Category Archives: A Passion for Music

My Senior Recital – A Rite of Passage

Program notes from my Senior Recital

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756- 1791)
Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major

The Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major was the third of five violin concertos composed by Mozart in 1775 while living in Salzburg. He was only nineteen when he wrote them, already midway through his short life of 35 years. He had just returned from an extensive visit to Munich where he had been looking for work at higher wages than the 150 florins annual salary he was receiving for his work in Salzburg. Perhaps he was adding to his resume after failing to find a better position, or perhaps he encountered inspiration for the violin concertos while traveling. Either way, the final three of the five are considered some of his greatest masterworks of his six hundred compositions legacy.

The concerto has three movements: I. Allegro, II. Adagio, and III. Rondeau – Allegro. In the first brilliant movement, orchestra and soloist joyously converse. It was speculated by John Irving in his 2010 notes for the Australian Chamber Orchestra:

It is as if a drama is unfolding on the operatic stage. And that comparison is, in fact, quite apt, because the way Mozart handles form in his concertos bears a very close resemblance indeed to the forms of his operatic arias in works from the 1770s such as Lucio Silla (1772). Seen in this light, the concertos take on a new aspect: not so much a contest between a virtuoso soloist and an orchestra, but a dramatic interaction between characters on stage; a narrative rapidly unfolding through the rhetoric of gestures, some of them painted with a broad brush but, in the main, subtle interactions rather in the manner of a conversation.

The movement dabbles in chord changes to D major, and then D minor, and others, but it resolves completely to G major in a final recapitulation.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750)
Sonata No. 1 in G Minor

Johann Sebastian Bach was not widely known or fully appreciated during his own lifetime. The man we revere as one of the greatest German Baroque composers was a member of a large musical family. Although orphaned at ten years old. Bach had some opportunity to travel during his youth, and was exposed to wider European musical influences. His compositions reflect this musical sophistication. He overloads every melodic voice in his pieces with companion voices, not merely harmonic, or contrapuntal, but equally developed melodies that compete with each other, an innovative style at the time.

Bach’s family members included local luminaries who served as village and church music and choir directors, and were occasionally appointed to elevated positions by minor aristocrats. Bach followed in the family business, spending most of his life as a music director and organist, at one time receiving the patronage of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen who recognized his extraordinary talent. Leopold, as a Calvinist, eschewed the extravagant use of music in worship as false idolatry, and hired Bach to compose and direct primarily secular music. It was during this time (1717 – 1723) that the Sonatas, Partitas, Brandenburg Concertos, and other orchestral works were written.

The Sonata No. 1 in G minor is in most respects a Sonata da Chiesa (a Church Sonata); a four movement composition using a traditional fast-slow, fast-slow pattern. This type of sonata would be restrained enough to be appropriate in church, although it didn’t serve any liturgical function in the Catholic mass. It would more commonly be played as entertainment in a genteel setting.

Niccolò Paganini (1782 – 1840)
Caprice No. 20 in D Major

The dictionary defines a caprice as an impulsive action, taken on a whim or as a lark. The series of twenty-four caprices written by Niccolò Paganini between 1802 and 1817 may feel as if they are random dances of the mind, but in reality they are carefully contrived exercises — études designed to address every piece of a violinist from fingertip to soul. Paganini was a virtuoso and vigorously marketed himself as such. The caprices he wrote (but never played publicly) were his gift to artists who would aspire to bring their own craft to new heights, to his level. The Caprices are so comprehensive and difficult that they are a staple of the auditions required of students applying to every Master of Music program. Moreover, they are my rite of passage. For the last ten years or more, I’ve thought that when I can master even one of the Paganini caprices, I will honestly be able to call myself a violinist.

Each of the twenty-four caprices carries its own special flavor and challenge. I chose to play number twenty in the key of D major because it is so warm and beautiful. It comprises three sections evoking a simple day in the Scottish highlands. First, a solemn salute to the rising sun, a collection of rich notes that lie against a steady drone note that produces the characteristic bagpipe sound. If you break the drone note, you break the carefully crafted illusion of a lone piper on a mist-shrouded crag. After a gentle minute of this, an entirely new theme is entered, a frenzied center section, lasting about a minute-and-a-half. It feels like a meadow dance of the fantastic wherein bees, hummingbirds and deliciously graceful fairies frolic capriciously as trills and flying staccato tumble off the bow in sixteenth notes. Finally, there is a return to the piper – standing now on the sand mourning the loss of the huge red sun that at last, slips into the sea.

Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937)
Tzigane

Not long after composing his jazz-inspired Violin Sonata, Maurice Ravel struck up a friendship with British-Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Arányi, the inspiration for his rhapsodic Tzigane. The title itself translates to “gypsy”, and the piece certainly holds true to its name. “This Tzigane must be a piece of great virtuosity,” Ravel told the violinist. “Certain passages can produce brilliant effects, provided that it is possible to perform them — which I’m not always sure of.” The piece premiered in London on April 26, 1924, and it is rumored that d’Arányi only received the finished score a day or two before the performance. At the inaugural London performance, the music’s gypsy flavor was enhanced by the use of a piano attachment called a luthéal, a relatively new invention that had only been in use since 1919, which caused the piano to take on the sound of a Hungarian cimbalom or dulcimer.

Tzigane opens with a lengthy quasi-cadenza for the solo violin which introduces and explores several of the themes to be encountered later in the piece. The entire first page of the violin part is played on the G string; a celebration of the instrument’s oft overlooked lower register. Next, the violinist introduces a passionate, chord-laden melody that grows increasingly animated and intense. As the music gradually climbs toward the stratosphere, Tzigane demonstrates the use of several advanced virtuosic techniques. The improvisatory feeling of the music is a reminder that Ravel incorporated many of d’Arányi’s improvised embellishments into the score. From a piano cadenza, originally orchestrated for harp, emerges the dance-like main theme, which Ravel presents in a series of variations, each more impressive than the last. The piece rockets to its finish, culminating in a dazzling exhibition of virtuosic techniques.

Johan Halvorsen (1894 – 1965)  George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759)
Handel-Halvorson Passacaglia for Violin and Cello

Spaniards originated the passacaglia musical form in the early seventeenth century, but Italians are credited with its development. The portmanteau “passacaglia” translates to street walk, a cadential interlude originally used to connect disparate pieces. It evolved throughout the centuries and most academics today will agree that a passacaglia’s defining characteristics are that its chords iterate over a ground bass and that it is frequently written in triple-meter. The mathematician in me sees the passacaglia as a microcosm of our lives. What are lives but a series of days, each much like the day before, yet each holding a variation? We live cycles as infant, scholar, parent, and elder. We grow in wisdom; cultivating social, emotional, and intellectual expression all on the ever-circling canvas that is the days of our lives.

George Frideric Handel wrote his Harpsichord Suite in G minor in 1720. He used sixteen variations over a ground baseline in his sixth movement, a passacaglia that I can only describe as relentless. Is the Handel-Halvorson Passacaglia for Violin and Cello merely an arrangement of Handel’s work? I don’t think so. I believe it has been extrapolated to the point that it stands alone on its own merit. It’s almost as if Halvorsen were a modern artist sampling the content of another artist. Halvorsen’s work uses tempo changes to destroy the “relentless” characteristic of Handel, adding emotional color and artistry. Where one could almost describe Handel’s work as pounding algorithmically on keys, Halvorsen introduces extended techniques that were not available in Handel’s time: Saltando, ponticello, artificial harmonics, and more. While Halvorsen certainly owes an unpayable debt to Handel, his Passacaglia for Violin and Cello is a unique modern work, using an entirely different and more sophisticated toolset than Handel could have dreamed of two hundred years earlier

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An Interesting Idea — Apprenticeship

I am always looking up my favorite performers, and checking out their schedules to see if they’ll be in Santa Barbara any time soon. Joshua Bell is really nice, he invited our violin studio to his concerts and posed for photos with us, like this one taken by our professor, Yuval Yaron.

BellWithStudio

I’d sell my soul to have Joshua Bell teach me in a master class at the Granada before a show, but he’s not someone with a lot of time. In fact the only way to get a lot of time with a first rate performer would be to follow in his or her footsteps as an apprentice.

Wouldn’t that be awesome to travel with Joshua Bell or Hilary Hahn? It would be even better if there were an apprentice program that allowed me to play in the back of the violins at each of their concerts.

Playing the violin is one thing, figuring out how to get around airports, concert halls, and rental cars is quite another. So I guess an apprentice would have to be old enough to drive, and maybe even 21, just in case we needed to go into a club.  In my imaginary apprenticeship, the apprentice would be between the first and second year of a master’s program and she would have auditioned for an apprenticeship with the artist. And there would be a very large stipend. A girl can dream. Let’s see, I’m a third year Bachelor of Music major, so that’s two years until I’m ready to go!

