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Frequent collaborators Shai Wosner and Jennifer Koh join their thoughtful musicality and adventurous spirit in a pair of Beethoven works. Opening with the genial, early sonata in D major, the program closes with his monumental "Kreutzer" Sonata. Bookended by the Beethoven is a new work by Grammy-nominee Vijay Iyer.

Please note that this concert will take place at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. Learn more here.

"…the combination of Wosner's silky elegance and Koh's more extroverted musical demeanor in the 'Kreutzer' Sonata made a wondrous combination." —San Francisco Chronicle

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    Jennifer Koh

    Jennifer Koh is recognized for intense, commanding performances, delivered with dazzling virtuosity and technical assurance. A forward-thinking artist, she is dedicated to exploring a broad and eclectic repertoire while promoting diversity and inclusivity in classical music. She has expanded the violin repertoire through a wide range of commissioning projects, and has premiered more than 70 works written especially for her. Her quest for the new and unusual, sense of endless curiosity, and ability to lead and inspire a host of multidisciplinary collaborators, truly set her apart.

    During the 2018-19 season, Koh continues critically acclaimed series from past seasons, including The New American Concerto, Limitless, Bach and Beyond, Shared Madness, and Bridge to Beethoven. The New American Concerto is an ongoing, multi-season commissioning project that explores the form of the violin concerto and its potential for artistic engagement with contemporary societal concerns through commissions from a diverse collective of composers. Two concertos have thus far been premiered as part of the project: Vijay Iyer’s Trouble (2017) and Christopher Cerrone’s Breaks and Breaks (2017). This season she performs Trouble with the Louisiana Philharmonic and Vermont Symphony orchestras. She also performs a broad range of concertos that reflects the breadth of her musical interests, from traditional repertoire to music of this millennium with ensembles such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Camerata Salzburg, and Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.

    In duo and solo appearances, Koh performs music from Limitless, which engages composer-performers to write duo works that explore the relationship between composer and performer, with pianist-composer Vijay Iyer and percussionist-composer Tyshawn Sorey; she joins pianist Shai Wosner in Bridge to Beethoven, which pairs Beethoven’s violin sonatas with new works inspired by them; she also performs Bach and Beyond, which traces the history of the solo violin repertoire from Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas to 20th- and 21st-century composers, and performs Shared Madness, a program of short works that explore virtuosity in the 21st century, commissioned from more than 30 composers. Shared Madness performances and interviews between Koh and the composers are available on demand via WQXR’s streamed New Sounds channel.

    Koh is active not only in the concert hall, but also as a lecturer, teacher, and recording artist. She has residencies this season at Cornell and Tulane universities, during which she will perform, give master classes, and speak on topics from diversity to contemporary composition. Her album of works by Kaija Saariaho, whom she has long championed and closely collaborated, is released by Cedille Records in November 2018.

    Koh was named Musical America’s 2016 Instrumentalist of the Year, and won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Concert Artists Guild Competition, and an Avery Fisher Career Grant. She has a BA in English literature from Oberlin College and studied at the Curtis Institute, where she worked extensively with Jaime Laredo and Felix Galimir. She is the artistic director of arco collaborative, an artist-driven nonprofit that fosters a better understanding of our world through a musical dialogue inspired by ideas and the communities around us.

    Koh’s website is jenniferkoh.com.

    "The performance was first-rate, with both musicians giving their all. Ms. Koh  dispatched the bravura passages as if they were child's play." —The Wall Street Journal

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    Shai Wosner

    Pianist Shai Wosner has attracted international recognition for his exceptional artistry, musical integrity, and creative insight. His performances of a broad range of repertoire—from Beethoven and Schubert to Ligeti and the music of today—reflect a degree of virtuosity and intellectual curiosity that has made him a favorite among audiences and critics, who note his “keen musical mind and deep musical soul” (NPR).

    Highlights of his 2018-19 season include recitals in St. Paul and Krün, Germany, featuring repertoire from his latest recording, Impromptu (Onyx Classics; 2017), which explores the subtle connections within an eclectic mix of improvisationally inspired works by composers from Schubert to Ives. He also continues his career-long, critically acclaimed engagement with Schubert’s music in Schubert: The Great Sonatas, a recital series comprising the composer’s final sonatas, which he describes as “six thick novels, rich with insight about the human condition,” with performances in Berkeley, Berlin, Buffalo, and Fresno. He performs Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 with the Detroit and Toronto Symphony orchestras, Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, and Schumann’s Piano Concerto with the Alabama and Wichita Falls symphonies. Wosner’s chamber music performances include a six-city U.S. tour with pianist Orion Weiss during which they perform music by David Lang, Schubert, and Brahms, and collaborations with Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society, New York Philharmonic musicians, and violinist Jennifer Koh in a continuation of their Bridge to Beethoven series.

