Electrifying performances, fearless interpretations, and musical depth have established violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg as one of the leading violinists of our time. She is joined by the consummate artist and extraordinary pianist Anne-Marie McDermott Franck's passionate Sonata for Violin and Piano. The second half of this recital will feature a rare treat: Chausson’s Concerto for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet featuring The Parker Quartet, 2011 Grammy Award Winner for Best Chamber Music Performance.
About the sponsor
THE HELEN COPLAN HARRISON CONCERT
This concert was established in 2002 as a gift in honor of longtime Shriver Hall Concert Series Board member Dr. Helen Harrison from her sons Dr. Stephen Harrison and Dr. Richard Harrison and their families. Helen Harrison joined the Shriver Hall Concert Series Board of Directors in November 1973
at the behest of founding President Ernst Bueding. She in turn was responsible for bringing many new members to the Board including current Board President Jephta Drachman and Vice President Harriet Panitz. Dr. Harrison served as an active and influential member of the Board until 2001. As a scientist, Dr. Harrison shared the prestigious Howland Prize with her husband Dr. Harold Harrison for research done at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The Reiko T. and Yuan C. Lee Fund for Outstanding String Performers
Drs. Reiko T. and Yuan C. (‘Ed’) Lee, faculty in The Johns Hopkins University Department of Biology, made in 2005 a significant endowment to create The Reiko T. and Yuan C. Lee Fund for Outstanding String Performers. This fund supports concerts by the world’s greatest string players. The first concert supported by this gift was the 2005-2006 appearance by Pinchas Zukerman and was dedicated to Reiko’s father, Tomotake Takasaka, one of the first musicians to bring western music to Taiwan.
Biochemists and amateur string players, the Lees have been subscribers since the Series’ first year. It was Reiko’s father, Professor of Agricultural Engineering at National Taiwan University and an avid self-taught amateur string player, who initially enticed Reiko into playing violin and put the same energy into promoting student musical activities and amateur musicianship. He held weekly gatherings of chamber music lovers at his home, and it was at one of these that Reiko and Ed, playing viola, met. They came to the U.S. in 1958, earning their PhDs in biochemistry at the University of Iowa. After three years at UC Berkeley, they arrived in Baltimore in 1965 to start their Hopkins—and Shriver Hall Concert Series—careers.
Electrifying performances, fearless interpretations, and musical depth have established Salerno-Sonnenberg as one of the leading violinists of our time. Her professional career began in 1981 when she won the Walter W. Naumburg International Violin Competition. In 1983, she was recognized with an Avery Fisher Career Grant and in 1988 was Ovations Debut Recording Artist of the Year. In 1999, she was honored with the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize, awarded to instrumentalists who have demonstrated "outstanding achievement and excellence in music." In May of that year, Salerno-Sonnenberg was awarded an honorary Masters of Musical Arts from the New Mexico State University, the first honorary degree the University has ever awarded. Now an American citizen, she was born in Rome and emigrated to the United States at the age of eight to study at The Curtis Institute of Music. She later studied with Dorothy DeLay at The Juilliard School.
An innovative artist, Salerno-Sonnenberg’s daring, dedication, and enthusiasm have resulted in her becoming an internationally renowned violinist, acclaimed for her work on the concert stage, in the recording studio, and in her role as Music Director of the San Francisco-based New Century Chamber Orchestra. She continues to divide her time between solo and chamber performances. In 2011-12, she appeared as soloist with the Minnesota, Philadelphia, National, Seattle, Vancouver, Oregon, and Baltimore Symphony orchestras and with the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Japan. Duo recitals with pianist Anne-Marie McDermott include performances in Colorado, Indiana, Illinois, and California. Following the success of their first US tour together last season, she led the New Century Chamber Orchestra on an East Coast Tour as part of the 19-member string orchestra’s 20th Anniversary season.
Salerno-Sonnenberg's exceptional artistry, paired with great musical intelligence and a unique personality, has served her well in numerous environments—on-camera in a commercial, hosting a ‘Backstage/Live from Lincoln Center,’ appearing in the PBS/BBC series The Mind, talking to Big Bird on Sesame Street. She was the subject of the 2000 Academy Award-nominated film, Speaking in Strings, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and released in theaters nationwide and subsequently premiered on HBO's Signatures channel in 1999. Salerno-Sonnenberg has also been interviewed and profiled on CBS' 60 Minutes, 60 Minutes II, and Sunday Morning; CNN's Newsstand; NBC's National News and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson; A & E's Artist of the Week with Elliot Forrest; Bravo's Arts & Minds and The Art of Influence; PBS' Live from Lincoln Center, The Charlie Rose Show, and City Arts.
