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Program Notes © 2015 by Miriam Villchur Berg*

Latitude 41


Livia Sohn, violin
Luigi Piovano, cello
Bernadene Blaha, piano


Sunday, July 26, 2015, 4 pm

program

Piano Trio in D major, Op. 70, No. 1, “Ghost” (1808) Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Allegro vivace e con brio
Largo assai ed espressivo

Presto Duo for Violin and Cello (1997) Daron Hagen (b. 1961)
Homage à Ravel
Love Song
Minute Scherzo
Reprise
Finale: Homage à James Brown

intermission

Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 (1839) Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Molto allegro ed agitato
Andante con moto tranquillo
Scherzo
Finale: Allegro assai appassionato

next week

Saturday, August 1, 8 pm | Fred Hersch, jazz piano

Sunday, August 2, 4 pm | Escher Quartet
Music of Haydn, Schubert, and Bartók

 

 

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

Violinist Livia Sohn, cellist Luigi Piovano, and pianist Bernadene Blaha came together to form Latitude 41 in the summer of 2009, as a result of their previous musical collaborations and mutual passion for chamber music. Since their formation, highlights of Latitude 41 appearances include the Newport Music Festival (for the opening gala in 2009 and the closing gala in 2011), the L’Ermitage Foundation in Los Angeles, and “Sundays Live” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which is streamed live across the Internet and radio. Latitude 41’s most recent CD includes the piano trios of Camille Saint-Saëns. The trio’s first performance venue in Rhode Island, as well as cellist Luigi Piovano’s home in Rome, Italy, are both located on Latitude 41.

Livia Sohn, violin, performs widely on the international stage as a concerto soloist, recitalist, and festival guest in Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Africa, and New Zealand. Livia won first prize in the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition at the age of twelve. She plays on a J. B. Guadagnini violin crafted in 1770 and a Samuel Zygmuntowicz made in 2006. She has been on faculty at the music department of Stanford University since 2005.

Luigi Piovano, cello, won a scholarship at the International Menuhin Music Academy, and went on to perform all around the world as a soloist under the baton of Lord Menuhin. He then earned a diploma in cello and chamber music at the European Conservatoire of Music in Paris. He is the First Soloist Cello of the Symphony Orchestra of the National Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome, and since 2007 he has been the first soloist cello guest of the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Since 2008 he has been the Artistic Director of the Estate Musicale Frentana in Lanciano. He plays an Alessandro Gagliano dated 1710.

Bernadene Blaha has performed as a recitalist, concerto soloist, and chamber musician in performances throughout North America, Europe, Australia, Asia, and Mexico. A highly regarded chamber musician, Ms. Blaha has appeared at the Newport Festival, the Tucson Chamber Music Festival, the La Jolla Summerfest, the Bard Festival, the Australia Festival of Chamber Music, the Banff Festival of the Arts, and the Festival de San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Originally from Canada, Ms. Blaha first came to international attention as a prizewinner in major competitions in Montreal, Grand Rapids, Lugano, and the 11th Annual International Piano Competition in New York City, followed by recital appearances at Carnegie Recital Hall and the Lincoln Center Library. Ms. Blaha currently resides in Los Angeles, and since 1993 has been a member of the Keyboard Faculty at the Thornton School of Music, University of Southern California, where she is an associate professor.



ABOUT THE MUSIC

Beethoven
changed the piano trio from an amateur exercise into a virtuoso showcase, particularly for his own brilliance on the piano. He also freed the cello from its earlier role of merely repeating the bass line along with the keyboard.

The first movement (Allegro vivace e con brio) of the Piano Trio in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1 starts with a remarkable and surprising transition. After only four bars of the opening D major theme, there is a sustained F, a note that is completely foreign to the key. That note becomes a hinge on which the music shifts in an entirely new harmonic direction, and presages similar tonal shifts found in the composer’s late works.

It is the slow second movement (Largo assai ed espressivo) that gives the trio its nickname of “Ghost.” Its minor key, halting introduction, chromatic runs, and spare sound add to the dramatic eeriness of the themes. Beethoven wrote parts of this movement on the same page in his notebooks as sketches for a planned opera based on Macbeth.

Although Beethoven often wrote piano trios with four movements (lending them the grander scale of string quartets and symphonies), he chose a compact three-movement design for this work. The Presto dispels the ethereal quality of the middle movement, and provides a sunny and exciting finale.

