PROGRAM NOTES: Jinjoo Cho, violin
by Eric Bromberger
Born September 6, 1938, New Rochelle, New York
In 1982 the distinguished violinist Josef Gingold founded the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, and over the last three decades that competition has become one of the most important showcases for young violinists. Held every four years, the Competition attracts contestants from around the world, and some very distinguished violinists have launched their careers after winning it. Augustin Hadelich and Kyoko Takezawa have won the gold medal, and other medal winners include Sergey Khachatryan and Ida Kavafian, as well as the concertmasters of three major American orchestras: David Kim (Philadelphia), Andrés Cárdenes (Pittsburgh) and David Chan (Metropolitan Opera). The competitors are expected to perform the standard literature, but for each competition a leading composer is asked to write a test-piece for solo violin that every candidate will play. Among the composers who have written these test-pieces are Witold Lutosławski, Leon Kirchner, Bright Sheng, and Ned Rorem, and some of the pieces composed for Indianapolis, such as Lutosławski’s Subito of 1992, have gone on to become part of the violin repertory.
On this recital Jinjoo Cho will perform the two most recent test-pieces for the Indianapolis Competition. Joan Tower wrote String Force as the test-piece for the 2010 competition. One of America’s most-honored (and most prolific) composers, Joan Tower studied at Bennington College and at Columbia, where her teachers included Otto Luening, Jack Beeson, and Vladimir Ussachevsky. Tower was the pianist and co-founder of the Da Capo Players, and she performed with and composed for that ensemble for many years. The recipient of the 1990 Grawemeyer Award for her Silver Ladders, Tower has been composer-in-residence with the Saint Louis Symphony and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. She now teaches at Bard College.
The composer has prepared a program note for this work:
String Force (2010) was commissioned by the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis for the 2010 Competition and was underwritten by the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation in honor of the children and families of Christel House. It is dedicated with great affection to the violinist Jaime Laredo.
The 7-minute work was an attempt at writing a challenging piece for violin.
When I heard 16 very good semi-finalists from around the world play this piece (without any rehearsal of any kind with me), I was dumbstruck at what was working and what was not.
I changed several things after that and learned quite a bit about the extremes of tempo and register of the violin. (I want to thank Ida and Ani Kavafian and Maria Bachmann for their advice in writing this piece.)
- Joan Tower
Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Opus 22
Born September 13, 1819, Leipzig
Died May 20, 1896, Frankfurt
In 1853 Robert and Clara Schumann welcomed into their home in Düsseldorf two young men who would go on to become giants of nineteenth-century German music: Johannes Brahms and Joseph Joachim. Brahms and Joachim would develop a lengthy (and frequently stormy) relationship of their own, but they quickly became true friends of the Schumann family. Robert’s mental health was now in rapid deterioration, and they stood by during his decline and death in an asylum, visiting him frequently and helping Clara and the seven children. In turn, Clara remained close to both men over the remaining forty years of her life. Her long and intense friendship with Brahms is familiar, but she was also close to Joachim: she gave a number of duo-recitals with him after Robert’s death, and she was close enough to give the violinist financial and domestic advice as he approached his own marriage. Brahms and Joachim were among the most intense mourners at her death in 1896.
In 1853, during the first rush of the Schumanns’ friendship with Joachim, Clara wrote–specifically for him–the Three Romances for Violin and Piano. Clara did not compose a great deal. The demands of being wife, mother, and pianist left her little time, and in any case she was ambivalent about composing: in a diary entry at age 19 she wrote, “a woman must not desire to compose–not one has been able to do it, and why should I expect to?” In fact, these romances were virtually her final composition (her list of opus numbers runs only to 23): after Robert’s death, she stopped composing altogether.
A romance is a type of music without strict formal meaning: that title simply suggests music of an expressive character. All three of these romances are in ternary form plus coda, and all end quietly. Though they were composed during the stress that accompanied Robert’s decline, these pieces show absolutely no sign of that pain–they may be regarded as brief explorations of gentle moods. In the Andante molto, the violin soars easily over the piano accompaniment, though the music’s characteristic quintuplet turn appears in both parts. The Allegretto, in G minor, is more intense, though Clara’s instruction is “With tender performance.” Some have heard the influence of Mendelssohn in this music, which moves into G major for its center section, full of trills and grace notes; this romance winks out with quiet pizzicato strokes that return to G major in the last measure. The final romance, marked Passionately fast, is also the longest: the violin sings above a rippling piano accompaniment; when this section returns, the composer effectively varies the sound by making the piano accompaniment entirely staccato.
Joachim very much liked the Three Romances, and he and Clara performed them frequently. When she published the set in 1855, Clara had this inscription printed in the score: “Dedicated to Joseph Joachim with the greatest friendship.”