Rather than the artist having to actually figure out any logistics, their agencies could take care of all of the details. If all of the agencies did something like this, it would become an accepted thing in the music world. Symphonies would make space for the apprentices without ever even thinking about it.

The apprentice system might also solve one of the fundamental problems with having a first rate teacher who still performs all over the globe. I am lucky that my UCSB professors and ensemble coaches are very dedicated, but I have heard that at some universities, the big name artist that draws the students to the school are often unable to keep lesson appointments because they are traveling. With an apprentice system, you could get your lessons on the road.

Imagine being on a ride-along with Sarah Chang and her mythical beast, Chewie. Right now, Chewie has to stay at home while Sarah goes off to play, but in my imaginary world, he’s be traveling with us.

Who else would be fun? Rachel Barton Pine is cool, and maybe she’d bring an extra Stradivarius from her foundation for me to play on. Or she could get me up to speed on the electric violin. She played a 6-string viper in Earthen Grave, now sadly disbanded.

Rachel_Barton_Pine_from_Earthen_Grave

I’d also love to travel with Itzhak Perlman. He’s going to play in Los Angeles on January 24, 2017, and I really want to see that concert. He’s going to be at Disney Hall. Maybe I could even sneak backstage and mention that he might be way more popular with a cute little apprentice.

Future apprentice with her own cute little doggie.

Camera Pix 109

 
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We Miss You Max

Reger, A Centenary Retrospective

Max Reger lived just half of a lifetime, but he produced at least three lifetimes worth of work in his 43 years.  On May 11, 2016 we celebrated the centenary of his death by sharing the magic of his life  with our cozy audience in  Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall.

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Jeremy Haladyna, our tenacious advocate for newer music and champion of the UCSB Ensemble for Contemporary Music pushed ahead the quarterly ECM performance so that we could celebrate Max’ life on his very special anniversary.

The program focused on Reger’s chamber works — ECM is a chamber group, after all.  We were fortunate to have two special guest artists play with our ensemble, Hiroko Sugawara did a fabulous job of bookending the concert on clarinet, and Christina Esser, mezzo-soprano, sang a selection of Reger’s charming Simple Songs. The lyrics are the sweet and simple part -these are stories about home and family, kittens and mice, laid against some devilishly enticing melodies.  As a life-long fan of the hedgehog, I particularly enjoyed Der Igel, a warning to all to beware the Prickly-Coated One.  But like the kitten, I stray ahead!

The concert opened with our professor, Jeremy Haladyna, accompanying  Hiroko Sugara on the clarinet.  Hiroko is not just a member of ECM, she’s a member of the UCSB faculty, teaching Japanese in the East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies department.  I played clarinet for a few years in middle school band, so I have a little bit of appreciation for how amazing her playing is. She hides a great deal of breath control behind that lovely smile! The two played Reger’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano in B-flat, I Moderato, op 107.

Dana Anex followed with a lovely solo, Prelude for Solo Viola, from Three Suites, op 131d, an excellent example of Reger’s foray into neoclassicism.  She was followed by Kathryn Carlson, cellist, playing Peter Sculthorpe ‘s Requiem( for Cello Alone). The two solo pieces were tremendously moving.  Haladyna chose to follow these solos with the Simple Songs, a wise move when your ushers don’t have tissue boxes to pass around for the tear-gathering.

I followed Simple Songs with a personal tribute to another “Max”.   Sir Peter Maxwell Davies passed away just two months ago on March 14th.  Davies was a composer and conductor, in fact, Master of the Queen’s Music from 2004 – 2014.  I played Dances from his opera, The Two Fiddlers. Davies passed away on his beloved Orkney Islands, an archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland; my tribute piece is in the style of the Orkney Islands fiddlers. I really shouldn’t say “my” piece — I shared it with Petra Peršolja on piano.  According to my mom, we were very well received, but she always says that. I know that we did a decent job because we played right before a brief intermission, and when I peeked through the curtains, nobody was running for the exits!

When the curtain rose after intermission ( Ok, I lie, we don’t really use the lovely and mysterious red velvet curtain. ), Petra Peršolja and Zachary Olea played Arvo Pärt’s  Fratres I. I am looking forward to hearing them play more pieces like this together in the future. Zachary is a patient violinist and shows that he has a considerable understanding of what Pärt is trying to convey.  Petra is one of our DMA students, and she is a very charismatic performer.  She has the grace and ability to make everyone she performs with look as good as she does, even if that means holding back sometimes.