Daron Hagen studied music at Curtis and Juilliard, where his teachers included Leonard Bernstein and Ned Rorem. His opera Shining Brow, about Frank Lloyd Wright, received international acclaim. He has received most of the major musical composition awards, and has composed under commissions from the New York Philharmonic, the Curtis Institute, the King’s Singers, Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson, ASCAP, and many others. Hagen taught composition at Bard College from 1988 to 1997.

In the repertoire for solo violin and cello, the Ravel sonata stands as the singular masterpiece—the work all subsequent composers had to measure themselves against. Hagen acknowledges this debt by making the first movement of his duo Presto Duo for Violin and Cello an Homage à Ravel. He borrows Ravel’s thematic material and style, but combines them in his own unique way. Each instrument takes the lead in turn, while the other plays arpeggios or double stops. The effect is to make the sound fuller, as if it were a much larger ensemble.

Hagen’s gift for melody is clearly revealed in the slow movement, Love Song. Again, the parts take turns, playing either the melody or a repeated rhythmic motif, occasionally coming together to sing in harmony. As in a love story, the two express their individuality and then create something greater than themselves by joining together.

The central movement of this five-movement work is called the Minute Scherzo, and indeed it has sixty measures, each of which is to be played in one second. Once again, double stops and varying sound textures (vigorous bowing contrasted with gentle runs) give the overall impression that there are more than two people performing.

Hagen’s compositions often make use of an arched structure, so that the fourth movement recalls the second, and the last recaps the first. After the central scherzo, the Reprise presents the themes from the Love Song, here written more elaborately. The relationship has matured. The instruments play together throughout the movement, and the sound is warm and contented.

The Finale is entitled Homage à James Brown. Brown, known as the “Godfather of Soul,” was a major influence on rock and roll through five decades, setting standards for professionalism, spectacle, and high-energy entertainment. His arrangements made use of all the instruments in rhythmically complex ways. Daron Hagen pays tribute to James Brown by using melodic elements from his hit “Gravity,” and by giving the violin and cello their own blues riffs (a riff, from “refrain,” is the pop music term for a motif). Within the context of the blues melodies and rhythms, Hagen also completes the arch structure by recalling the Ravel material from the first movement. He reprises the melody of the Love Song as well, then combines several other previous themes to give the movement symmetry within symmetry.

Felix Mendelssohn was a man of many talents, including composing, conducting, and watercolor painting. He was fluent in many languages, and an accomplished writer in both German and English. He was a virtuoso pianist who included the masters—Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven—in his performances at a time when others were focusing on contemporary composers whose names are today mostly forgotten. Mendelssohn was in large part responsible for the revival of interest in the music of J. S. Bach. Felix is Latin for happy and lucky, and his life was indeed felicitous and successful up until the death of his beloved sister Fanny. After that, his health declined rapidly, and he died at the age of thirty-eight.

The Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 49 was extremely well received in its time. Robert Schumann gave it a rave review, calling it the master trio of the day, and dubbing its composer “the Mozart of the nineteenth century.” The opening movement (Molto allegro ed agitato) is based on two themes—the first one in the home key of D minor, the second in the dominant major key (A major). The cello opens the movement by stating the minor theme, and the instruments share its development. The sweet second theme in major is also introduced by the cello. Minor and major themes alternate and entwine, with the minor theme having the final word.

The slow movement (Andante con moto tranquillo) is one of Mendelssohn’s signature songs without words. After the piano sings the gentle tune, the violin takes it up in duet with the cello. Each instrument contributes an essential piece of the fabric of the song. The movement fades to a graceful pianissimo.

In the short Scherzo (Leggiero e vivace—Light and lively), the violin and piano are featured, playing in dialogue and duet. Fast, tripping runs give the movement an airy and playful character. Although it is not a full trio section as usually found in the ABA Scherzo form, the central section does provide contrast with a lyrical melody. Rather than a full repeat of the opening section, the end is an elaboration of the tripping passages.

The Finale (Allegro assai appassionato) returns to the intensity of D minor, using a dactylic (long-short-short) meter. As in the first movement, the cello takes center stage to introduce the second theme, again a songlike passage, and again in major. Mendelssohn continues to play with modes and characters, and we hear the song changed to the minor mode, and, at the very end, the fast minor theme played in the major.

All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg.
It is permissible to quote short excerpts for reviews. For permission to quote more extensive portions, or to copy, publish, or make other use of these program notes, please contact her at miriam@hvc.rr.com.

Program Notes © 2015 by Miriam Villchur Berg