A Vancouver Symphony Orchestra presentation. At the Orpheum on December 8
For whatever reason, we humans are fascinated by precocious talent. Nothing says “wow” quite like a child who displays skills and sensibilities way beyond his or her years. When a seven-year-old is solving differential equations or playing Sergei Rachmaninoff, it’s mesmerizing.
Which may be why the classical-music world is so quick to attach the prodigy banner to upcoming young musicians. It’s the kind of freaky phenomenon that makes everyone want to have a look—and is a sure-fire way to stir up ticket sales.
Eighteen-year-old New York–born Ryu Goto, likely more than any other young solo violinist, has some heavy expectations on his shoulders. The younger half-brother of Midori, the quintessential 21st-century prodigy who was hailed as a “miracle” by Pinchas Zukerman at the age of eight, Goto, too, has been hitting the concert circuit since he was seven. Entering the Orpheum on Friday night, I was prepared to witness another overhyped youngster with above-average technique whipping through the program’s showy Tzigane by Maurice Ravel and Pablo de Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, Op. 25.
But once Goto propped his Stradivarius under his chin, he completely entranced the audience. The only way to describe the young man’s playing is with overused superlatives: there’s the supernatural ability, the flawless technique, the boundless, infectious energy, and the incredible musicality.
A fan of electric guitar who names Jimi Hendrix as one of his favourites, Goto plays his violin the way Jimi played his Fender Stratocaster. He was not afraid to get ugly at times, dragging his bow ferociously across the bridge to create a raspy sul ponte tone or digging it deep into the lower strings, making them growl. He’d flash the audience a grin before cheerfully attacking a passage that would have most violinists grimacing with concentration. Truth be told, at the end of both pieces, which were interspersed within a program of Jacques Offenbach, Hector Berlioz, and Georges Bizet, I found myself devoid of notes—I’d been so swept up in the performance that I’d forgotten to take any.
Where other young virtuosos may have audiences gasping at their skill, Goto is so far beyond perfect technique that you forget how challenging the repertoire is that he’s playing. A prodigy? Sure. But Goto is more than that. He’s a musical, intuitive, and engaging artist who seems deservedly destined for great things.