April 2007

Program Notes for Concerti

April 24, 2007 11:10


When I play concerti with orchestra, I so rarely get the chance to present my own program notes, as I can typically do in a recital setting. I am in the process of researching the Mozart K. 301-306 sonatas, Grieg, Franck, and some showpieces, and I came across some notes from 3 years ago when I had my first opportunity to write the background for a concerto performance.

Three years ago (March and April 2004), I played the Saint-Saens b minor Concerto with Liza Grossman conducting the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, a collaboration that is still very vivid in my memory. It was a learning process and nostalgic at the same time, as I began lessons with Liza about fifteen years ago. She is now heard on CD/DVD from Malibu to London, and is quickly building a name for herself and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra. In rehearsing for the the Saint-Saens performances, Liza had a stipulation for me: I must write my own program notes. In poring over several essays on Saint-Saens, the concerto, and the violin world in the 1880's, I quickly discovered that I really didn't have any background information on the concerto to help solidify any sort of an interpretation I was gathering at that time. So, thanks to Liza's insistence, I was able to grow and mature with the piece with extensive research and listening to many interpretations. Below are the notes. Enjoy! :)

Camille Saint-Saens (1835 - 1921)

Violin Concerto, no. 3, op.61 in B minor
conducted by Liza Grossman

Born in 1835 in Paris, Camille Saint-Saens is the most renowned French composer of the 19th century. His violin compositions are standards of the virtuoso repertoire. His most famous works for the instrument—Havanaise, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and the Third Concerto in B minor—were each instant successes, featuring saucy Iberian themes, virtuosic tricks, and powerful climaxes. The Concerto is also popular as a debut vehicle, and such artists as Hilary Hahn, Leila Josefowicz, and Pinchas Zukerman all made Cleveland Orchestra debuts with the piece.

Dedicated to the Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate, the B minor Concerto has elements of French, Spanish, and Italian motives. The first movement, representing an easygoing, Parisian feel, quickly became popular with the audiences due to its "poetic atmosphere and compelling melodiousness" (George Bernard Shaw). The movement is in A-B-A-B-A form, with sentimental phrases sandwiched between pyrotechnical exploits. The original opening melody, played for the first thirty bars on the violin’s lowest string, the Ging, returns to launch the coda, driven by an ever increasing crescendo and tempo, utilizing every position on the instrument.

The second movement, based off of a simple Siciliano melody, is very much chamber music between the solo violin and principal winds, as the phrase is handed back and forth between the oboe, flute, clarinet, and violin. The rhythmic pulse is leisurely, the mood is always uplifting, and the soaring melodies demonstrate the vocal qualities of the instrument. The violin concludes the movement with arpeggios in artificial harmonics.

The third movement begins with a rhapsodic, cadenza feeling, leading to a sensuous, energetic Spanish theme that is reminiscent of the dedicatee’s (de Sarasate) own music. The movement is fast-paced until the orchestral violins introduce the secondary melody, which is the only lapse in the spirited pulse. The tension and virtuosity increase until the coda, marked Presto. The movement finishes with a dynamic flourish, bringing the concerto to a heroic ending.

Pablo de Sarasate premiered the concerto in 1881, and the concerto was published the following year. I first learned this concerto when I was 14 in Vermont, and again in the summer of 2003. It has always been one of my favorites due to it's accessibility and rich themes. The concerto shows off many palettes of the instrument, and is ultimately a rewarding piece.
I would like to dedicate this performance to twelve years of inspiring guidance and friendship from Ms. Liza Grossman.

~Andrew Sords March, 2004

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A Week Full of Interesting Concerts

April 17, 2007 12:06

So, this past week was one full of concerts, unique in their own way. Either witnessing them or taking part, each was memorable.

Thursday night was the world premiere of the completed version of Evan Fein's violin concerto (which I commissioned last year). With Anita Pontremoli, we brought hours of work to this wonderful piece, and felt good with the end result. Evan spent a huge amount of time on it, and I'm thankful for it! It was also a great bonding time with Anita, whose collaboration I cherish and always learn from.