Violin Sonata No. 2 in D Minor, Opus 121
Born June 8, 1810, Zwickau, Germany
Died July 29, 1856, Endenich, Germany
Schumann’s three violin sonatas come from very late in his career. He wrote the second in the space of only eight days (October 26-November 2, 1851), during a period of increasing stress. Then 41, Schumann was nearing the end of his turbulent tenure as music director in the city of Düsseldorf and believed himself surrounded by scheming rivals–he had written his Violin Sonata No. 1 only a month before, describing himself as “very angry with certain people” when he composed it. The Second Sonata appears to have come from a calmer interval, though it too has moments of turbulence. Schumann dedicated it to Ferdinand David, who had given the première of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in 1845 and had earned Schumann’s gratitude by giving the first readings of Schumann’s three string quartets nine years earlier.
Schumann’s Second Violin Sonata shows an unusual structure. It is in four movements rather than the customary three: two massive outer movements frame two much shorter inner movements, which are themselves linked in ingenious ways. The sonata opens with a declarative slow introduction, somewhat in the manner of a recitative. The music leaps ahead at the exposition (marked “Lively”), where the main theme is full of propulsive and twisting energy; by contrast, the second subject is melodic and quite long. The troubled development, full of accents and syncopations, focuses on the first theme; it drives to a massive chordal climax and a coda that Schumann marks “Faster.”
The second movement, a scherzo marked “Very lively,” features pounding chords in the outer sections and two trios. In the first trio Schumann keeps the 6/8 meter in the piano but sets the violin in duple rhythms above it; the second is full of dotted rhythms and springing themes. This movement too drives to a powerful climax on unison chords from both instruments. And then the surprises begin. Schumann marks the third movement “Gentle, simple,” and simple it certainly seems to be, as the violin picks out a tune and the movement turns into a set of variations on this melody. Only gradually does the identity of this tune become clear: it was the massive chordal climax at the end of the scherzo, presented there as a sort of premonition. That melody is itself a variation of the Bach chorale tune Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, and Schumann’s variations here are quite imaginative: in the fourth, for example, the pounding opening theme of the scherzo suddenly shows up, and over it Schumann offers the chorale tune, played ponticello (bowed on top of the bridge to produce a disembodied sound). The variations turn melodic again, but this movement concludes with a brief reminiscence of the scherzo.
After two such imaginative movements, the finale (marked “Animated”) can seem a little conventional. It features torrential washes of sixteenth-notes, some difficult string-crossings for the violinist, and once again much syncopated writing. The movement is in sonata form, and in its closing moments Schumann moves from the dark D-minor tonality to a sudden D-major cadence.
Fantasy for Solo Violin
ELLEN TAAFFE ZWILICH
Born April 30, 1939, Miami
On this recital Jinjoo Cho performs the two most recent test-pieces for the Indianapolis Competition. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music–in 1983 for her Symphony No. 1–and over the last four decades she has become one of this country’s most successful and prolific composers. Her catalog of works lists five symphonies, numerous concertos (including many for unusual or unexpected combinations of instruments), orchestral works, chamber music, and vocal music. Trained as a violinist, Zwilich played for several years in the American Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski before deciding to devote herself full-time to composition. She studied with Elliott Carter and Roger Sessions and was the first woman to earn a Doctorate of Musical Arts from Juilliard. For some years Zwilich served as the Francis Eppes Distinguished Professor of Music at Florida State University.
Zwilich composed her Fantasy for Solo Violin for the 2014 Competition, at which Jinjoo Cho was the Gold Medal winner. The test-pieces for Indianapolis are designed specifically to challenge violinists to show their virtuosity through a range of techniques as well as the ability to project a sense of form and a singing line. In an interview Zwilich noted: “Any work for solo violin presents technical challenges, but it was my aim in writing Fantasy for Solo Violin to challenge the musical imagination and dramatic impulses of the violinist as well. For me, the best artist is not just a virtuoso but a creative spirit in communion with the music.” About six minutes long, Zwilich’s Fantasy bursts to life with an opening declaration marked Free, then plunges ahead firmly at the Tempo giusto. This section is full of such hurdles as extended high-position passages, multiple-stopping, rapid string-crossings, left-handed pizzicatos, and many more. Zwilich, herself a professional violinist, draws on that experience to devise a test-piece that will push all violinists to the outer limits of their technique. Zwilich dedicated the Fantasy to her long-time friend, the violinist Jaime Laredo, who was director of the 2014 Competition.
