Archive for the “Violin” Category

The latest from Isabelle Faust

The latest from Isabelle Faust

Violinist Isabelle Faust may have impressed you in Mozart last week at the Mostly Mozart Festival. She’ll be back in New York for Beethoven and more next January! Her latest recording explores the sound world of Bela Bartok, including both of his violin concertos, now out on Harmonia Mundi.

“If you talk with a living composer, of course (s)he will be very clear and explain what kind of atmosphere, what kind of sound (s)he wants produced,” says Faust. The importance of new music is profound with Isabelle, who says this interaction between composer and performer is key, and influences how she plays older music.

Hear the entire interview with Isabelle Faust with John Clare, talking about each concerto, creating fresh sounds in programming, and the importance of composers here.

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The Gryphon Trio

The Gryphon Trio

(Houston, TX) Next week here in Houston, contemporary music rears its terrifying head in the form of Canada’s Gryphon Trio on two very different concerts presented by the Houston Friends of Chamber Music. On Sunday, February 10, the Trio and special guest soprano Patricia O’Callaghan present and evening of contemporary cabaret music in support of their recent CD collaboration Broken Hearts and Madmen, which includes stunning arrangements of songs by Laurie Anderson, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Astor Piazzolla, and Elvis Costello. On Tuesday, February 12, the Trio performs a program of piano trio music at Rice University, including contemporary works by Christos Hatzis and Valentin Silvestrov, accompanied by projected visuals by artist Stephen Hutchings.

From its inception the Trio, Annalee Patipatanakoon (violin), Roman Borys (cello), and Jamie Parker (piano), has been committed to playing and programming concerts that equally combine classical and contemporary repertoire.

“Although the very first piece we played together was Beethoven’s Opus 70, No. 1, the ‘ghost’ trio,” says Borys, “it wasn’t long after that that we gave our first world premier. There was never any sort of aversion to contemporary music. That kind of resistance to contemporary music is such a thing of the past. We knew many composers as friends and were very keen to work with them and have them write pieces for us.”

The trio’s name was chosen to signal their interest in all of the arts, not just classical music.

“We wanted to be careful to choose a name that allowed for artistic diversification,” says Borys. “We enjoyed the fact that this creature, the gryphon, was the guardian of treasures and a combination of cosmic energies.”

Hutchings, who previously created a series of paintings for the Trio’s performances of Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, is one of several artists who collaborate with the trio to create their symbiotic presentations of visuals and sound.

“He has an incredible sense of what’s out there in the contemporary music world and is very curious,” says Borys of Hutchings. “His practice as a visual artist is very much tied to and inspired by music. He almost always listens to contemporary music when he’s painting.”

Patricia OCallaghan

Soprano Patricia O’Callaghan

“People are so led by what they see,” Borys continues. “Visuals are such a powerful thing in general. When we create these pieces with visuals, we’re very conscious of that. We’re trying to create a visual environment that stimulates the person having the experience in such a way that it leads to their hearing the piece in a more intense way.”

O’Callaghan, who has performed with the Trio on several projects, occupies a unique place in the world of contemporary song performance. She initially began her career thinking she would sing opera.

Says O’Callaghan, “I did my degree, I got a grant, and went to study in Austria and began auditioning for opera houses. And I thought that that was what I was going to do, live in Europe and be an opera singer. But I really felt like I didn’t fit into that world. I really felt like an outsider, and even a little bit hemmed in by it.”

O’Callaghan then began a transition out of classical and operatic singing into a style better suited for the repertoire that was truly resonating with her, including songs by Kurt Weill, songs made famous by the great Edith Piaf, and the aforementioned Cohen, who she pays tribute to on her album MATADOR: The Songs of Leonard Cohen.

“It’s a completely different way of singing,” says O’Callaghan of her particular brand of contemporary cabaret. “Since I sang in rock bands before my classical days, I guess I could sort of reverse. But that kind of (classical) training just doesn’t disappear. It really gets in to your body.”