A powerful and creative presence on the recording scene, Salerno-Sonnenberg continues to enrich the collection of her NSS Music label, which she started in 2005 and boasts a long list of eminent artists. She has released two records for NSS MUSIC—a 2010 live recording of Strauss’s Metamorphosen, Barber’s Adagio for Strings, and the Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and the other, Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, Gershwin’s “Bess You is My Woman Now” from Porgy and Bess, arranged for string orchestra, both with her as soloist with the New Century Chamber Orchestra.
For more than twenty-five years, McDermott has played concertos, recitals, and chamber music in hundreds of cities throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. A testimony to her stature and curatorial imagination, she was made Artistic Director of the Vail Music Festival in 2011. She is also Artistic Director of the Florida Ocean Reef Chamber Music Festival and The Avila Chamber Music Celebration in Curacao. Most recently, she was appointed Curator for Chamber Music at the Mainly Mozart Festival in San Diego. She was a winner of the Young Concert Artists auditions and was awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant.
The breadth of McDermott's repertoire matches that of her instrument—from Bach, Haydn, and Beethoven to Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, and Scriabin to works by today’s most influential composers, including Charles Wuorinen, whose last solo piano sonata was written for her and premiered at New York's Town Hall. As a soloist, she has recorded the complete Prokofiev Piano Sonatas, Bach English Suites and Partitas, named Gramophone magazine’s Editor’s Choice), and Gershwin’s Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra. Her solo disc of Chopin’s works was released in 2011.
McDermott has performed with all of the leading American orchestras and with the Moscow Virtuosi, Hong Kong Philharmonic, and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. A highlight of 2011 was her performance of Bernstein's Age of Anxiety at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. She was named an artist member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in 1995. She continues a long standing collaboration with the highly acclaimed Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg. As a duo, they have released a CD titled “Live” on the NSS label and plan to release the Complete Brahms Violin and Piano Sonatas. McDermott is also a member of the renowned Opus One piano quartet with colleagues Ida Kavafian, Steven Tenenbom, and Peter Wiley. She continues to perform each season with her sisters, Maureen McDermott and Kerry McDermott in the McDermott Trio.
The Parker Quartet
Daniel Chong, violin
Karen Kim, violin
Jessica Bodner, viola
Kee-Hyun Kim, cello
Hailed by The New York Times as “something extraordinary,” the Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet has rapidly distinguished itself as one of the preeminent ensembles of its generation. It began its professional touring career in 2002 and garnered international acclaim in 2005, winning the Concert Artists Guild Competition as well as the Grand Prix and Mozart Prize at the Bordeaux International String Quartet Competition in France. In 2009, Chamber Music America awarded the quartet the prestigious biennial Cleveland Quartet Award for the 2009-2011 seasons.
Performance highlights of the quartet’s 2011-12 season included a European tour, with appearances in London, Marburg, and Oberäu, Concerts Classiques d’Épinal, Amherst College, Carnegie Hall, the Eastman School of Music, San Francisco State University, and UCLA. This season, the Quartet is partner with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in ‘All Hearts Listen,’ a six-performance concert series in the Twin Cities. The Quartet’s Ligeti recording won the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance.
The Parker Quartet has been profiled in Time Out NY, The Boston Globe, Chamber Music Magazine, and on Musical America.com for its pioneering performances for audiences in non-traditional venues. In addition to concerts in bars and clubs nationwide, the ensemble was the first String Quartet-in-Residence at Barbès Bar and Performance Space in New York in 2007. The residency embraced a series of concerts with jazz, folk, and world music artists. The Quartet served as Quartet-in-Residence with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra from 2008 through 2010 and was the first-ever Artists-in-Residence with Minnesota Public Radio for the 2009-2010 season. This year, it will be in residence at the University of Minnesota, working throughout the year with chamber music students. The Quartet members will also teach instrumental lessons at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.
