Simone Porter, violin

Longy's Pickman Hall

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In just the past few years, rising star violinist Simone Porter has performed with a who’s-who of the world’s top conductors and debuted with such orchestras as the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Her recent success comes as no surprise, given that her debut as a soloist came with the Seattle Symphony at age 10 and internationally with London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at age 13. Now a consummate professional, Porter continues to ascend and fulfill her immense potential as one of her generation’s significant violinists. Her program with pianist Hsin-I Huang includes the Boston premiere of a new work by internationally acclaimed composer Reena Esmail.

Seating for this performance is limited. This performance is not eligible for group discounts.

Program and Notes

Andrew Norman (b.1979) has enjoyed tremendous success with his music for large ensembles, as heard in performances by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and many international groups. His string trio, The Companion Guide to Rome, was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music; other awards include the Rome Prize, Berlin Prize, and the prestigious Grawemeyer Award in 2017 for his orchestral score Play.

Norman is just as effective rendering music for a single instrument, as heard in Sabina, composed in 2008 for solo viola and adapted for violin the next year. “Sabina uses the same musical ideas as the last movement of my string trio The Companion Guide to Rome,” Norman notes. “This material, sketched after an early morning visit to one of Rome’s oldest churches, has proven a useful vehicle for exploring the sonic range of string instruments.

 © 2022 Aaron Grad

 

Well before Italians like Corelli and Vivaldi sparked the violin revolution that brought the Baroque style to its glorious peak after 1700, the Bohemian composer and violinist Heinrich von Biber (1644-1704) was developing some of the most exciting and forward-thinking scores ever created from his home base of Salzburg. The fifteen “Rosary” Sonatas he completed around 1676 were a marvel of devotional music, using a wide range of violin techniques and non-standard tunings to express “Joyful Mysteries,” “Sorrowful Mysteries” and “Glorious Mysteries.” The set closes with a Passacaglia, a form in which a recurring pattern undergirds the music—in this case, a four-note descending pattern that first sounds on its own. The engraving of a guardian angel and child that prefaces a surviving manuscript offers a clue that this Passacaglia may have been intended for a special service at the Salzburg Cathedral to mark the Feast Day of Guardian Angels in October.

© 2022 Aaron Grad

“I wish I could live in India and America at the same time,” says Reena Esmail (b.1983), the daughter of Indian immigrants who has become one of the most respected young composers in the United States; “I wish they shared a border, and I could build a little home right in between them. I know I can’t do that in the physical world, but this is where I live every day in my music.”

Esmail’s compositions straddle two of the world’s most sophisticated musical traditions. On one side is the art music of Europe and its system of tonal harmony that developed over the last 400-plus years, and on the other, Hindustani classical music from North India, organized around collections of tones known as raags that go back many centuries further. Studies at the Juilliard School and the Yale School of Music grounded Esmail in the practices of the West’s classical music, including its precise system of notation that allows performers of any background to interpret unfamiliar nuances. As a Fulbright-Nehru Scholar, she was able to spend a year in India studying the classical music of her ancestors, absorbing the oral tradition built on complex patterns and pitches that often can’t be categorized within Western norms.

About this solo work that she composed for Simone Porter, Esmail writes, “A drishti is a focused gaze, usually on a single point. The word became known in the West through the practice of yoga: as the body moves through a series of postures, the drishti remains a constant. It is the grounded center that allows everything around it to move and transform. In this work, the drishti is explicit: it is a series of miniatures, each connected to the next through a high E harmonic. That single, clear, distinctive pitch is the beacon—both the unchanging point of return, and the singular portal that connects disparate worlds to one another.”

© 2022 Aaron Grad

Esa-Pekka Salonen (b.1958) was music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1992 to 2009, and he began the same role at the San Francisco Symphony in 2020. In the tradition of Gustav Mahler and Leonard Bernstein, Salonen is one of the few musicians to sustain a career as both a conductor and a composer at the highest level, as seen in the Grawemeyer Award he earned for his 2009 Violin Concerto and his three-year stint as the composer-in-residence for the New York Philharmonic. He wrote Lachen verlernt in 2002 for the La Jolla Chamber Music Society, dedicating the score to the violinist who premiered it, Cho-Liang Lin. Salonen wrote the following program note:

The title Lachen verlernt (Laughing unlearned) is a quotation from the ninth movement of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, “Gebet an Pierrot” (“Prayer to Pierrot”). The narrator declares that she has unlearned the skill of laughing and begs Pierrot, the “Horse-doctor of the soul,” to give it back to her.

I felt that this is a very moving metaphor of a performer: a serious clown trying to help the audience to connect with emotions they have lost, or believe they have lost.

Lachen verlernt is essentially a chaconne, which in this case means that there is a harmonic progression that repeats itself several times. The harmony remains the same throughout the whole piece; only the surface, the top layer of the music changes.

Lachen verlernt starts with a lyrical, expressive melody. (The same melody has an important role in my orchestral work Insomnia, which I was writing at the same time, in the summer of 2002.) Gradually the music becomes faster and more frenzied until it develops an almost frantic character, as if the imaginary narrator had reached a state of utter despair.

A very short coda closes this mini-drama peacefully.

—Esa-Pekka Salonen

César Franck (1822-1890) is best known for three late pieces of chamber music: the Piano Quintet (1879), Violin Sonata (1886), and String Quartet (1890). In his lifetime, he was highly regarded for his organ improvisations, which could be heard at the Basilica of Saint Clotilde in Paris for more than 30 years. He was also a beloved teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, attracting a clique of young supporters that included Chausson, d’Indy, and Duparc. Franck’s influence extended to the string quartets of Debussy and Ravel, providing a foundation for all the glorious chamber music that emerged from 20th-century France.

The Violin Sonata in A Major, composed for fellow Belgian Eugène Ysaÿe, opens with an understated Allegretto ben moderato movement, setting a relaxed and tuneful atmosphere for the work. In the fast movement that follows, the piano introduction demonstrates the demanding nature of a part that is no mere background accompaniment. Franck’s piano writing matched his own virtuosity as a performer, aided by his exceptionally large hands that most other pianists have to manage without.

In the slow third movement, a free recitative leads into a dramatic Fantasy. Bookending the first movement, the Sonata returns to a modest pace for the finale, marked Allegretto poco mosso. The musical technique of canon (in which one voice follows the other at a fixed distance, as in “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”) and the use of modal church harmonies bring out the music’s reverent and nostalgic qualities.

© 2022 Aaron Grad

“Porter commands the technical chops, throbbing vibrato but, most importantly, the expressive panache, needed to bring the music’s rhapsodic lyricism to life…Porter’s silken-toned virtuosity puts her right up there with the finest interpreters of her generation.”

Chicago Classical Review

Longy's Pickman Hall Information

The 2021/22 Debut Series is generously sponsored by Harriet & David Griesinger and the Longy School of Music of Bard College.

 

This performance is made possible in part by support from Celebrity Series' LIVE PERFORMANCE! Arts for All Innovation Funds.

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