    In addition to Impromptu, Wosner’s recordings for Onyx include concertos and capriccios by Haydn and Ligeti with the Danish National Symphony conducted by Nicholas Collon; solo works by Brahms and Schoenberg; works by Schubert, both on a solo recording and paired with new commissions from Missy Mazzoli; and Beethoven’s complete works for cello and piano with Ralph Kirshbaum. He also performs Bartók, Janáček, and Kurtág on a recording with Jennifer Koh for Cedille Records.

    In the U.S., he has appeared with the orchestras of Atlanta, Baltimore, Berkeley, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco, as well as the St. Paul and Los Angeles Chamber orchestras. He has also performed with the Barcelona, Bournemouth, Frankfurt Radio, and Gothenburg symphonies; the London Symphony, St. Luke’s, and National Arts Centre orchestras; Nieuw Sinfonietta Amsterdam, Orchestre National de Belgique, Staatskapelle Berlin, and the Vienna Philharmonic, among others.

    Wosner is a recipient of Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal Award, an Avery Fisher Career Grant, and a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award—a prize he used to commission Michael Hersch’s concerto Along the Ravines, which he performed with the Seattle Symphony and Deutsche Radio Philharmonie. He was in residence with the BBC as a New Generation Artist and is a former member of Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society Two. For several summers, he was involved in the West-Eastern Divan Workshop led by Daniel Barenboim, touring as soloist.

    Born in Israel, Wosner studied piano with Opher Brayer and Emanuel Krasovsky, as well as composition, theory, and improvisation with André Hajdu, and at The Juilliard School with Emanuel Ax.

    Wosner’s website is shaiwosner.com.

    "In the performance of the 'Kreutzer,' Mr. Wosner's intelligent phrasing and singing tone were a real asset." —The Wall Street Journal

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Sonata for Violin and Piano in D major, Op. 12, No. 1

View Notes

Beethoven arrived in Vienna in November 1792 at the age of 21, and he would remain there for the rest of his life. Beethoven quickly made a reputation for his piano-playing, but he wanted to be a composer, and that took time. Mozart appears almost to have been born with an instinctive understanding of sonata form, but it took Beethoven nearly a decade of hard work to master the Classical forms Haydn and Mozart had brought to a high level of expression before him. In his adopted city, Beethoven studied with Haydn, Albrecht-sberger, and Salieri. He published a set of three piano trios in 1795, followed by piano sonatas and cello sonatas, and then began a set of six string quartets. In 1797-98 he composed three violin sonatas, which Artaria published in 1799 as Beethoven’s Op. 12.

In that era it was expected that professional musicians would play both a keyboard and a stringed instrument. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven (and later Schubert, Mendelssohn, Dvořák, and Richard Strauss) all played both the violin and piano, and so when Beethoven wrote his first violin sonatas, he was writing for two instruments he understood very well. His model in these first efforts was inevitably the violin sonatas of Mozart, also a pianist and violinist who wrote beautifully for both instruments. Mozart’s sonatas—which that composer sometimes titled “keyboard sonatas with the accompaniment of violin”—were very much part of musical life in Vienna at that time, and Beethoven adopted the general form of Mozart’s late violin sonatas: a sonata-form first movement, a slow movement that might be in variation form, and a fast finale that was often a rondo.

Two centuries later, Beethoven’s first violin sonatas do not strike us as unusually distinctive music—they sound like the work of an immensely talented young composer learning to make the form his own. To his contemporaries, however, these sonatas seemed to have come from a different planet. An early reviewer was flattened by them, writing of them:

After having arduously worked his [the reviewer’s] way through these quite peculiar sonatas, overladen with strange difficulties, he must admit that . . . he felt like a man who had thought he was going to promenade with an ingenious friend through an inviting forest, was detained every moment by hostile entanglements, and finally emerged, weary, exhausted, and without enjoyment. It is undeni­able that Herr van Beethoven goes his own way. But what a bizarre, laborious way! Studied, studied, and perpetually studied, and no nature, no song. Indeed . . . there is only a mass of learning here, without good method. There is obstinacy for which we feel little interest, a striving for rare modu­lations . . . a piling on of difficulty upon difficulty, so that one loses all patience and enjoyment.

