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New Music for Violin

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New Music for Violin

 Oddly, some of the most interesting articles on classical music sometimes appear in the Wall Street Journal. This one is a fascinating review of a new triple-CD album by Johnny Gandelsman, first violin with the innovative quartet Brooklyn Rider: ‘This is America’ by Johnny Gandelsman Review: A Musical American Mosaic. Not surprisingly, the reviewer is the very fine Allan Kozinn.

The violinist Johnny Gandelsman used the enforced downtime of the pandemic to undertake a commissioning and recording project with several missions. The most practical and quotidian was expanding the solo fiddle repertory. But equally important, Mr. Gandelsman saw the project as a snapshot of our fraught times, and a manifesto on diversity, musical as well as social.

The recording, “This Is America,” just released, presents 24 new scores, accounting for nearly four hours of music on three CDs. It is a lexicon of contemporary styles, from folk-inspired meditations and neo-Romantic works dripping in melody, to post-Minimalist essays that balance repetition, complexity and varying levels of acerbity. Most of the works are unaccompanied; a few set the violin against layers of electronic sound; and in a couple—Marika Hughes’s sweetly harmonized “With Love from J” and Bojan Louis’s “Dólii,” an accompanied poem—Mr. Gandelsman trades in his violin for a tenor guitar, and sings, whistles and recites.

What does this project remind you of? A few years ago a similarly innovative project came from violinist Hilary Hahn who did a very interesting 2-CD album on newly commissioned encores called In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores. I did a series of posts on that project: Hilary Hahn in 3 Parts.

So that is the background to the Hilary Hahn encore project. Let me say that it is a brilliant idea, approached with boldness and conviction. Of course, the traditional violin encore is showing its age as most of them date from around the turn of the century--the last century, not this one! Kreisler came to the concert stage before the First World War and the encores he favored, which are still the ones primarily played, date from that idyllic time. If I were possibly the most formidable violinist of my generation, as I think Hilary is, then I would be looking for a way to put my stamp on the repertoire. Reinventing the encore would not be where I would start, but neither did Hilary. She has previously commissioned a concerto from Jennifer Higdon, professor at the Curtis Institute, where Hilary studied. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010. Not surprisingly, there isn't a good clip of the piece at YouTube, but it was released by Deutsche Gramophon in a pairing with the Tchakovsky concerto here.

I just ordered a copy of the Gandelsman disc so when it arrives I will do a review of it. 

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