Director Mehli Mehta and the American Youth Symphony made no seasonal concessions with their program Saturday night. The only chestnuts roasting in Royce Hall were repertory standards, warmed by spirited playing and the adulatory response of a near-capacity crowd.

On hand for Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto was Robert Chen, the Taiwanese violinist now living in Los Angeles. At 17 he is already a concert and competition veteran, who seems to have almost unlimited technical potential.

Chen reveled in both the pyrotechnical dazzle and the humalong tunes. His fingers were fleet and accurate, his bow nimble, and his warm tone projected well. His confidence was readily apparent and quite justified by the ease with which he handled all challenges.

There was little reverence for the printed page in Chen’s approach. He took the traditional cuts in the Finale and made his own variations here and there, like plucking one chord in the first movement cadenza instead of bowing it.

Despite that, Chen’s account seemed largely generic fiddling. He was always pushing in the slower, simpler sections of the outer movements, and he turned the Canzonetta into an off-the-rack lament.


Mehta and his orchestra matched pace smoothly with their impetuous soloist. Balances were always nicely gauged, and the woodwind solos poised and well-integrated.

The orchestra had its own blockbuster in the “Symphonie Fantastique” by Berlioz. Some strident sounds emerged from the strings and woodwinds, and there were occasional patches of misintonation. But there was also power and vigor to spare, in a typically eager, big-spirited performance.