Miriam Fried has performed with countless orchestras around the world. In 1971, she claimed top honors in the Queen Elisabeth International Competition – the first woman to ever win the prestigious award – and she’s maintained her legacy as an equally accomplished recitalist, concerto soloist and chamber musician ever since.
The Romanian-born Israeli violinist could likely spend the end of her month with any professional orchestra, but she chose to spend it with the Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra. Fried will be the featured soloist at CSO’s “Tchaikovsky & Beethoven” concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 29, at the Cheyenne Civic Center.
“Miriam is an incredible violinist, and she is unusual in that she’s had a multifaceted career,” said CSO Music Director and Conductor William Intriligator. “She does solos with major orchestras around the world … but she also has a major career as one of the best violin teachers in the world. People flock to her from all over, and the top violinists all vie for a spot in her studio.”
Intriligator met Fried through a friend who worked with her at Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, the summer music conservatory attached to Chicagoland’s annual Ravinia Festival. Intriligator asked if she could recommend a student to perform the Brahms Violin Concerto with CSO at an upcoming concert, and she said she’d actually love to come play it herself.
She did, and it went so well, she asked if she could come back and play the Beethoven Violin Concerto sometime. CSO hired her again a couple years later to play that piece, and the orchestra has since brought in several of her top students for other performances.
Fried always said she’d like to come back and play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, and that day has finally come.
“She’s willing to work with an orchestra like Cheyenne’s even though she’s used to playing with major orchestras, and I think it’s just the chance to work on this great repertoire,” Intriligator said.
Fried said over the phone that she does, indeed, love the piece, but it’s the people of CSO who make this concert worth flying out for.
“I enjoy working with people who are passionate about what they do, and I think that can be said for both the orchestra and William,” she said. “It’s always an enjoyable experience working with like-minded people who enjoy doing the same thing as you.”
It’s fair to say that Intriligator and Fried are also classical music enthusiasts who are passionate about composers who have left a longstanding mark on the classical music world.
Intriligator grew up playing this Tchaikovsky piece in his southern California youth orchestra, and he said it’s been under his skin ever since. It’s a piece he described as equally exciting as it is slow and sorrowful, going from soaring heights to stark depths.
“It has such a range of styles and emotions,” he said of the concerto. “Parts are flirtatious, other parts are grievous, and some parts are exciting, like a Russian hoedown [laughs] … it’s not enough to (just) play the notes. You have to convey all that, and that’s quite a challenge.”
Both Intriligator and Fried noted that when the piece was first composed, it was largely considered too challenging. In fact, the first violinists Tchaikovsky rehearsed it with thought it was simply unplayable. But musicians have continually overcome this initial sentiment.
“It’s not intended for ballet, but this piece has so many of the (characteristically Tchaikovsky) elegant ballet gestures to it, and then, on the another hand, some of the most beautiful melodies,” Fried said. “I think the balance of having the melodic, balletic and virtuostic makes it a thrilling piece.”
The violin is known for the beautiful melodies it can produce, she continued, and this composition is the perfect vehicle for showcasing those melodies. It’s both fun to play and hear, which she noted is rare because often pieces that are fun to play aren’t necessarily fun to listen to.
Intriligator has never conducted Fried in this work, but he looks forward to working with her because she sees music from the composer’s point of view.
“I always try to think ‘OK, how would Miriam do this?’” he said. “She stays really true to the score, yet brings out tons of passion and virtuosity. She has her own style, but doesn’t have to add this extra layer. Sometimes you get violinists who add questionable interpretive elements to the music, but she does it exactly like what’s in the score, no messing around.”
She also doesn’t have a need to be in the spotlight and is more than happy to blend in, perhaps best exemplified by a story Intriligator fondly recalled.
“The last time she came, we did Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 after her solo in the concerto, and she asked if she could play in the symphony for the 5th,” he said. “She hadn’t played it since she was a young woman of 18 or something growing up in Israel, so I was like ‘Yeah, that’d be great!’ We added a chair and a stand, and she meshed in perfectly.”