through several dramatic sections of recognizable themes, meeting with split second timing at the stroke of the conductors baton. Here Fodor dazzled us with his showmanship, brilliant technique and style, portraying not only the elegance and fire of Sarasate's showpiece, but Fodor's true mastery of his instrument.

The audience's thirst was not quenched. They wanted more. After playing a challenging solo piece by Paganini for an encore Fodor left the stage to thunderous applause and yet another standing ovation.

The Vancouver Island Symphony closes the season with Edward Elgar's "Enigma"

That was definitely a hard act to follow, and yet Maestro Wolfe's choice of closing with Edward Elgar's "Enigma" lifted the energy in the theatre even higher. Said Eveline O'Rourke, "I found my heart soaring. The Enigma variations were really moving."

Each Variation had it's own personality as in a character study depicting various friends of the composer. Each was a surprise; here a viola, there a cello, with depth of the strings, and the power of the horns. During the vigour of the closing Variation resin chalk was seen in light clouds over the violin section as musicians, and audience alike, were building to the final phrases, and the end of a magnificent concert.

Backstage after the show, orchestra members were excited. Said Olivia Martin, bassoon player, "The concert was exhilarating and fun." Mieka Kohut, viola player from Victoria described it as "Invigorating, rejuvenating and exhausting." Symphony librarian and second violin player, Leslie Krull explained, "It was by far the best performance of the year. I feel exhausted and a little sad that it's over. Next year's programme is going to be even better than this year. I'm really looking forward to the kids programmes."

And conductor Marlin Wolfe? "I'm worn out, and exhilarated. It was a great way to end the season. There were such different emotions in the music. It was a fantastic musical evening. Tchaikovski and Elgar are so special."

And Eugene Fodor, who hails from Evergreen, Colorado, on his visit to Nanaimo? "It's wonderful to make music in such an incredibly beautiful setting. Somehow it goes with the great purity of music. The Port Theatre has balanced acoustics which will be even better when the orchestra shell arrives."

And the author? She's still coming down to earth.

POST-SCRIPT 2020: While doing some research to update this item on the QQandN website I came across this video. I have now come to realize that in 1999 I did not fully appreciate this man and his talent, and his struggles. The Johnny Carson video is of not only a brilliant performance by Eugene Fodor but also a revealing of his addiction to cocaine and his then rehabilitation in 1990. My heart aches in knowing that while Eugene again succumbed to addiction he gave so much of himself in every performance.

For more information about this orchestra visit the Vancouver Island Symphony website.

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