It is easy to smile at such early reactions, but listening to the very beginning of Beethoven’s Sonata in D Major, one can understand that reviewer’s concerns: far from offering us “nature” or “song,” the opening of this sonata seems to explode in a shower of rockets going off in every direction. The first movement is marked Allegro con brio, with the emphasis on the con brio: this is spirited music, full of busy energy and explosive chords. A flowing second subject seems to promise relief, but the principal impression here is of energy boiling up off the page and of unexpected modulations: Beethoven sets the development in F major and changes the key signature to be sure that we don’t miss that. After a busy development full of rapid exchanges between the instruments, the movement returns to D major and rushes to its conclusion on the same massive chord with which it began.

The second movement, marked Andante con moto and set in A major, is in variation form. After the hyperactive first movement it brings a measure of calm—at least at first. The piano introduces the gentle eight-mea­sure theme, which is then repeated by the violin. Four variations follow: the first is for piano accompanied by violin, the second for violin with a complex piano accompaniment, the third moves into A minor and turns tem­pestuous, and the fourth is built on quiet syn­copations. A delicate coda draws the move­ment to its close. The energetic finale, marked simply Allegro, is a rondo in 6/8 whose central theme is energized by synco­pated accents; this is buoyant music, full of subordinate episodes and piquant pauses. Beethoven teases the audience nicely just before the end.

Note by Eric Bromberger, © 2018

Vijay Iyer (b. 1971)

"Bridgetower Fantasy" for Violin and Piano (Baltimore premiere)

View Notes

Jazz pianist, theoretician, composer, teacher, writer—Vijay Iyer is a musician of spectacularly varied interests. Iyer studied violin as a boy and eventually taught himself to play the piano. After majoring in mathematics and physics at Yale, he went to U.C. Berkeley for graduate study, originally intending to study physics, but he combined his scientific background with his passion for music and earned his Ph.D. in the cognitive science of music. Iyer was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2013, and the following year he joined the faculty at Harvard, where he is currently the Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts. Iyer is a Grammy-nominated jazz pianist, having released 22 albums, and he was named DownBeat magazine’s Artist of the Year in 2012, 2015, and 2016. Iyer’s musical vision is expansive enough that he does not limit himself to one kind of music. In addition to jazz and electronic music, he has written for and collaborated with such groups as the Brentano String Quartet, American Composers Orchestra, Brooklyn Rider, ICE, Silk Road Ensemble, Imani Winds, and Bang on a Can All-Stars.

The composer has provided an introduction to his Bridgetower Fantasy:

“The 'Kreutzer' Sonata was origi­nally dedicated not to Rodolphe Kreutzer (who never performed it), but to George Bridgetower, a famed 18th-century Afro-Europe­an concert violinist. [Ed.—Please see program note for 'Kreutzer' Sonata for more information on George Bridgetower.] In an early draft, Beethoven jokingly labeled the piece in starkly racialized terms: 'Sonata Mulattica com­posed for the mulatto Brischdau­er, big wild mulatto composer.'

Beethoven and Bridgetower per­formed the premiere, which was by all accounts a success, even featuring some improvised em­bellishments by the violinist. While celebrating afterwards, the two quarreled about what Beetho­ven construed as Bridgetower’s insult of a female acquaintance; the composer then revoked the original dedication, adding Kreu­tzer’s name instead. The work gained acclaim, while Bridgetow­er’s career languished; he eventu­ally died in poverty.

Bridgetower has been the subject of considerable research and spec­ulation, most notably in poet Rita Dove’s book, Sonata Mulattica. From our 21st-century vantage, considering Bridgetower’s unique circumstance, we can only see him as an ambiguous figure who, in embodying difference, provoked inspiration, fantasy, desire, anger, and finally, erasure.

My piece is a collection of imagin­ings about George Bridgetower. It is not programmatic, but it takes on an episodic character, assem­bled from contrasting fragments. The dance rhythms, recurring figures, and gestural contours are intended to feature the embod­ied expertise and expressivity of the performers, who at times must access liminal sounds and execute complex synchronies. I am grateful to Jenny and Shai for involving me in their beautiful, virtuosic music-making.”