Sonata for Violin and Piano
Born February 16, 1938, New York
It is hard to believe that John Corigliano–for many years a prominent “young” composer–is now 77 years old. Corigliano has built his distinguished reputation on large-scale works, particularly his four concertos and the score to the film Altered States, which won an Academy Award nomination. Recently, two other major works have earned international attention: his Symphony No. 1 (1990), written in reaction to the AIDS epidemic, and the opera The Ghost of Versailles (1991), commissioned, performed, and recorded by the Metropolitan Opera.
Chamber music has formed a relatively small part of Corigliano’s output, and his Violin Sonata dates from very early in his career: he composed this music in 1963, when he was only 25, and it was first performed at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto on July 10, 1964. One expects the music of a young composer to show influences, and there are moments in this sonata when one senses the spirit of Copland (in the wide-ranging melodies and “open” harmonies) and Stravinsky (in the motor rhythms and brisk energy). Yet Corigliano’s Violin Sonata survives on its own virtues: this is music of dramatic sweep, a nice sense of melody, and high spirits. It is also ferociously difficult. Corigliano wrote it for his father–John Corigliano, Sr.–who was for many years the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic (the work is dedicated to the composer’s parents), and both the violin and piano parts demand a virtuoso performer: there are, in fact, cadenzas for both players along the way.
Corigliano’s Violin Sonata is in four movements: two massive fast movements frame two slower movements. The opening Allegro is built on changing meters, sweeping thematic material, rapid shifts between pizzicato and bowed passages, brilliant runs, and complex multiple-stops; the movement remains in character throughout, driving unremittingly to a violent close. By complete contrast, the Andantino sings gracefully. Corigliano marks the beginning with simplicity and dolce; the middle section grows more agitated before the movement almost floats to its quiet close. Piano alone makes the fierce opening statement of the Lento, and when the violin picks up this material the composer marks its part broodingly (some of the hidden fun of this piece lies in Corigliano’s instructions to the performers, who are at various times instructed to play “warmly,” “richly,” “cooly”). The violin has a long and difficult cadenza here, then rejoins the piano for the quiet close. The sonata concludes with a cheerful finale that combines elements of the rondo and perpetual motion. After a long and brilliant opening section, the music finally slows down; Corigliano marks this section dolce, a bit breathless (and at this point the performers may well be forgiven if they are). A piano cadenza leads to a return of the perpetual-motion material, and the sonata rushes to a blistering close on the fierce collision of C# and D. It is a resonant and exciting conclusion to a very energetic piece of music.
Born March 7, 1875, Ciboure, Basses-Pyrénées, France
Died December 28, 1937, Paris
In the summer of 1922, just as he began his orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Ravel visited England for several concerts of his music, and in London he heard a performance of his brand-new Sonata for Violin and Cello by Jelly d’Arányi and Hans Kindler. Jelly d’Arányi must have been a very impressive violinist, for every composer who heard her was swept away by her playing–and by her personality (Bartók was one of the many who fell in love with her). Ravel was so impressed that he stayed after the concert and talked her into playing gypsy tunes from her native Hungary for him–and he kept her there until 5 A.M. the next morning, playing for him.
Tzigane probably got its start that night. Inspired by both d’Arányi’s playing and the fiery gypsy tunes, Ravel set out to write a virtuoso showpiece for the violin based on gypsy-like melodies (the title Tzigane means simply “gypsy”). Its composition was much delayed, however, and Ravel did not complete Tzigane for another two years. Trying to preserve a distinctly Hungarian flavor, he wrote Tzigane for violin with the accompaniment of lutheal, a device which–when attached to a piano–gave the piano a jangling sound typical of the Hungarian cimbalom. The first performance, by Jelly d’Arányi with piano accompaniment, took place in London on April 26, 1924, and later that year Ravel prepared an orchestral accompaniment. In whatever form it is heard, Tzigane remains an audience favorite.
It is unusual for a French composer to be so drawn to gypsy music. Usually it was the composer from central Europe–Liszt, Brahms, Joachim, Hubay–who felt the charm of this music, but Ravel enters fully into the spirit and creates a virtuoso showpiece redolent of gypsy campfires and smoldering dance tunes. Tzigane opens with a long cadenza (nearly half the length of the entire piece) that keeps the violinist solely on the G-string across the span of the entire first page. While Tzigane seems drenched in an authentic gypsy spirit, all of its themes are Ravel’s own, composed in the spirit of the tunes he heard d’Arányi play late that night. Gradually the accompaniment enters, and the piece takes off. Tzigane is quite episodic, and across its blazing second half Ravel demands such techniques from the violinist as artificial harmonics, left-hand pizzicatos, complex multiple-stops, and sustained octave passages. Over the final pages the tempo gradually accelerates until Tzigane rushes to its scorching close, marked Presto.