César Franck (1822–1890)
Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano, M 8
- I. Allegretto ben moderato
- II. Allegro
- III. Recitative-Fantasia
- IV. Allegretto poco mosso
Though he enjoyed a long career as one of the Paris Conservatoire's most remarkable teachers as well as a pre-eminent organist, César Franck was largely ignored by the French musical establishment during his lifetime. His Belgian birth contributed to his outsider status; in order to become the Conservatoire's professor of organ in 1871 he had to take French citizenship. Moreover, Franck was a gentle, unworldly man—serious, sincere, and fervently Catholic—and thus was poorly equipped to deal with the highly politicized Parisian musical scene in the second half of the 19th century. But if he was unable or unwilling to fight for recognition, his devoted pupils— among them men soon to become famous themselves, Vincent d'Indy, Henri Duparc, Paul Dukas, and Ernest Chausson—were eager to proclaim his greatness. To them, he was almost a living saint—"Pater seraphicus" they called him—and Beethoven's true heir. Their proselytizing and the strength of his late works made him famous within a few years of his death in 1890.
A late-bloomer as a composer, Franck created all the works for which he is remembered today during the last decade-and-a-half of his life, including his famous Symphony in D Minor and the exquisite Violin Sonata we’ll hear this evening. It was written during the summer of 1886 as a wedding present for Franck’s countryman Eugène Ysaye, one of the legendary violin virtuosos of the 19th century. Premiered by Ysaye in Brussels on December 16, 1886, it was a success from the beginning and ranks today as one of the most popular of all violin sonatas, as well as one of the masterpieces of the French chamber music repertoire.
Like Franz Liszt, Franck gravitated in many of his works to a compositional approach known as “cyclical form.” This technique introduces a basic melodic idea or theme, also known as a “motto,” at the beginning of the piece and then transforms it into related melodies (Franck referred to them as “cousins”) recurring throughout the work. In the Sonata, the motto idea is a simple rocking up-and-down on the interval of a third, which the violin sings as it enters.
Sounding more like an inner movement than a traditional opening movement, the lovely, quizzical first movement, rocking gently in 9/8 time, creates an original, understated beginning. It is also unusual in that it mostly evades the home key of A Major, opting instead for an ambiguous tonality. On its entrance, the violin introduces the rocking motto idea and expands it into a beguiling melody. The piano presents the rhapsodic descending second theme, but the violin always prefers to shift back to its opening melody. Without any development, all this music reprises, with the violin’s melody rising to passionate heights. The movement closes with a wonderful last phrase for the violin, with dark harmonic shading and a poignant fade-out.
If the tone of the first movement was surprising, the bold and energetic second movement in D Minor is a perfect example of a first-movement sonata allegro form. It explodes with passionate fervor, with the piano introducing a stormy principal theme marked by off-the-beat phrasing and turbulent chromaticism. This surges right into the second theme, led by the violin: a new version of the rocking motto idea urged-on by the impetuous piano accompaniment. The tempo finally slows and the volume drops for the movement’s most remarkable passage, in which the violin sings a hauntingly melancholy melody, rising and falling in great sweeps over a wide range. A brief but highly dramatic development section flows directly into the recapitulation with the violin now carrying the stormy principal theme. Though the slow, haunting passage returns, the movement ends in bravura fireworks.
To open the free-form Recitativo-Fantasia, the piano returns to the rocking motto idea, now in pensive chords. The violin responds with a flowing, improvisatory recitative mimicking an operatic soprano in full cry. Midway through this movement over the piano’s caressing arpeggios, the violin introduces a pair of new melodies that will also play important roles in the finale. The gentle first one stretches the motto’s rising third interval to a fourth while the second is much more dramatic with the violin plunging downward before soaring heroically upward. This music grows very impassioned before the movement closes softly and moodily in F-sharp Minor.
With its sweetly appealing melody sung by the piano and violin in canon, the finale is one of the most beloved movements ever written for these two instruments. This theme appears over and over, always in different keys, as the refrain of this sonata-rondo form. The first episode brings back the gentle theme from movement three in the piano while the violin swirls freely above; later it reappears in the violin. During the middle development episode, its heroic partner theme also returns, played with great power by the violin. Ultimately, though, it is the sweetly singing canon that carries the movement to its passionate, heartwarming conclusion.
Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2012
Ernest Chausson (1855-1899)
Concerto for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet in D Major, Op. 21
- I. Decide - Anime
- II. Sicilienne – Pas Vite
- III. Grave
- IV. Tres anime
Born into a wealthy French family, Ernest Chausson would never have needed to work a day in his life. But after earning two law degrees, he chose to devote his life to composing, painstakingly learning his craft under César Franck. Greater inspiration came from the artistic salons he frequented or hosted at his Parisian townhouse. He was a friend of Debussy and with him joined the circle of Symbolist poets under the tutelage of Mallarmé. Chausson was also an art connoisseur, and major works by Degas, Renoir, Manet, Corot, and Gauguin adorned the walls of his home, while many of those painters along with the sculptor Rodin and Paris’ leading musicians were regular visitors.