Friday, my little sister and I went to a packed Wolstein Arena performance by the Pussycat Dolls and Christina Aguilera, who is currently on her "Back to Basics" tour. Let me assure you, there was NOTHING "basic" about her spectacular production, and the theatrics and incredibly powerful voice were a great escape from classical music. :)

Saturday night was a (very very) late Christmas present to my best friend, and we enjoyed good seats at the Emanuel Ax concert at Severance Hall. If there is a pianist performing today who can so clearly define the Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto, and who plays with a consummate blend of technical precision and informed musicianship, I don't know of them. In performances, one hesitates to use words such as "definitive" and "perfection", but this concert embodied everything one could hope for in Brahms (and more). A special mention of Rich King's moving horn solos that opened the concerto are in order.

No more live concerts for me, at least for awhile. :( Next: finishing the recording of Evan's concerto, a Brahms d minor sonata, trip to Dallas, and ten days of 4 performances of all different rep. Enjoying springtime while I can! :)

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Collaborative Pianists

April 15, 2007 13:24

I wanted to blog about a subject I feel is very underappreciated and not discussed as much as it should be...the idea of a collaborator, rather than an accompanist.

Maybe it's because I began on piano before violin, but I am very conscientious of that big black thing with the golden lettering behind me and its role in the performance, and I feel I learn so much from wonderful pianists I am privileged to play with:

In preparing for concerto performances, sonatas, or in premiering this concerto on Thursday, I have turned to Anita Pontremoli for her help and collaboration. She is head of the collaborative department at CIM, a fabulous artist, and has a warm, gregarious personality. We have worked on sonatas by Brahms, Beethoven and Franck; concerti by Sibelius and Brahms; and numerous short pieces. Recently, we have spent significant time putting together Evan's concerto, and end up in stitches about every five minutes, and we can have marathon gossip sessions. I am in her debt musically for learning from her pacing, artistry, and multiple colors within a single dynamic.

Since the age of 14, I have collaborated with Eriko Izumida on a number of recitals, and Eriko is extremely solid, easy to work with, and our history of playing everything from Beethoven's D major Op. 12 sonata about 7 years ago to showpieces, sonatas, concerti now has led to many recitals and memories. Thanks, Eriko!

Though she typically plays with cellists, I was very privileged to play with Liz DeMio last summer in a trio setting. Apart for Liz being able to learn the Ravel Trio in about 5 minutes (a piece the composer was never able to perform), our Starbucks sessions with cellist Charlie Tyler were a highlight of the summer. :) Liz is an equal collaborator in every sense of the word, and has the uncanny ability to sound like an orchestra. I'm looking forward to doing the Faure Piano Quartet with her this summer.

A few summers ago, I worked with Russian pianist Anna Balakerskaia--Mendelssohn d minor Trio, Tchaikovsky, Chausson, Brahms sonatas--and I can't recall ever hearing some phrases turned the way Anna molded the music. She collaborated with Leonid Kogan, Maxim Vengerov, Ilya Kaler, among others, and unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to work with her since, but...someday!

Each of these pianists plays many roles everytime they sit down on an ebony, leather piano bench: they wear the hats of educator, soloist, chamber musician, accompanist, challenger, inspirer-er (coining that word), and friend. These lovely aforementioned women have left a huge impression on me, and helped shape the person and musician I am now. So, next time you sit with a pianist, see what they can bring to a piece you have known for years, and how they can spontaneously inspire a different interpretation every night. :)

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Outstanding Recordings That Everyone Should Have

April 9, 2007 07:45

This blog is dedicated to several recordings that have inspired, challenged, and moved me, and may include genres other than classical :)

Anne-Sophie Mutter; Kurt Masur; New York Philharmonic
Brahms Violin Concerto

By far my most listened-to recording since 1997, Frau Mutter gets it exactly right in her sense of timing, drama, projection, and emotional involvement.

