On Thursday, December 5th, 2019, 8pm, the Interpretations Series continues it 31st season with composers Elizabeth Brown and Frances White with the Momenta Quartet (momentaquartet.com). Held at Roulette, 509 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY, tickets are $20 for adults / $15 for students & seniors, and available on Roulette.org and Interpretations.info.

The Momenta Quartet joins forces with composers Elizabeth Brown and Frances White in a multimedia evening fusing Western contemporary music with Japanese aesthetics, literary references, and a video/sculpture installation by artist Lothar Osterburg.

This dynamic program features Momenta alongside baritone/narrator Thomas Buckner and Elizabeth Brown in her equal capacity as a master of the shakuhachi: a traditional Japanese flute. The concert includes two new works written specifically for this concert, with commission funds provided by The Sparkplug Foundation and a New Music USA Project Grant. 

The NY premiere of Brown’s Dialect for solo shakuhachi, which uses repeating, morphing phrases to trace the evolution of a unique language. Then the world premiere of Babel continues the linguistic theme in a positive spin of the myth, celebrating NYC as a living organism, using multilingual pages and recordings of Emma Lazarus’ verse from the Statue of Liberty. Unlike the traditional story, nothing here is destroyed; instead, it is cumulative, with its architectural history visible, its constant influx of immigrants the source of its life and beauty. And White’s The book of evening for quartet and shakuhachi (also a world premiere) is drawn from the Mark Strand poem Moon, with the musical arrangement evoking “the moon between the clouds.” Strand’s moon creates a path to “those places where what you had wished for happens.” The music reflects that, evoking a longing for that place, vanishing as the book of evening closes.

Dedicated to the Momenta Quartet, Brown’s Just Visible in the Distance draws its title, inspiration, and form from W.G. Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn. The piece, inspired by Sebald’s continuous narrative arc, consists of intuitively-assembled small movements, each flowing into the next. Then White’s And so the heavens turned, for quartet and narrator, contemplates the mystery of storytelling itself.  A collaboration with writer James Pritchett and inspired by the 11th-century Persian epic Shahnameh, the text is read before the music and during its closing, evoking at times the anguish and passion of the epic’s mythic lovers, at others a questioning stillness.


Interpretations continues its tradition of playing host to composers, interpreters, and improvisers — artists of both local and international scale, with myriads of approaches to music.

On the heels of last year’s acclaimed 30th anniversary, the Interpretations Series is dedicated to nurturing the relationship of innovative composers with the growing community of new music virtuoso performers. “When we started, this was a real need, especially for the more experimental new music,” says Founder and Artistic Director Thomas Buckner. “Now we are experiencing a blossoming of new music groups and solo performers, which makes the series necessary in a new way. There are so many exceptional composers and performers who need a great place to perform.”


Other upcoming Series lineups:

※ THURSDAY APRIL 9, 2020: THOMAS BUCKNER
Baritone Thomas Buckner presents his 31st annual concert of newly commissioned pieces with works by Earl Howard, JD Parran, Buckner himself — including Gold/Crack, a Mutable Music commissioned work by Pauline Kim-Harris, and performed with String Noise (Kim-Harris and Conrad Harris). The evening also includes performers Soo Yeon Lyuh (haegeum, a two-stringed Korean bowed instrument); Andrew Drury (percussion); Earl Howard (synthesizer and saxophone); JD Parran (reeds).

※ THURSDAY MAY 7, 2020: MÉLANIE GENIN | ENSEMBLE L’ART POUR L’ART
Mélanie Genin performs new music for harp by Christian Dachez, Michael Greba, Saad Haddad, Pauline Kim Harris, Mantovani, and Ricardo Romaneiro. / Ensemble L’Art Pour L’Art perform works by Matthias Kawl, Stephan Streich, Killian Schwoon and others.  With Matthias Kawl (percussion); Astrid Smelik (flute). Michael Shorder (guitar); plus special guest Thomas Buckner (baritone voice).