Note by Eric Bromberger, © 2018

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major, Op. 47, "Kreutzer"

View Notes

By 1802, Beethoven was beginning to get restless. He had already composed two symphonies, three piano concertos, a set of six string quartets, and numerous sonatas for piano, for violin, and for cello. These had all been acclaimed in Vienna, but in that same year Beethoven wrote to his friend Werner Krumpholz: “I’m not satisfied with what I’ve composed up to now. From now on I intend to embark on a new path.” That “new path” would become clear late in 1803 with the composition of the “Eroica” Symphony. That work revolutionized music—it engaged the most serious issues, and in music of unparalleled drama and scope it resolved them.

But even before the “Eroica,” there were indications of Beethoven’s “new path.” Early in 1803 the composer met the violinist George Polgreen Bridgetower (1778-1860). Bridgetower, then 25, was the son of a West Indian father and European mother. He had played in the orchestra for Haydn’s concerts in London a decade earlier and was now establishing himself as a touring virtuoso on the continent. Bridgetower and Beethoven quickly became friends, and when the violinist proposed a joint concert at which they would perform a new sonata, the composer agreed. But, as was often the case, Beethoven found himself pressed for time. He made the process easier by retrieving a final movement that he had written for a violin sonata the previous year and then discarded. Now, in effect working backwards, he rushed to get the first two movements done in time for the scheduled concert on May 22. He didn’t make it. The concert had to be postponed two days, and even then Beethoven barely got it done: he summoned his copyist at 4:30 that morning to begin copying a part for him, and at the concert he and Bridgetower had to perform some of the music from Beethoven’s manuscript; the piano part for the first movement was still in such fragmentary form that Beethoven was probably playing some of it just from sketches.

As soon as he completed this sonata, Beethoven set to work on the “Eroica,” which would occupy him for the next six months. While the sonata does not engage the heroic issues of the first movement of that symphony, it has something of the Eroica’s slashing power and vast scope. Beethoven was well aware of this and warned performers that the sonata was “written in a very concertante style, quasi-concerto-like.” From the first instant, one senses that this is music conceived on a grand scale. The sonata opens with a slow introduction (the only one in Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas), a cadenza-like entrance for the violin alone. The piano makes a similarly dramatic entrance, and gradually the two instruments outline the interval of a rising second (E to F#). At the Presto, that interval collapses into a half-step, the movement jumps into A minor, and the music whips ahead. Beethoven provides a chorale-like second subject marked dolce, but this island of calm makes only the briefest of returns in the course of this furious movement. The burning energy of that Presto opening is never far off: the music rips along an almost machine-gun-like patter of eighth notes, and after a hyperactive development, the movement drives to its abrupt cadence.

Relief comes in the Andante con Variazioni. The piano introduces the melody, amiable but already fairly complex; the violin repeats it; and the two instruments briefly extend it. There follow four lengthy and highly elaborated variations, and while the gentle mood of the fundamental theme is never violated, these variations demand some complex and demanding playing. For all its complexities, this is a lovely movement, and Beethoven and Bridgetower had encored it at the premiere.

The final movement opens with a bang—a stark A-major chord—and off the music goes. Beethoven had composed this movement, a tarantella, a year earlier, intending that it should be the finale of his Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 30, No. 1. But he pulled it out and wrote a new finale for the earlier sonata, and that was a wise decision: this fiery finale would have overpowered that gentle sonata. Here, it dances with a furious energy that makes it a worthy counterpart to the first movement. At several points, Beethoven moves out of the driving 6/8 tarantella meter and offers brief interludes in 2/4. These stately, reserved moments bring the only relief in a movement that overflows with seething energy, becoming the perfect conclusion to one of the most powerful pieces of chamber music ever written.

Beethoven was so taken with Bridgetower’s playing that he initially dedicated the sonata to him, and it is a measure of the playful relations between the two that Beethoven inscribed the manuscript to the violinist: “Sonata Mulattica composed for the mulatto Brischdauer, big wild mulatto composer.” And so we might know this music today as the “Bridgetower” Sonata but for the fact that the composer and the violinist quarreled, apparently over a remark that Bridgetower made about a woman Beethoven knew. The two eventually made up, but in the meantime Beethoven had re-dedicated the sonata to the French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, and so we know it today as the “Kreutzer” Sonata. Ironically, Kreutzer did not like this music—Berlioz reported that “the celebrated violinist could never bring himself to play this outrageously incomprehensible composition.”

Note by Eric Bromberger, © 2018

Program Subject to Change Without Notice