“A lot of the experimentation with singing happened for me in the recording studio,” she continues. “I would hear something, and then play it back and go, ‘No, I’ve gotta do something more laid back, more subtle.’ It’s been a really long learning process, trying to figure out how to sing the repertoire in a way that is natural. It’s about finding your own voice.”

Both Borys, who also directs Canada’s long-running Ottawa Chamberfest, and O’Callaghan agree that in the world of post-music conservatory performance, in concert halls and clubs across the world, the walls between classical performance and other idioms are coming down.

“It’s not an easy thing to do, to bridge genres,” says O’Callaghan. “Every genre has its strengths and weaknesses in terms of training as a musician. But I just find you can learn so much if you do bridge genres, if you do work with musicians from different disciplines. But not everyone can do it, and not everyone can do it well.”

“I would still say that we are on the cutting edge,” O’Callaghan concludes. “But I do feel like there is a trend to doing this more and more in the world today.”

Houston Friends of Chamber Music present The Gryphon Trio, Sunday, February 10, 7:30 p.m. at the Main Street Theater, Chelsea Market, 4617 Blvd. with special guest Patricia O’Callaghan, performing songs by Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello and others, and February 12, 7:30 p.m. at Stude Concert Hall, Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, performing chamber music of Valentin Silvestrov, Christos Hatzis, Antonín Dvořák, and Joseph Haydn.

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Superstorm Sandy wreaked a fair amount of havoc on a lot of concert schedules, but things are starting to return to something resembling normal. One quick shout-out I’d like to pass along is a performance this coming Sunday, Nov. 11, by the really wonderful violinist/violist Karen Bentley Pollick.

Usually found at home in the mountains of Colorado, Karen’s coming to Brooklyn to give a concert of lots of pretty recent music — including the premiere of former Brooklynite and S21 composer/webmaster Jeff Harrington’s Grand Tango for violin with video. Jeff’s been living in France for a couple years now, and it’s good to see his work find its way back here.

Also on the bill is Seattle composer Nat Evans’s and video artist Erin Elyse Burns’s desertscape Heat Whispers; New York composer Stuart Diamond’s prismatic video that he created for his 1974 Baroque Fantasy for violin, a work championed by the late Max Polikoff. New York video artist Sheri Wills‘s videos are featured in Sapphire for violin and electronics (2010) by New York composer Preston Stahly; Dilemma for viola (1987) by Czech composer Jan Jirásek; The Red Curtain Dance for viola (2003) and Letter to Avigdor for violin (1990) by Israeli American composer Ofer Ben-Amots; and Metaman for violin with digital sound & video (2009) by Rome Prize winner Charles Norman Mason.

It’s an afternoon concert, 3:00 pm at the Firehouse Space (246 Frost Street in Brooklyn, New York). Tickets are only $10 at the door — so if you need a break from all that’s been happening, and wouldn’t mind hearing a concert filled with fantastic playing and tons of music you’ve likely never heard before, head on over.

And for my Seattle friends, Karen will be doing the concert Nov. 16 at the Chapel of Good Shepherd Center, and then Dec. 14-15 in San Francisco at Theater Artaud Z Space.

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Another composer interview from our favorite “reporter-at-large-when-she-isn’t-being-a-famed-virtuoso”, Hilary Hahn as part of her “In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores” series. This time it’s a chat with Indian composer/violinist Kala Ramnath, about her encore piece that Hilary will perform in a concert this coming January:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5lLLF-6d-8[/youtube]>

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Christina Stanley a violinist and vocalist who received her MFA in Music Performance and Literature from Mills College, and her Bachelor of Music degree from San Francisco State University where she received a full performance scholarship and studied violin with Daniel Kobialka, Jassen Toderov and the  Alexander String Quartet. She is an active performing violinist, working as as a soloist as well as an ensemble.   The composer along with the other members of the Skadi Quartet will perform two new graphic scores to open The Composer’s Muse, the second night of the11th Annual Outsound New Music Summit.  Both scores are 40 x 40 oil and charcoal on canvas.  One will be played by the full quartet, and the other as a violin and cello duet.