For audio and video, and background on composers Brown and White, click here.
For more general information, please visit interpretations.info

EMMANUEL VUKOVICH, violin

On Saturday, November 2nd, 2019, at 8 pm, the Stony Brook Symphony Orchestra will present a concert under the direction of guest conductor Jens Georg Bachmann with Canadian violinist Emmanuel Vukovich as soloist in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major. The program will be performed at the Staller Center for the Performing Arts Main Stage, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook, NY. Tickets are $20 for general admission, $10 for seniors and students, and available on www.stallercenter.com and in person at the box-office.

JENS GEORG BACHMANN, guest conductor

Under the baton of Jens Georg Bachmann, who is Artistic Director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Cyprus, the SBSO will be performing an opulent program featuring Vukovich — critically acclaimed for his attention to “every detail of phrasing” (Calgary Herald) and for being “a true musician” (Yannick Nézet-Séguin).

Soviet-Russian-born American composer Lera Auerbach’s Post Silentium for Orchestra opens the evening. Originally commissioned in 2012 by Germany’s Staatskapelle Dresden, this one-movement work is written for strings, piccolo, English horn, contrabassoon, bass trombone, harp, piano, and various forms of percussion.

Composed in 1888, and translated into English as “Death and Transfiguration”, Richard Strauss’s tone poem Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24 depicts the death of an artist, with a four-part sonic storyline of childhood, manhood, attainment, and the shift from this plane to the afterlife.

Initially a failure at its premiere in 1806, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 is a work of “radiant beauty” (Yehudi Menuhin). This monumental work defines a turning point in the evolution of the concerto form in which the soloist emerges from the orchestra as a free and independent individual voice.  


Works included:
Strauss Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24
Lera Auerbach Post Silentium for Orchestra
Beethoven Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61


Critically acclaimed for his “attention to every detail of phrasing”, Canadian violinist Emmanuel Vukovich (www.emmanuelvukovich.ca) is emerging as an artist of musical integrity and artistic maturity. Grand-prize winner of the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition as first violinist of the former Lloyd Carr-Harris String Quartet, Emmanel has performed across North and South America, Europe, and Australia in performances with artists such Ida Haendal, Matt Haimowitz, Anton Kuerti, and Alex Klein. He is the founder and artistic director of The Parcival Project, an international chamber music collective which has toured Canada, the US, and South America, as well as artist director of Montreal’s Chapelle Historique du Bon Pasteur “Bach Odyssey” – a multi- year series centered around the solo violin Sonatas and Partitas of JS Bach. Emmanuel performs on a 1629 Nicolo Amati violin on generous loan from The Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank.

 Upcoming highlights include the creation of two new works:

  • Inspired by North Indian Classical Hindustani music, American composer Sheila Silver is writing a violin concerto expressly for Emmanuel. This concerto is intended to be premiered and recorded in 2021. 
  • An original work for solo violin, African drums, and chamber orchestra, co-composed with award-winning composer John McDowell, Parzival & Fierefiz: A New Narrative of Race will make its world premiere at the University of Toronto in November 2020 in conjunction with the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Wagner’s Parsifal.

Emmanuel is currently a candidate for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree at Stony Brook University, working with Philip Setzer and Eugene Drucker of the Emerson String Quartet, Hagai Shaham, and Colin Carr. His final graduation recital will present selections from the solo violin Sonatas & Partitas of J S Bach and Parzival & Fierefiz: A New Narrative of Race.


Jens Georg Bachmann (www.jensgeorgbachmann.com) is the Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra of the Republic of Cyprus, since 2017. With his artistic leadership the CySO has significantly increased its popularity and reputation across the country. Being equally at home in operatic and symphonic repertoire, Bachmann has conducted, the Boston, Florida and Princeton symphony orchestras, the Berlin and Hamburg symphony orchestras, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, the ERT Radio and Thessaloniki Symphony Orchestras of Greece, the Radio Orchestras of Germany (NDR) as well as at The Metropolitan Opera New York, Royal Swedish Opera, Komische Oper Berlin, Staatsoper Berlin and the state operas of Stuttgart, Nuremberg and Düsseldorf.

