Monday, March 4, 2013

Timothy Fain and New Music for Violin

Last night I attended a concert by Timothy Fain, an outstanding young violinist from New York. This was the third of three concerts he gave here. The first two were of conventional repertoire but this one was devoted to American music and, apart from the Copland Violin Sonata, was all fairly recent music. This was the program:

Bolcom's "Graceful Ghost Rag"
Aaron Kernis's "Air"
A. Copland Sonata for Violin and Piano
Kevin Puts "Arches"
Philip Glass "The Orchard" from 'the screens'
Judd Greenstein "Be There"
John Corigliano 'Red Violin' Caprices
Kevin Puts "Aria"
Philip Glass "Pendulum"

Apart from the much-performed piece by Bolcom, and the Copland, which I listened to before writing the program notes, these were mostly unknown to me. Let's see if I can find clips to reconstruct at least part of the concert.

That piece is William Bolcom's big 'hit'. He always loved rags, so decided to write one. It has been arranged for all sorts of combinations. If you start with this piece you will certainly cause the more apprehensive audience members to relax. To me it is a little too successful a reproduction of an historical style. It sounds exactly like something that might have been composed for the soundtrack of film set in the ragtime era. For the next piece, I was lucky enough to find a clip of Tim Fain in performance.

That is absolutely lovely and does not sound like a recreation of an historical style. Well, it does remind me more than anything of a bel canto melody--something by Bellini, perhaps. But the accompaniment and the pacing of the piece is different enough for it to be a new experience. The Copland Sonata comes in three parts in a version with Louis Kaufman on violin and the composer at the piano:

My companion at the concert, a very fine violist, quite liked it, but I have to say that this was my least-favorite piece of the evening. In fact, I pretty much hated it! It sounded like very bad, uninspired Bartok to me. The first half ended with this virtuoso showpiece by Kevin Puts. Again, we have a clip of Tim Fain in performance:

No too hard to guess the inspiration for that! It is a re-imagining of a prelude by Bach for solo violin. Actually, if you are writing for unaccompanied violin, the example of Bach is hard to avoid. Good piece. It builds well and does not wear out its welcome. Here is Philip Glass' "The Orchard" in the version for violin and orchestra:

Yes, lovely. Rather trancy and Eastern sounding. Perhaps it hovers on the edge of dullness. But certainly listenable. Alas, there is no version of Judd Greenstein's "Be There" on YouTube. Instead, I substitute this piece, "Sing Along":

I say, "alas" because the Greenstein piece was my favorite of the concert for the very scary reason that it reminds me of my own music! Like me, he is influenced by Steve Reich, but also, like me, he is looking in more lyrical directions. The only piece on the program that had what I would call a "groove", that is, an implicit pulse. Next are John Corigliano's "Red Violin" Caprices from the movie The Red Violin (which I still haven't seen):

This is, of course, warmed over Paganini. Warmed over pretty well, mind you. And a brilliant showpiece for a violin virtuoso.

Another lovely piece that immediately brings to mind Puccini, if he were influenced by Alban Berg. I admit to a bit of jealousy as I haven't yet found it in me to compose one of these lovely long melodies. For the last piece on the program we really luck out as I found a performance with Tim Fain and Philip Glass himself playing the piano part:

Yes, nice piece. It has some touches of early Philip Glass in the violin figuration. A little Vivaldi here and there and perhaps just a touch of flamenco harmony at 1:15 and subsequent repeats. Sometimes with Glass I have the feeling that I am hearing a lot of very old harmonic ideas with the serial numbers filed off and a new paint job. But, as I remarked to my companion, the one thing about Phil Glass is that he does have a sense of form and clear harmonies--something that a lot of composers, including ones in this concert, struggle with. The encore was the Meditation from "Thais" by Massenet:

All in all, a fine concert and one that the audience enjoyed hugely. I went largely to hear what young composers are up to these days. The remarkable thing is how consonant they have become! Apart from the Copland, from another generation, there was really very little dissonance in this concert. Less than you might find in a piece by Bach! It makes me think that all consonance can be a problem as all dissonance definitely is.

Tim Fain, as a violinist, is really superb. He seems to have no technical limitations and, as this was the third concert in as many days with three completely different programs, not too much in the way of musical limitations either! He reminds me of John Williams in the guitar world, another one of those virtuosos who just seems able to play anything with relative ease.

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