Our ECM classmate, Nick Mazuk, found a piece that he wanted desperately to play, and if nothing else works, desperation gets you everywhere with Professor Haladyna. So along with Dana Anex on viola, and Kathryn Carlson on cello, Nick  treated us to selections from  Vincent Persichetti’s Serenade No. 6, op. 44, including II. Barcarole, V. Intermezzo, and VII. Dance.  It’s always a delicate balance when you put a trombone between two stringed instruments in a modestly-sized concert hall, but I was quite impressed that the strings were able to hold their own, and that Nick was able to exercise his instrument’s dynamic range without blowing the other instruments off the stage. Any of our composition students who happened to be in the audience hopefully were able to learn something last night about how to mix’n’match strings and horns without breaking anything.

At last, we circled back to Reger. Kathryn Carlson and Professor Haladyna played the Sonata in A Minor for Cello and Piano ,Op.116, IV. Allegretto con Grazia. It was truly lovely.

Zachary Olea returned for a second Arvo Pärt piece, Für Alinathis time with Danica Neuhause.  I’ve included a link to the Wikipedia entry for the piece — I spent a little more time there trying to understand how the piece is put together. It’s my first recommended reading to you, my little audience, so go for it!  What really sent me hunting for explanations was the dynamic tension the two violinists were able to maintain. I’d heard the piece played before with a completely different interpretation. I should mention that Danica very patiently turned pages for our pianists, and it was nice to finally hear her play!

At last, Hiroko retook the stage with her clarinet to close our show with three movements from Reger’s Clarinet Quintet, Op. 146,  II. Vivace, III. Largo, IV. Poco Allegretto. Joining her were David Fickes, a talented junior transfer student we welcomed this year into our violin studio, and Zachary Olea (violin), Dana Anex (viola), Kathryn Carlson (cello), and Jeremy Haladyna, to conduct.

Have you ever watched your parking permit expire while you are trapped in a concert hall?  It’s usually a gut-wrenching experience waiting for the final three movements of a piece to finish, hoping that the campus ticketeers have not come for your car.  But honestly, I would have paid the price of a parking ticket happily just to keep listening to the quintet all night — it was that warm and comforting.

As things turned out, there was no ticket, my parents took me out to dinner, and I got a great night’s sleep, knowing that I had done my small part to make the Regar Year, 2016, a success.  To find out about other Reger Centenial Festival events go here and here.

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Program Notes from My Junior Recital

My Junior Recital was a resounding success!  Thanks in particular to those who drove up from Los Angeles.  I am including the program notes from my program here for those who want to listen on the CD.

Jr.Recital

George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759) completed his Sonata in D Major, Op. 1, in 1750. This masterwork was his final violin sonata, published posthumously. The first of four movements is a sweetly plaintive Affetuoso decorated a climbing arpeggio and gentle trills. Next, fingers dance across the violin as the brilliantly vibrant Allegro invites us share in the happiness of a joyous life. Handel’s Larghetto suddenly breaks that the mood with a rolling tidal theme of loss, loneliness, and pain. Soon enough, a brightly transitional Allegro brings resolution.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) published his Romance in F Major, Op. 50 in 1805, although it was likely written and performed several years earlier. A microcosmic piece of few extremes, it connects the listener to the breezy pastoral experience of a simpler time while examining the richness of modest aspiration. Beethoven is perhaps coercing us to smell all the flowers and enjoy each sunset while we can.
Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897) wrote twenty-one charming Hungarian dances during the first half of his life. Most of the dances are not entirely original, but capture and embellish traditional Hungarian folk themes, recasting them to a variety of instruments and orchestral configurations. Brahms’ work was contagious and many of his contemporaries and successors further modified and enhanced the dances to the point that there is now an arrangement for virtually any instrument you can name. When No. 1 begins, we imagine lovely ball gowns sweeping parquet floors under crystal chandeliers. When No. 1 ends, we find ourselves luridly dervish-spent, sleeping in the haze of a bonfire. It’s a dangerous three minutes.
Frédéric François Chopin’s (1810 – 1849) Nocturne No. 20 in C# minor was written for Ludvika, his elder sister, in 1830. The Nocturne expresses grief and lament with a depth and purity beyond expectation, and as a result, the unrelenting raw, emotionally haunting music has been featured in several important films. Biographers suggest that Chopin’s artistry in infusing sorrowful passion into his works was a byproduct of his challenging health problems, displacement from his homeland, and troubled personal relationships. Virtuoso Nathan Milstein’s (1903 – 1992) arrangement for violin is true to the original, and wonderfully tight – Milstein was well known for his desire to perfectly articulate each note.
Pablo de Sarasate (1844 – 1908) composed elaborate show pieces primarily to exhibit his amazing mastery of technical skill on the violin. Navarra, Op. 33, Sarasate’s ‘Spanish Dance’, was written for two violins. With an ego big enough for two, some wonder jokingly if Sarasate didn’t somehow intend to magically play both violin parts at the same time. The somewhat stereotypical Spanish dance flavor provided by Sarasate is jota in style, but the finish is bigger, replete with fiery bowing.
Béla Viktor János Bartók (1881 – 1945) was the inspiration for my dance-themed program. Recognized as one of the founders of ethnomusicology, Bartók researched, collected, and studied Magyar folk music. He incorporated it into his work along with the asymmetrical rhythms of Bulgarian dance creating a unique style. Bartók’s success as a composer comes from research-based use of genuine elements. Romanian Folk Dances comprises six distinct movements (dances) of Transylvanian origin translated as: Stick Dance, Sash Dance, In One Spot, Dance from Bucsum, Romanian Polka, and Fast Dance.