The Composer’s Muse concert will take place onThursday, July 19th at 8:00 p.m.  All four nights of the festival will take place at the San Francisco Community Music Center,544 Capp Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at the door, or online through Brown Paper Tickets.  With the festival fast approaching, I was happy Christina had a moment to answer some of my questions.

S21:   Your alma mater, Mills College, is well known for creating composer/performers.  I’m wondering if in your student years before coming to Mills, if you ever felt pressure to become exclusively a composer, or exclusively a performer?

CS:  Yes, I did feel pressure to be exclusively a performer, though I’m not sure it was anyone’s fault other than my own. I wanted to achieve as much as I possibly could as a classical violinist, and learn all the standard repertoire, and as much of the 20th century as I could before moving into the 21st. However, I could never quite shake  that I had all this desire inside me to create, and I sometimes wondered If I’d chosen the wrong path, despite the fact that I loved playing violin so intensely and completely. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I moved to new York and was trying to figure out what to do with myself creatively. I was still writing songs, but at that time I also began recording myself playing violin and cello, improvising and relishing the dissonances and harmonies.  I was completely thrilled at the possibilities, and knew I would continue composing, though I didn’t know how.

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Ittai Shapira Champs Hill Records

Ittai Shapira's new CD, released this month, includes his new violin concerto, to be premiered on April 20th.

Ittai Shapira is best known as an internationally acclaimed soloist   with an impressive list of collaborators that includes some of the world’s finest conductors and orchestras. He is a champion of contemporary music, having premiered concertos by many of todays most renowned composers, including Kenji Bunch, Shulamit Ran, Theodore Wiprud, Avner Dorman, and Dave Heath.

While still a violin student years ago, Shapira studied analysis and composition with Mark Kopytman. He loved composing, but his performance career soon grew too busy to allow for any other callings, so he kept his creative spark alive by writing his own cadenzas to the standard violin concertos. Over the last decade, his many collaborations with composers have reconnected him to the creative process and  rekindled his early passion for writing music. Since 2008 he has written two violin concertos, as well as a series of fiendishly challenging solo violin caprices.This month the British label Champs Hill Records released a CD of Shapira’s two violin concertos, Concierto Latino (2008) and The Old Man And The Sea (2011), as well as his Caprice Habanera (2010).

The most recent of these works, The Old Man And The Sea, is an exciting, larger-than-life piece in the grand tradition of the virtuoso violin concerto. Inspired by Earnest Hemingway’s classic novel of the same title, the work is full of soulful melodies, dramatic orchestration, and dazzling technical passages, all delivered on the recording with Shapira’s smooth tone and powerhouse virtuosity. While the piece keeps a close programmatic relationship to the novel, it also stands on it’s own as a compelling work, and a substantial contribution to the violin repertoire. The recorded performance is with Neil Thomson and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

In a recent conversation, I asked Shapira about his compositional process for The Old Man And The Sea. He explained that the idea first came to him while on a concert tour in 2008, when he  found himself based in Key West, Florida, for several days. Not surprisingly, he was struck by the beauty of the locale, but he also became very interested in the local fishing culture. Shortly after this trip, when the BP oil spill devastated the whole region, Shapira felt moved to write a piece that was in some way related to the lives of the Gulf Stream fishermen. As a long time fan of Hemingway, it did not take him long to connect his new inspiration to Hemingway’s great novel, and when Molloy College commissioned him to write a piece for the “Innovative Classics Series” all the pieces fell into place.

As with his first concerto, Shapira prepared for this new endeavour by composing some solo pieces, in this case caprices with Carribean and Cuban stylistic elements. Describing his process, Shapira says,” In every piece I write there is an ‘outside influence’ because that is how I learn; this leads to different harmonic languages, different sound worlds, and consequently different bow techniques. The caprices that I write are always studies towards these new styles.” The solo piece included on this disc, Caprice Habanera, was indeed a study for The Old Man And The Sea.

