Performer's Thoughts on the Program
Since moving to New York City last August, I think I have finally found my place in this crazy yet fascinating city. It is incredible how an environment can impact one’s imagination and personality. The pieces that I will be playing this evening are very much related to my experiences of living in Manhattan. As one of the prime jazz capitals of the world, New York has instilled in me a love for jazz. As a result, I have chosen Nikolai Kapustin’s (1937 - ) Variations Op.41, a work that combines jazz idioms with the formal classical structure of themes and variations, to start this evening’s program. Kapustin is a prolific Russian composer-pianist with over 160 compositions. Although he works in a jazz medium, he does not regard himself as a jazz musician, largely because his music is all written down, and “what is a jazz musician without improvisation”, said Kapustin. In this work, you can hear the walking bass line played in lower registers by the left hand as if resembling double bass pizzicato, melodies played in different registers with different articulations as if they were solos from different instruments in a jazz band, as well as the boogie woogie jazz style in some of the variations. When hearing this piece, one can imagine sitting in front of a live jazz band, hearing the wide variety of sound, pitches, articulations and colors.
My connection with the next work is based on a personal experience that happened while living in New York City. Two months ago, the world lost an angel on Earth. He was like a grandfather I never had. Having known him for more than 7 years, I grew even closer to him after moving to the city where he worked and having the chance to visit him every week. He helped me acclimate to the city, and through his grace and kindness he showed me what it meant to be a good person. The fear and anxiety you feel when you may never see your loved ones again is reflected in Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) Sonata No.26 in E flat major Op.81a. In 1809, the French troops invaded Vienna. Beethoven’s dear friend, patron and student, Archduke Rudolf von Habsburg-Lothringen of Austria had to flee the city and Beethoven feared that he may never see his friend again. He wrote this sonata around this time in three movements, respectively titled “Das Lebewohl (The Farewell)”, “Abwesenheit (The Absence)” and “Das Wiedersehen (The Return)”. He referred to this work as a character sonata, meaning that it is not so much program music, but rather an expression of his state of mind. The first movement opens with a horn call, signifying longing and isolation. The whole movement shows Beethoven’s agitation from his friend’s departure; the coming absence of Archduke Rudolph created anxiety within Beethoven, and he yearned for his friend’s return. This is followed by the most heart-rending musical depiction of his agony over his friend’s absence in the second movement shown through the abundance of dotted rhythms and chromaticism in the harmony; the etherial major key sections seem to reflect brief moments of remembrance of the past. After all the anguish and worries, Beethoven is finally released from it in the third movement, signifying the return of Archduke Rudolph.
I have heard many people tell me, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.” At first I never knew what people meant by this. New York is just like any other city, I thought. After moving here, I slowly began to understand it. It is tough to live in New York City. The living cost is expensive, the job market is extremely competitive, efficiency is everything. With the pressure of being a New Yorker, I often find myself having to put up a front in order to look less vulnerable. We tend to wear masks in order to protect our insecurities. Robert Schumann’s(1810-1856) Carnaval Op. 9 is centered around the idea of a masked ball, an inspiration that came from Schumann’s favorite novelist Jean Paul’s “Flegeljahre" (The Awkward Age). In the last scene of the novel, the two main characters, Walt and Vult, who were twin brothers with completely opposite personalities, took turns dancing with Vina, a woman they both fell in love during a masquerade ball. In order to find out who Vina was in love with, the two brothers hid behind the same mask to trick Vina into thinking that she was dancing with the same person the whole night. Schumann suffered from schizophrenia which resulted in alternating episodes of hypomania, depression and exaltation. This caused him to have delusional ideas and manifested a split-personalities which is reflected in his music. In Carnaval, Schumann created a fictional universe in which all his characters are presented with conflicting aspects to their personalities, showing the constant struggles between the decisions of being true to oneself and disguising oneself.
A closer look into Carnaval:
Preambule: opening fanfare to the carnival.
Pierrot: a sad clown.
Arlequin: a more graceful clown.
*both Pierrot and Aqlequin are characters of the common Italian theater performance style called Commedia dell’arte (“Comedy of the Art”) performed by professional actors who have perfected a specific masked role.
Valse Noble: a noble waltz.
Eusebius: the introspective dreamer.
Florestan: the passionate one.
*Eusebius and Florestan are counterparts of Walt and Vult in Jean Paul’s novel.
Coquette: a flirtatious girl
Replique: the reply.
A.S.C.H. - S.C.H.A.: A.S.C.H. is the initials of a town where Schumann’s then-fiancee was born in. S.C.H.A. are musical letters taken from Schumann’s own name: S=E flat, H=B flat.
Chiarina: Italian for ‘Clara’, the love of Schumann’s life whom he later married.
Chopin: an evocation of the composer, captures grace and beauty of Chopin’s musical style.
Estrella: unspecified woman who is believed to have been an ex-girlfriend of Schumann.
Reconnaissance: the meeting.
Pantalon et Colombine: another pair of clowns, showcasing their playful and tender sides.
Valse Allemande: the interspersion of a Viennese waltz and a strong prussian waltz.
Paganini: imitation of the violin virtuoso, Paganini.
Aveu: a confession.
Promenade: A walk around the carnival.
March des “Davidsbundler” contre les Philistins: The March of “Davidsbundler” (a music society created by Schumann against the Philistines.