Written by Laurie Niles
Published: May 30, 2015 at 5:12 AM [UTC]
They did so Friday night in a concert at The Juilliard School's Paul Hall for the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies. The audience of students and teachers included quite a few current and former (and possibly future) students of both sisters, as Ani Kavafian is a professor at Yale University; and Ida Kavafian is on faculty at Curtis Institute, The Juilliard School and Bard College.
Their onstage collaboration felt like more than a meeting of two artists; it felt like an energetic, musical celebration of sisterhood: the playfulness, the taunting, the conflict and chaos -- not to mention those voices that match so well.
Of course, these two have been playing together professionally for quite a long time; they made their Carnegie Hall debut as a duet in 1983. It all shows: they lock into each other's music so easily.
They started the program with J.S. Bach's rather short Trio Sonata in G Major, then played Prokofiev's Sonata for Two Violins, Op. 56.
The centerpiece of the recital was a piece that also acknowledges an aspect of their sisterhood: their shared Armenian heritage. "A Tale for Two Violins" was written for them in 2014 by California-based composer Kristapor Najarian to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. The duet was based on the folk music of Armenia, "some which we grew up listening to," Ani Kavafian said in introducing the piece.
Written by a violinist, the piece seemed well-suited to the instruments and cleverly crafted to make them sound as big as possible. It showed a nice range of what the Kavafians could do: driving rhythm, a wild dance, a soft wail, a dizzying melody over constant running notes that have quirky rhythmic accents laid into them. In the third movement, when they traded melody and harmony, the switch was nearly imperceptible to me; I would only notice after the fact, that the melody had jumped from one sister to another. In fact, sometimes I struggled to tell what music was coming from which violin!
The last piece on the program was Suite in G Minor for Two Violinists and Piano, Op. 71, by Moszkowski, which they played with pianist Jonathan Feldman. The first movement was so full of energy, it was practically an apotheosis at the end; then the second movement let them ebb and flow, it was satisfying to just enjoy seamless exchange and beauty of sound here.
As encores, the Kavafians played several pieces they'd arranged for piano and violin duet: First was Gershwin's "It Ain't Necessarily So," which actually works better as a duet than as a solo, bearing in mind its original form as a call-and-response song. Clearly based on Heifetz's solo version, it gave them plenty of opportunity to work their sisterly chemistry and turn it into a bit of a competition. They closed the evening with another arrangement, of Elgar's "Salute D'Amour," which feels almost like a nostalgic anthem for violinists -- very appropriate for this gathering of violinists!
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Here are Ani and Ida Kavafian performing Kristapor Najarian's "A Tale for Two Violins." This was the world premiere performance last December in Zipper Hall, Los Angeles:
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