Mr. Bachmann had been Associate Conductor of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and Principal Conductor of the Texas Chamber Orchestra as well as Music Director of the Crested Butte Music Festival in Colorado. He has collaborated with some of the world’s finest musicians such as Pinchas Zukerman, Daniel Hope, Yefim Bronfman, Cyprien Katsaris and singers Renée Fleming, Marcello Giordani and Jonas Kaufmann. In addition, Bachmann has been teaching in the USA and Germany academically at the Manhattan School of Music, New York University, the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the Lübeck Hochschule. He also collaborates regularly with the Cyprus Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Being thoroughly trained through mentorships with Christoph von Dohnányi and James Levine for several years, Bachmann is an avid proponent of contemporary music and has worked with many active composers of our time including Elliott Carter, Krzysztof Penderecki, Sofia Gubaidulina as well as annually since 2017 with members of the Center of Cypriot Composers.

Jens Georg Bachmann was born in Berlin, Germany, and studied conducting and violin at the Hochschule für Musik „Hanns Eisler“ Berlin and The Juilliard School New York.

Bachmann has recorded for the DaCapo and Naxos labels.


For more about Emmanuel Vukovich, please visit his website.
To purchase tickets for this event, visit the Staller Center’s order page.

On Thursday, November 7th, 2019, 8pm, the Interpretations Series continues it 31st season with Harlem Reunion: original improvisational compositions led by JD Parran; and Elevated Moon: a ‘ritualistic happening’, presented by both Amir Bey & JD Parran. Held at Roulette, 509 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY, tickets are $20 for adults / $15 for students & seniors, and available on www.Roulette.org and www.Interpretations.info.


Composer and multi-woodwind player JD Parran’s Harlem Reunion is a music/spoken word quartet, performing original improvisational compositions. (With Alexis Marcelo, piano; Larry Roland, poet and bass; Jackson Krall, percussion.)

Amir Bey & JD Parran present Elevated Moon: a ‘ritualistic happening’ that combines sound, movement, visual vibrance, and light projections. An ‘elevation of spirits’ is presented in a multidisciplinary, mixed-media synthesis, aiming to present the room with a joyous experience.

Storyteller Amir Bey acts as a visual ambassador, using various masks, Astrologos, and swinging percussive mobiles. The audience is invited to participate at the end, synergising with the Freedom the performers have expressed. (With Soundrhythium Michael TA Thompson, drums & percussion; Bill Toles, light-magic; Chihiro Cute-Beat Kobayashi, movements and poses.)

Of this concert, JD Parran says, “In the past I have performed in Interpretations concerts that have marked high points in my work. I am excited about this concert as an opportunity to compose and perform the music  for two specific projects close where I live in my creative self.”


Interpretations continues its tradition of playing host to composers, interpreters, and improvisers — artists of both local and international scale, with myriads of approaches to music.

On the heels of last year’s acclaimed 30th anniversary, the Interpretations Series is dedicated to nurturing the relationship of innovative composers with the growing community of new music virtuoso performers. “When we started, this was a real need, especially for the more experimental new music,” says Founder and Artistic Director Thomas Buckner. “Now we are experiencing a blossoming of new music groups and solo performers, which makes the series necessary in a new way. There are so many exceptional composers and performers who need a great place to perform.”


※ THURSDAY DECEMBER 5, 2019: MOMENTA QUARTET + ELIZABETH BROWN, FRANCES WHITE
The Momenta Quartet joins forces with composers Elizabeth Brown and Frances White in a multimedia evening fusing Western contemporary music with Japanese aesthetics, literary references, and a video/sculpture installation by artist Lothar Osterburg.