Shapira will be performing the world premiere of his new concerto with the chamber orchestra known as The Knights on April 20 at Molloy College in Long Island. The combination of Shapira’s playing, his music, and this hot-shot orchestra should make the event one of the most exciting of the month.

 

Ittai Shapira rehearses The Old Man And The Sea with Neil Thomson and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTrwF89RIvQ[/youtube]

 

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Next up in Hilary Hahn‘s chats with the composers writing for her 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores!, it’s New Zealand composer Gillian Whitehead.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-J7OdgRJegs[/youtube]

And composers, don’t forget that the 27th encore slot is still open until March 15th, and it could be you!  So tusches off seats, fire up your Finale & Adobe, but get cracking!

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Hilary Hahn. Photo: Peter Miller

We all know Hilary Hahn as Sequenza 21’s resident video blogger; oh, and she’s a world class violinist and DG recording artist.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_-fpVZ0hdw[/youtube]

Wearing both of those hats simultaneously, Hilary had a video chat via Skype with composer Max Richter earlier this week. Richter is one of 27 composers commissioned to write an encore for Hahn; she begins debuting the pieces this coming October. In order to spotlight the featured composers, Hilary’s planning to release a video interview with one each month. It makes us here at Sequenza 21 feel kind of special. After all, how many other websites have their video blogger booked two years out?

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We’re saddened to learn of James Levine’s cancellation of the rest of his appearances this season at the Boston Symphony Orchestra and his resignation from the post of BSO Music Director. Levine has been in that position since 2004, but has had to cancel a number of appearances during his tenure due to a variety of health problems. In an interview published today in the New York Times, Levine indicated that he will retain his position as Music Director at the Metropolitan Opera. Apparently, conversations between Levine and the BSO about a possible future role with the orchestra are ongoing.

The BSO plans to keep its season underway with minimal changes apart from substitute conductors. They’re even going to premiere a new work this week under the baton of Assistant Conductor Marcelo Lehninger. In Boston’s Symphony Hall on March 3,4,5, and 8, and at Carnegie Hall in New York on March 15, the orchestra and soloist Christian Tetzlaff will be giving the world premiere of Harrison Birtwistle’s Violin Concerto.

It’s bittersweet that Levine is stepping down during a week when an important commission, one of several during his tenure, is seeing its premiere. I made a number of pilgrimages from New York to Boston (thank goodness for Bolt Bus!) to hear him conduct contemporary music with the BSO,  including pieces by Harbison, Wuorinen, Babbitt, and Carter. He helped a great American orchestra (with a somewhat conservative curatorial direction) to make the leap into 21st century repertoire and was a terrific advocate for living composers.

Many in Boston and elsewhere have complained that by taking on the BSO, while still keeping his job at the Met, Levine overreached and overcommitted himself. Further, when his health deteriorated, some suggest that he should have stepped aside sooner.

I’ll not argue those points. But I will add that, when he was well, Levine helped to create some glorious nights of music-making in Boston that I’ll never forget. And for that, I’m extraordinarily grateful.

***

I’ll admit that I was a bit surprised to hear that Birtwistle was composing a violin concerto, as it seemed to me an uncharacteristic choice of solo instrument for him. After all, the composer of Panic and Cry of Anubis isn’t a likely candidate for the genre that’s brought us concerti by Brahms and Sibelius (and even Bartok and Schoenberg!).

But then I thought again. Having heard his Pulse Shadows and the recent Tree of Strings for quartet, both extraordinary pieces, I can see why he might want to explore another work that spotlights strings. Perhaps his approach to the violin concerto will bring the sense of theatricality, innovative scoring, and imaginative approach to form that he’s offered in so many other pieces.

I’m hoping to get a chance to hear it when it the orchestra comes to New York. No pilgrimage this time. My next Bolt Bus trip to Boston will likely have to wait ’til next season to hear the BSO in its post-Levine incarnation.