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Whew!

If you were at last night’s UCSB University Chamber Orchestra and Chamber Players’ concert, then you know what I’m talking about when I titled this post, “Whew!” The program packed a punch for player and audience alike with an often frantic pace and challenging complexity.

Robert Koenig, as the Director of the Chamber Players, once again showed his savvy in matching players to pieces.  It’s our first big concert of the year, and we have many new freshman and transfer students on our Lotte Lehmann stage.

The show opened with Molly on the Shore, a Percy Aldridge Grainger piece. I did a little research on Grainger, and I’d like to do more because he sounds like quite the character, simultaneously engaging and repelling.  If what I’ve read is true, he was not the most politically correct composer, in fact, some would consider him “merely” a glorified arranger.  This could be said of Molly at the Shore with its mingled Irish reels but for the genuinely unique result — a melody that twists, interrupting itself oddly.  In my opinion, the key to interpreting this piece is that it must remain at all costs, danceable. This is a piece I would like to hear again because “You just can’t have too many clarinets!” as my middle school band teacher, Cynthia Snyder, was fond of saying.

The second chamber group to perform was our Young Artist Piano Quartet. They played the Brahms Quartet in G Minor which I had heard earlier in the week in Geiringer Hall during a master class with Sunny Yang of the Kronos Quartet. I wrote about it here. I can honestly say that Brahms sounds much better in the larger Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall.

The last of the UCSB Chamber Players treated us to Ferenc Farkas’ Early Hungarian Dances. Individual dances in each of five short movements build the intensity.  Each player was given an opportunity to showcase his or her skills, reminding all of us that matching players with pieces is probably an extremely challenging task.  Flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon are warmly suited to bring us these fireside dances that defy the encroaching winter.

After a brief intermission, the Chamber Orchestra took the stage. I’m  a little biased here because I was sitting up there in front of a section of violins, but I think our Overture to Candide was very well received. Then, as the strings took over, playing Mozart’s Salzburg Symphony No. 2, I felt the audience tighten their attention, hopefully appreciating our nuances and even bowing.

Then it was time to regroup with our woodwinds, percussion, and brass to play Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G Major. I’ll be honest, it is a complex piece by any measure. A violinist burns about 170 calories per hour if you trust a consensus of random web sites. Last night, I’m estimating that number was closer to 300.  “A lesser orchestra might have crumbled”, I whisper to myself.

The piece is sometimes described as “pastoral”.  I guess that’s true if the cows are blowing around in a fifty mile-per-hour gale and the grass has been trampled twice over.  Or maybe we just played it a little faster than most, you know, because we can.

It’s a shame that our attendance was a little lower than usual —  I think maybe Thanksgiving is coming too fast this year and people are busy.  Speaking of thanks, Karen Yeh and Brent Wilson have done an admirable job bringing our newest students into the fold.  I’m looking forward to great things for our winter and spring concerts.

 
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