※ THURSDAY APRIL 9, 2020: THOMAS BUCKNER
Baritone Thomas Buckner presents his 31st annual concert of newly commissioned pieces with works by Earl Howard, Pauline Kim, JD Parran, and Buckner himself.  With performers Soo Yeon Lyuh (haegeum, a two-stringed Korean bowed instrument); Andrew Drury (percussion); Earl Howard (synthesizer and saxophone); JD Parran (reeds).

※ THURSDAY MAY 7, 2020: MÉLANIE GENIN | ENSEMBLE L’ART POUR L’ART
Mélanie Genin performs new music for harp by Christian Dachez, Michael Greba, Saad Haddad, Pauline Kim Harris, Mantovani, and Ricardo Romaneiro. / Ensemble L’Art Pour L’Art perform works by Matthias Kawl, Stephan Streich, Killian Schwoon and others.  With Matthias Kawl (percussion); Astrid Smelik (flute). Michael Shorder (guitar); plus special guest Thomas Buckner (baritone voice).


For more information, please visit interpretations.info

On Thursday, June 13, 2024, at 8 pm, composer Elliott Sharp presents the US Premiere in English of his opera Die Grösste Fuge (The Greatest Fugue) at Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn. This opera features the virtuosic bass/baritone Nicholas Isherwood as Ludwig van Beethoven with DGF String Quartet, prerecorded electroacoustic backing tracks, and projection design by Janene Higgins.

Tickets: $25 in advance ($20 Student/Senior w/ID) and $30 at the door.  Tickets available at roulette.org. A live stream will be available free of charge on YouTube at 8 pm on the day of the performance and archived for future viewing. 

Elliott Sharp  composer, electronics
Nicholas Isherwood  bass/baritone
Janene Higgins  projection design
DGF STRING QUARTET:
Sara Salomon, Concetta Abbate  violins
Ron Lawrence  viola
Hao Jiang  cello

Recently, Infrequent Seams released the double CD of Die Grösste Fuge, which is available for streaming. It received rave reviews from sources such as The Moderns: “The performances are every bit as grand and in-your-face as the work’s subject deserves” and Touching Extremes: “Isherwood masterfully portrays Beethoven’s torment.”

One may imagine Ludwig von Beethoven in the 1820s in ill health and nearly deaf, bitter and lonely with his economy in tatters, and clinging to his delusions of nobility. He must escape but it is impossible. Yet escape he does but not by his own agency. He becomes unmoored from the tethers of his daily life and mind to travel in time to an incomprehensible future, surprisingly both magnificent and horrendous. Once he has returned to his normal life he processes his experiences in “this greatest fugue” (die grösste Fuge) and begins to create a string quartet, Die Grösse Fuge

In writing the libretto for Die Grösste Fuge, Elliott Sharp drew inspiration from Beethoven’s letters and notes as well as from works by Schiller and Goethe. These excerpts were never used verbatim but translated, often multiple times from German to English and back again using AI translation software. In addition, some texts were run through “cut-up” software that would simulate strategies invented by Brion Gysin and often used by William Burroughs to reveal layers of meaning within a text by literally cutting up the printed words and phrases on a page and resequencing them. Some of these same strategies were employed in creating the music. Melodic materials would be extracted and turned into seeds that could then be expanded and layered to form vocal melodies and contrapuntal accompaniment. Rhythmic motifs would be looped and reversed, recombined and transformed. However, first and foremost, the settings of the songs are designed to flow from the words themselves so that the meaning, while layered, is always in bas-relief.


Elliott Sharp
Nicholas Isherwood
Janene Higgins

On Monday, March 25, 2024, at 8 pm, violinist-composer Dan Flanagan (danflanaganviolin.com) makes his Carnegie Hall debut at Weill Hall with The Bow and the Brush (thebowandthebrush.com): an evening of solo violin and Carnegie Hall Premiere compositions. With music directly inspired by paintings, pastels, mixed media, and sculptures from Flanagan’s personal collection, the program highlights pieces by the likes of Raffaëlli, Guillaumin, Pinchon, Pissarro, as well as living artists including Paul Gibson, Nikki Vismara, and Elaine Pratt.