Julia Fischer
J.S. Bach "Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo"

My good friend Julia recorded these monumental works at 21, and in a world of imitative, unresearched performances, this confidently recorded CD remains faithful to Bach's manuscript while taking the listener on a cohesive journey through Bach's solo works.

David Oistrakh; Lev Oborin
Beethoven Sonatas for Piano and Violin

Oistrakh recorded these works without pretense or ego, and the simplicity combined with impassioned musicianship warrant many listening sessions.

Linda Eder
"Broadway: My Way"

The extraordinary Broadway powerhouse Linda Eder delivers a CD of ballads, and her balls-to-the-wall projection is astonishing. Such vocal command in this genre I've never heard.

Jacqueline DuPre; Daniel Barenboim; Philadelphia Orchestra
Elgar Cello Concerto

This recording, made after DuPre had been diagnosed with MS, is a testament to her immortality as a cellist. Made live in Philadelphia with her husband, this was one of her rare concerts after learning of the disease, and fully encapsules the size and scope of the Elgar cello concerto to a tee. Warning: a potentially tear-jerking performance.

Anne-Sophie Mutter; Herbert von Karajan; Berlin Philharmonic
Beethoven Violin Concerto

This recording, made when Mutter was 17, is simply a marvel. She fully appears to understand Beethoven's writing, the violin's accompanying arpeggiations under the orchestra, and though the tempi are on the slow side, the work takes on a certain majesty and reverence that most recordings miss.

Martha Argerich
Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 in d minor

With her technical prowess, stunning musicianship, and fully committed playing...enough said!

Christoph von Dohnanyi; Cleveland Orchestra
Beethoven Symphonies No. 5 and 7

The Cleveland Orchestra under Maestro Dohnanyi was quite simply the cleanest orchestra on the planet. Lines emerge with a lucidity and directness that I have never heard since. Immaculate strings, memorable winds, and outstanding chemistry characterize this recording.

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April Blog

April 2, 2007 18:08

The last three weeks have been chaotic: on top of school, the daily routines of life, and other chores, there was the Brahms concerto, Bruch Scottish Fantasy, and the Franck sonata, among others. There were two weeks of impossibly gorgeous weather (one in CA, and one in Cleveland). Concerts were plentiful, between the various Cleveland Institute of Music concerts (including my best friend, Charlie, playing the Barber cello concerto this upcoming week)--concerts with Sergey Khachatryan and Julia Fischer that went marvelously; preparing for graduation and upcoming concerts this month (Fein, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Franck, Bach...), and three mandatory performances this month that are must-sees: Emmanuel Ax playing Brahms, Christina Aguilera's Back to Basics tour, and Linda Eder. My head is swimming with things to do...don't even get me started on my laundry or dishes chores. Actually, an unexpected visitor tonight did wonders to relieve stress: a lovely neighborhood calico stopped by (yes, sporting a flea collar!), and provided entertainment for awhile, albeit after I provided him with a bowl of milk. The whole finishing-up-school thing is proving to be a stress factor, rather than a relief, but it looks as though this summer will be productive and plenty busy. I will certainly miss my family/roommates/friends when I move out of Cleveland this summer--especially those plentiful wine and cheese evenings, lowkey and not-so-lowkey nights, and just spending many hours enjoying each other's company. This is turning into quite the melancholy, reflective post, but it has been on my mind recently.

I realized that I failed to write about the Brahms evening. Maestro Dettloff was a great time to work with, especially as I have known him for years, and after an unsteady dress rehearsal, the concert was a success, and I'm looking forward to playing with them next season (perhaps Tchaikovsky concerto). Actually, the orchestra board members were exceedingly nice, and went out of their way a couple of different moments that evening--very appreciated!!! A few days after the Brahms, I played a brief recital with Anita Pontremoli, an absolute dream of a collaborative pianist, with Franck and Kreisler in Cleveland Heights.

I'm tired. i think that some coronas and limes are in order for this evening with some friends, and I'll resume thinking about music tomorrow, while I do laundry and errands, no doubt!

A safe and happy April Fool's to all! :)

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