May 2011

Catching Up With...Everyone...

May 23, 2011 19:46

Wow....what a year. The 2010/2011 concert season is rapidly coming to an end, and all of our thoughts are turning to summer adventures and plans. This has to have been one of the busiest seasons that I have ever had, one for which I am truly grateful, and as I sit I find myself anxious to share some of the events that were highlights for me as well as those of the friends and colleagues about whom I've written over the past few years.

To have heard SO many great violinists and musicians in one season - granted, this was parceled out over FOUR orchestras (?!) - beginning with Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Odin Rathnam, who I heard twice, playing the Korngold Concerto in January, followed by the Brahms Violin Concerto less than two weeks ago. Odin is undoubtedly a musician's musician and (if I may quote HIM) one of the true torchbearers of the craft of violin playing and musicmaking. It was also a great pleasure to hear Dylana Jenson for the second time - should you have an opportunity to hear either Dylana or Odin, DO SO! There was also Midori, the young in years yet seasoned performer Alexandra Switala, and Roanoke Symphony concertmaster Akemi Takayama in a brilliant performance of Astor Piazzolla's Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

One violinist that I unfortunately did not get to hear was my very good friend Sarah Shellman, principal second violinist of the Florida Orchestra, who performed Thomas Ades' ferocious Concentric Paths in March of this year.

Many of my friends who live on the western coast of Florida have been making strides: the duo NONA (Nadine Trudel, cello and Gil Katz, bass), colleagues and friends from the Utah Festival Opera, had a banner year: in addition to performing as soloists in the premier of Katz' "TRIBAL" with the San Jose Chamber Orchestra, they have recently released their debut album and are currently touring the northeastern United States.

As we honor our colleagues, we must also take special care to honor those who have gone before, who in many ways shaped us and opened our doors, minds, and hearts: our teachers. In February of this year, Kenneth Goldsmith of Rice University's Shepherd School of Music was named Texas ASTA Teacher of the Year, and Jorja Fleezanis, Henry A. Upper Chair in Orchestral Studies at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, recently received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the New England Conservatory of Music.

All of us associated with the Shepherd School of Music - and numerous others worldwide - have since December 2010 been paying our respects in various ways to Sergiu Luca, a giant of the violin and musicmaking who had a profound influence both on the thousands of violinists who were fortunate to study with him (including my very dear friend Zhang Zhang, president and founder of Zhang.O.Musiq), countless others who were exposed to his musicmaking and the many people who were honored to share the stage with him. It is difficult for me to find words with which to speak of Mr. Luca: I remember him vividly from my three years at Rice and especially remember his electrifying performances of Bach, Mozart and Bartok, the unfailing devotion to his students (and the reciprocation of that devotion by his class), his genuine kindness and interest in those who glimmered with musical curiosity, and the great reverence with which he was viewed by his peers. While I was not a member of his class, I do feel honored to have had three years during which I could watch him and learn both from him and the work done by his students.

While remembering those lost, it is important here to speak of the terrible natural disasters that have gripped our planet this year, specifically that in Japan. As with Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake, the outpouring of support to our fellow men has been deeply inspiring. Violist Robin Fay Massie, associate principal violist of the Delaware Symphony, founded the non-profit collective Musicians of Mercy in response to the disaster in Haiti, and to this date the organization has held successful benefit concerts for organizations providing relief to the nation of Haiti, Youth Frontiers, the Gay Lesbian Straight Educators Network (GLSEN), and will present a concert this Wednesday, May 25, 2011, from which the proceeds will benefit World Vision's earthquake relief fund.

Thank you all so much for your interest, both in my writing and in the activities of my friends and colleagues - and a very special thanks to Laurie Niles (whom I finally met this year!) for allowing me to "ramble on".   It is always a joy to share, and I do look forward to writing more - very soon...

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'All These Years I've Known You...and Every Day I Find Something New'...

May 4, 2011 08:12

Of course, I should be asleep right now - however, I just finished practicing. The last work on the stand this evening was the Fuga of the Sonata in A Minor for Unaccompanied Violin, BWV 1003, of Bach. How many times have I played this? The first was during graduate school: I think I worked on the entire sonata for two semesters before performing it on my first recital (and, of course, I did a harmonic analysis of the whole thing, much to my teacher's surprise). The second was in 2006 at the New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas - which makes this the third.

While there is something really satisfying about learning and performing "new" repertoire - it actually feels as if one is moving forward, adding works to the list - there is something even more gratifying about looking at a familiar work with new eyes and sensibilities. These works will always be "bigger than us"; therefore the challenge is one with ourselves, to remember the lessons, recordings, live performances and individual research that have contributed to the moment at which we start anew.

THIS time? Well, in addition to what may seem to be an almost obsessive preoccupation with my bow arm due to having purchased a new bow AND continued recovery from some shoulder issues, I have my notes from the 2009 Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute at hand. Granted, I am not performing this sonata on a baroque violin (although I DO plan to purchase a baroque bow someday), after having spent those two intense weeks with probably the greatest proponents of "historical performance" in North America AND having spent three years at the Shepherd School with Kenneth Goldsmith (and, albeit indirectly, Sergiu Luca) I cannot imagine approaching this work in any other fashion.

This is not to say that there is not a lot of evaluating and examination of choices and motivations going on. THAT is of course one of the joys of being a musician and a violinist. I have, in previous essays about works of unaccompanied violin, referenced Paul Griffiths; at this moment, however, I must reference violinist Odin Rathnam:

"Music and its needs are like a refining fire, constantly challenging us to re-evaluate our choices, our approach, our tools. It is music that humbles me, day after day, year after year... But confidence in one's abilities to do music justice is just as important as humility towards music."

(I would of course link to the entire entry, but have to ask permission first, ya know...)

And that's all - for now. There are essays and notes to write and details to wrap up, more concerts coming up in the next few weeks than I think I have ever had scheduled in my life - about which I'm ridiculously grateful - and there's the Insanity program....more on that later indeed....

Good night,
Sam

Note:   this was originally written at 3am and first posted at samuelathompson.blogspot.com.
 

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