Chausson was beloved for his calm disposition and generosity, but privately he nursed a morbid lack of confidence, fearful that because of his wealth, people would dismiss him as an amateur. Sadly, this dark strain in his personality proved to be prophetic: at forty-four, he was killed in a freak bicycle accident just as he was reaching his height as a composer.
Like many Frenchman of his era, Chausson fell for many years under the spell of Wagner and visited Bayreuth several times. Yet by the late 1880s when he began composing his unusual Concert for Piano, Violin, and String Quartet, he was trying to shake-off the influence of “the red spectre of Wagner which does not let me go” and turning to the French Baroque composers Couperin and Rameau for a purer, more classical, and more “French” style.
Even the use of the word “concert” for this work was borrowed from Couperin. Though it uses six players, it is definitely not a sextet, for the members of the ensemble are treated differently. The piano and solo violin take the lead throughout in music that is highly virtuosic in conception; Chausson described their roles as “projections against the quartet background.” The Concert reflects a sometimes conflicting mixture of influences—Wagnerian chromaticism and endless, unrestrained melody vs. a French sensibility for instrumental and harmonic color and rhythmic bite.
Chausson was always a slow and meticulous creator, and he spent two years, 1889 to 1891, crafting this work. Its inspiration and dedicatee was the great Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, who premiered it with his quartet in Brussels on March 4, 1892. Giving-in to his habitual pessimism, Chausson had dismissed the work as a “failure” after completing it; in fact, it was rapturously received at its premiere and at its subsequent introduction in Paris. The surprised composer allowed himself a moment of rejoicing. “Never have I had such a great success,” he wrote Ysaÿe. “I scarcely know myself since my return from Brussels. I have never been so lighthearted and happy, and I cannot think of you all without emotion.”
Following the cyclical form favored by Chausson’s mentor Franck, the expansive first movement all flows from a motto of three stentorian chords proclaimed in octaves by the piano. The quartet immediately turns them into a melancholy theme, and when the solo violin enters, it further expands this into soaring song, colored by the chromaticism Chausson had adopted from Wagner. A calm transition in the piano leads to the second theme, a yearning, sumptuously lyrical melody carried by the solo violin above the quartet and the piano’s lavish arpeggios. At the movement’s midpoint, the three-chord motto makes a strong return and ushers in a new variant of the opening theme led by the piano and eventually the solo violin and concluding in a brief cadenza. A recapitulation of the motto’s original melody by the piano and violin is saluted by uprushing scales in the quartet; it also includes a return of the second theme, now more ecstatic than before. A quietly beautiful coda sends the violin up to a floating high D as the piano and quartet murmur the motto.
After the Wagnerian lushness of the first movement, the second is all French delicacy with the Italian touch that is a rocking Sicilienne in A Minor inspired by that pastoral dance style. Here Chausson achieves his perfect balance between the three performing components with the quartet’s solo violin sometimes soaring above and taking-over the melody from the solo violin. Adélaïde de Place numbers it among the composer’s most beautiful pages.
Over the chromatically creeping line of the piano, the solo violin leads off the Grave third movement with a lamenting F-Minor melody, slowly rocking with inner pain. The quartet assents to this mood with solemn chords, then the violin and quartet launch a slightly more animated theme over the piano’s extravagant arpeggios; this, in fact, is a variation of the motto theme from movement one. Chausson eventually transforms it into a loud, passionate declaration by all the instruments before returning to the opening lament, now also loud and protesting. Over the piano’s chromatic creeping, the music fades away in exhaustion at the top of the strings.
The Très animé finale is a grand reminiscence of themes we’ve heard before, here in new guises. The piano opens with a lively theme of syncopated rhythms. It also proposes a more relaxed ascending theme shared with the solo violin. The violin then carries this into a more lyrical and less anguished variant of the third movement’s lamenting theme. A virtuoso return of the syncopated theme also brings back the work’s solemn motto theme in the quartet’s viola and cello. The violin and quartet cry-out the third movement’s motto-based second theme as well. The rush to the finish line is a whirlwind of virtuosity not only for the piano and violin but also for the quartet, offering one final proclamation of the motto theme.
Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2012