Celebrated for his exquisite violin tone and stellar musicianship, Flanagan brings his enthusiasm for music and art to Weill Hall. Created and conceptualized by Flanagan, the program includes two of his own compositions alongside several commissioned works written by 18 celebrated living New Music composers (with intermission). This concert is the centerpiece of Flanagan’s tour, taking The Bow and the Brush to audiences in the United States and across Europe. Select compositions are included on a critically acclaimed album released on MSR Records, with visual video accompaniment of the art on thebowandthebrush.com. “The intrepid violinist puts on a master class of exemplary technique, insightful interpretations and an immediately felt devotion to canvases of both sound and art.” (James Wegg Review)

Tickets are $35-45 and are available at carnegiehall.org, the Carnegie Hall Box Office at 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, or by calling CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800. Carnegie Hall is located at 881 Seventh Avenue in New York City.

WORKS INCLUDE (all Carnegie Hall premieres, some are New York premieres mentioned below):
The Collection / Shinji Eshima / mixed media by Paul Gibson
Raven’s Dance / Linda Marcel / painting by Nina Fabunmi
Pastel Lake (NY Premiere) / Michael Panther / pastel drawing by George Manzana Pissarro
Émergence / Jacques Desjardins / painting by Susan Bostrom-Wong
Blue Swan / Evan Price / sculpture by Sean O’Donnell
Notre Dame au milieu de l’eau et du ciel / Trevor Weston / painting by Albert-Marie Lebourg (NY Premiere)
Into the Light / Cindy Cox / painting by Victoria Veedell
Island / Maija Hynninen / painting by Elaine Pratt
Shadow Breaking / Nathaniel Stookey / painting by Rachel Dwan
An Animated Street in Autumn / Dan Flanagan / painting by Jean-François Raffaëlli
Guillaumin / James Stephenson / pastel drawing by Armand Guillaumin
Same Old Sadness / Peter Josheff / painting by Peter Canty
Splits (Le Grand Ècart) / Edmund Campion / pastel drawing by Ludovic-Rodo Pissarro
And miles to go… (NY Premiere) / Jessica Mays / painting by Albert Malet
Danses (NY Premiere) / Catherine Neville / lithograph by Henri Fantin-Latour
Couple au Lit / David Mecionis / painting by Jean-Louis Forain
LeGato au Chocolat (World Premiere) / Dan Flanagan / painting by Cynthia Alvarez
The Only Way Through is Slow / Libby Larsen / painting by Nikki Vismara
Cadenza II / José González Granero / painting by Robert Antoine Pinchon

Written by pianist Kariné Poghosyan in anticipation of her February 14, 2024 Carnegie Hall performance.


I have always been deeply inspired by Gershwin’s story – the natural genius who was able to compose some of the most iconic works of the 20th century, even though he had hardly any professional training. Most impressive to me, a classical concert pianist, was just how effortlessly Gershwin navigated and often combined completely the different styles of classical, jazz, and pop music. This genre-defying approach is one of the reasons why his iconic Rhapsody in Blue is such a unifier, connecting to and inspiring people of all backgrounds since its premiere in February of 1924, almost exactly 100 years ago! As an artist, one of my biggest missions is indeed to seek ways to unify – to create points of connection, both among compositional styles and among my listeners. And so, what is the point of connection among an Argentine, an Afro-Englishman, a Cuban-American, an Armenian, and the son of Jewish immigrants from Odessa? All five composers reached to go beyond the Western Classical forms and techniques toward something much more ancient, a Paul Gauguinesque desire to embrace primal folk elements. This creates a remarkably cohesive theme among the five of them, with various “cross-pollinations” and commonalities. Both Ginastera and Babajanian embraced their respective folk traditions, while also exploring modernist 20th century elements such as the 12-tone serialist techniques. Both Coleridge-Taylor and Tania León were spurred to return to their roots, embracing rhythmic and melodic elements that could be traced back to African songs and dances. And of course, the overarching theme of Jazz, with spicy dissonant sonorities and Afro-Cuban driving rhythms unify all five composers.