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Strata – a trio consisting of pianist Audrey Andrist, clarinetist Nathan Williams, and  violinist/violist James Stern - has just started a new commissioning project. Abetted by a grant from the Rauch Foundation, their Metaclassical Music Project seeks to bridge the gap between new music and the non-specialist audience through educational outreach and the commissioning of new works that seek to communicate with a range of listeners.

Phase one of Strata’s “demystification” of contemporary fare involves presenting a new piece by Stephen Paulus on a concert this weekend at Merkin Hall (details below). Paulus is certainly a composer who fits their mission statement: an artist who doesn’t water down his language (and can indeed sound quite ‘modern’ in places) but has managed to craft a body of work that speaks to many “mainstream” classical listeners.

Alongside Paulus’ Trio Concertant, Strata will present works by Robert Maggio, Jonathan Leshnoff, and Béla Bartók’s Contrasts. I recently caught up with Stern to discuss the concert, as well as Strata’s future plans for the Metaclassical Music project.

Sequenza 21: Tell me a bit about the background and formation of Strata.

Stern: Strata is an ensemble that grew out of friendships formed at the Juilliard School. Audrey and I began dating while we were both graduate students there, and then Audrey met Nathan in a doctoral seminar they were both taking after I had moved away to take a job at the Cleveland Institute. So far we’ve never all three lived in the same city, but Audrey and I got married a few years later, while Nathan’s career was taking him all over the world with a succession of teaching positions and performing. Despite the geographical obstacles, the three of us got serious about developing a repertoire and performing throughout the North American continent. I also got serious about playing viola so as to augment our repertoire possibilities. We chose the name “Strata” (layers) in recognition of a fondness that we all share for the intricacies of counterpoint (many-layered music), as well as a commitment to uncovering many layers of meaning in what we play.

Sequenza 21: What’s the concept behind your new commissioning project?

Stern: The Metaclassical Music Project began with the idea that a composer might be able to facilitate the educational outreach presentations that we do. What if, for example, a single melody could be cast successively in monophonic, homophonic and then polyphonic textures of gradually increasing complexity? Then we would have an array of examples to explain these ideas to a young audience and this would, in turn, help to illuminate other standard repertoire we play for them. Next, what if such an array of musical demonstrations actually formed part of a large-scale concert piece; that is what if, in addition to their educational function, they created a coherent emotional trajectory that added up to an intense concert experience? This is where the idea started. But it evolved into something more general: what happens to an artist’s self-expression when she or he takes on the commitment to instruct? I actually believe that composers like Shostakovich, and writers like Milan Kundera and Herman Melville have done this: they write in what I like to call the “didactic voice,” and that this is part of the key to the immense power they achieve.

Sequenza 21: How did you decide to commission Stephen Paulus?

Stern: Nathan first encountered Paulus when he participated in a performance of one of Paulus’s operas. He was deeply struck by the color and imagination of the writing. Somewhat later I performed Paulus’s Partita Appassionata, at the Cosmos Club of Washington D.C., with my University of Maryland colleague, pianist Bradford Gowen. Paulus was being inducted into the Cosmos Club, which was described by the late Wallace Stegner as “the closest thing to a social headquarters for Washington’s intellectual elite.” Their website goes on to report: “Among its members, over the years, have been three Presidents, two Vice Presidents, a dozen Supreme Court justices, 32 Nobel Prize winners, 56 Pulitzer Prize winners and 45 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.” Strata has also performed there. Two things struck me on this occasion. One was how easy Paulus’s music made it for us, as performers, to connect with an audience. The energy in the room was wonderful. The other was hearing Paulus speak about his music. With regard to a song cycle that was being performed that evening he described, with evident enjoyment, how he had deliberately written one of the songs using the twelve-tone technique, just to prove that it could be done in a way that was attractive and not intimidating. This was the kind of creativity and exuberance we were looking for with the Metaclassical Music Project.

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