Thoughts About the Music

Friday, June 25

Béla Kovács – Shalom Aleichem, Rov Feidman!

This one-of-a-kind piece was composed by Hungarian clarinetist Béla Kovács as a tribute to the famous Klezmer clarinet idol Giora Fideman. Featuring a dazzling array of klezmer songs and dances, this piece lets the clarinetist sing through a broad range of emotional depths, from joyful, upbeat melodies to sardonic, dark tunes to pseudo-improvisatory styles all rooted in the Klezmer tradition. It opens with a free, timeless clarinet solo tinged with flourishing ornamentation and middle-eastern scales before a seamless transition into a poignant, lyrical song. The music then begins a brooding lead up into a wonderfully agile dance, with passionate vocal passages that range from whooping and hollering to a dark, contemplative mood, reaching a heated intensity before a playfully sarcastic end.

Antonín Dvořák – Terzetto in C major, Op. 74

This piece, composed in only one week, was meant to be played by Dvorak himself on the viola and by his student on the violin. However, when the piece proved to be too difficult for his student, Dvorak published a more well-known arrangement called Romantic Pieces. With the virtuosity and skill required to perform this work, the Terzetto exemplifies deep emotional complexity. The first movement showcases two contrasting themes; one sweet and docile and the other wildly athletic. The movement is rife with chromatic lines and minor inflections, transforming the simple key of C major into something much more intricate and reflective. The second movement contains, again, two more contrasting melodies. This time the first theme sounds almost frail, sparkling with a holy reverence. Dotted rhythms lead the work into the second, more perturbed theme, falling seamlessly back into the gentle, singing melody. The next movement, a Scherzo, draws its roots predominantly in that of Czech folk music, with fast, lively rhythms and duple meter rhythms being forced upon the triple meter, creating the feeling of a staggered shuffle. The finale is surprising to say the least, with the spirit of Beethoven being revived in the stately, brooding key of C minor. The theme is quite rugged and abrupt, and it precedes 10 variations – all with contrasting characters and emotions. At times, it seems difficult to believe that there are only 3 instruments in the ensemble, for Dvorak creates an encapsulating atmosphere that encompasses a profound set of inner thoughts and feelings. After a long build, the music breaks its confines of C minor into a lush C minor ending.

Rolf Wallin – Scratch for amplified balloons

This dramatic work for 3 amplified balloons was composed in 1991 by Rolf Wallin. Known particularly for his meticulously crafted avant-garde performance art, Wallin seeks to combine the calculated, mathematical styles of Ligeti and Berio with more theatrical elements, calling for non-musical objects to be utilized in his compositions – not unlike that of John Cage. Scratch does not stray from this ideology, with the entire piece being played on just three balloons, yet simultaneously generating a broad range of percussive resonances and, with it, a strong emotional narrative. Interestingly enough, no official score exists for this eccentric composition, leaving performers to learn from what Wallin calls his “oral tradition”. Because of this “passing down” from player to player, each performance is unique in its own way, yet the effect remains the same. The piece features what almost feels like an operatic dialogue between characters, with rhythmic hits juxtaposed with whispered scratching techniques. The rest of the content remains up for a great deal of interpretation, but whatever narrative that the listener decides to impose on the work, it will no doubt be an undeniably captivating journey.

Friedrich Hermann – Capriccio No. 1 for 3 violins

It’s quite obvious that Friedrich Hermann did not have popularity in mind when writing his Capriccio no. 1. The instrumentation alone is quite unusual, yet Hermann went on to compose several more trios for 3 violins. The difficulty of composing with this instrumentation is due to the high timbre of the violin, yet Hermann handles this issue with the utmost finesse and a unique compositional skill set (no doubt owing some techniques to his studies with Mendelssohn). Hermann meticulously handles each voice with careful precision, creating an exceptionally fully immersive environment for the listener. The trio begins with a beautifully passionate minor melody in the first violin supported by low, winding chromatic lines. Soon after, the energy intensifies with the first violin leading the rest of the ensemble in a playful yet slightly mischievous dance as the supporting voices explore the entire range of their instruments, providing a steady foundation before climbing up alongside the first violin and back down again. The next section is quite romantic, with an impassioned first violin melody atop quick, repetitive lines that lead seamlessly back into the previous energetic melody, now will all the more vigor as the supporting voices flourish. After a captivating major climax, the trio softens into more subdued, hushed passages as the themes and motifs are passed throughout the ensemble. The intensity begins to build once again as fervent swells ebb and flow throughout the ensemble. A romantic melody is brought back again, this time with a more optimistic major sonority, and the group begins a fierce, chromatic buildup into an exorbitant final climax.

©2021 Nicole Martin