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983), born in Buenos Aires to a Spanish father and an Italian mother, was prolific in all major genres including opera, ballet, symphonic and smaller-scale ensemble works, and even film music. He studied with Aaron Copland, and went on to become an important teacher himself, with such notable students as the great master of Tango, Astor Piazzolla. The Piano Sonata No.1, Op.22 was commissioned by the Carnegie Institute and the Pennsylvania College for Women and was premiered in 1952 by Johana Harris, the wife of the composer Roy Harris; the couple became the dedicatees of the Sonata. One of Ginastera’s biggest inspirations was the folk music of his native country, yet he aimed to compose in the Argentine style without directly quoting any folk themes. He referred to this integration of native dance-like rhythms and melodic figurations, and the modernist compositional devices of his times, such as polytonality and quartal harmonies, as “Objective Nationalism.” Certainly, the Piano Sonata generously showcases this unique style. The opening Allegro Marcato movement juxtaposes a muscular chordal theme with a lyrical song-like theme. The Presto Misterioso is a modernist masterpiece, with a 12-tone row presented most creatively – with both hands playing in unison 3 (and later 5) octaves apart! The Adagio molto appassionato opens with a mysterious note-by-note unraveling, leading up to a heart-wrenchingly dissonant climax in the middle section, before settling back into the mist it had emerged from. Ginastera chose to give the finale of the Sonata an unusual descriptive – Ruvido ed obstinato! The word “Ruvido” translates to “coarse,” “harsh,” and my personal favorite – “rugged!” It is an unabashed celebration of the brave and proud figure of the Gaucho, the Argentine version of the American cowboy! The interplay between 6/8 and 3/4 metric figurations adds to the driving pace that makes for one of the most audacious finales in all of piano repertoire.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was born in London and had the most remarkable journey as a composer, fully finding his musical identity only after visiting the United States. My friend, the renowned WQXR host Terrance McKnight, after hearing a bit of my recording of Coleridge-Taylor’s Three-Fours, remarked “This music sounds like being in love. Here is a composer who has given himself permission to love himself and be at peace with who he is.” Terrance was referring to the life-transforming moment of reconnection the Afro-English composer experienced during his U.S. visits. His English family had been encouraging of his great musical gifts, and young Samuel became immersed in the London classical circles, studying first the violin and then composition at the Royal College of Music. However, all through this early stage, a part of his identity – his African heritage – had remained an untapped resource; he had never met his Sierra Leonese father. When Samuel Coleridge-Taylor arrived in the U.S., he became a heroic figure for the African-American community because of all the success he had already achieved. Teddy Roosevelt caused a stir in 1904 when he invited this black composer to the White House! While he gave hope and encouragement to the African- Americans, he also experienced an invigorating rebirth, reconnecting to his African roots through the great riches of African-American music he heard. It was as if this long-dormant part of his soul came to life! In his Three-Fours, a set of six waltzes composed in 1911, Coleridge Taylor combined masterfully the Western classical vocabulary with the distinctly jazzy rhythmic and “blue-note” elements.

Tania León, born in 1943, in Havana, Cuba, is undoubtedly one of the most impactful composers and musical figures of our time. Her list of accomplishments is mile-long, with only a small number of highlights including Kennedy Center Honors, a Pulitzer Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Most recently, she was appointed Composer-in-Residence by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and is the holder of the 2023-24 Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall.
Her father deeply inspired her compositional journey, by asking her one day, after hearing a recent early work, “Where are you in your music?” This question urged her to embrace her roots and proudly incorporate rhythmic and motivic elements of Cuban music. The fact that Maestra León is now on top of the music world becomes even more extraordinary considering her humble beginnings. Her family in Cuba would save up pennies to invest in what she now calls the “Tania Project,” getting her music lessons and encouraging her budding gifts. At the age of 24, she comes to the US as a refugee, escaping the turmoil of the revolution in Castro’s Cuba. She would make New York her home, soon joining forces with the dancer/choreographer Arthur Mitchell to establish the Dance Theater of Harlem. Through the years that have followed, Maestra León has personified the inspiring motto of women’s rights activists – the heroines in her Pulitzer-prize-winning work “Stride” – the motto of “Failure is not an option!”
In her 2005 piano work “Tumbao,” dedicated to the great Cuban singer Celia Cruz, Maestra León fully embraces her father’s advice, highlighting the vivacious Salsa-like rhythmic patterns and spicy dissonant sonorities, which range from sharp minor seconds to full extended techniques of tone clusters. This is how she describes her approach,
“Like everything in life, we are all reinventing ourselves constantly. Cultures have emerged from the influences of people traveling around the planet. The same could be said for the evolution of music..I draw my inspiration from my ancestors and all of those I have been able to learn about or learn from in all walks of life. My early influences were Bach and Cervantes. The piano was the first instrument I touched as a baby – Grandma gave me a toy piano before I was one year old. I began my music studies, on the piano, at four, In Tumbao, I enjoyed being able to release some of my most vital roots into my composing mix.”

Arno Babajanian (1921-1983) was born in Yerevan, Armenia, and showcased such prodigious talent at the age of 5 to receive the encouragement and blessings of Aram Khachaturian himself. He would go on to study at the Yerevan and later Moscow Conservatories, excelling both as a composer and a pianist. Babajanian’s writing is centered around Armenian folk music, however quite similarly to Ginastera, he easily navigated many different styles, ranging from pop to serialism, as seen in the five selections on the program. The 1970 delicate miniature Melody is an homage to the style of the C-Minor Andantino by Khachaturian. The Six Pictures written in 1965 highlight Babajanian’s fascination with the modernist styles of the 20th century, such as 12-tone serialist techniques and polytonality. In the Folk Song, the right hand and left hand each present a unique 12-tone row, while the crazed and breathless Toccatina highlights Babajanian’s great love of Jazz. The last two works in the “Babajanian” group are examples of his deep love of Armenian music and the nation’s composers that had come before. The 1978 gem Elegie is undoubtedly one of his most beloved works, however, there is a very special meaning behind the work that is not well-known. The work was written in memoriam to the icon of Armenian music and the figure, whose encouraging words had been the reason for Babajanian’s musical journey, Aram Khachaturian, who had passed that year. At the root of the piece is “Qani vur jan im,” a heartwarming love song by the 18th-century Armenian troubadour, poet, and singer, Sayat-Nova (1712-1795). Though at first, the choice of this love song may appear unusual, Babajanian was quite purposeful in his gesture, knowing that Khachaturian was himself a great admirer of Sayat-Nova’s work and would often be found at his desk, voraciously studying manuscripts of his songs. The group concludes with a grand virtuosic showpiece, Dance of Vagharshapat. Just like the Elegie, at its heart is a beloved tune, which was used as a source by several Armenian composers, chiefly among them Komitas Vardapet in his Yerangi from the “Six Dances for Piano.” Given his deep love of Rachmaninoff, Babajanian’s work shines with bravura and virtuosic flare.

George Gershwin (1898-1937), named after his grandfather Jakov Gershowitz, was born in Brooklyn, New York, to immigrant parents who had fled the increasingly anti-Semitic Russia. Their young boy did not show much interest in music until 1908 when the 10-year-old would hear a violinist’s recital and be utterly transformed. The Gershwins had purchased a piano for their older son Ira, but it ends up being George, much to Ira’s relief, who spends the most time with the instrument. Gershwin’s music journey is atypical, to say the least! He never attended a traditional music conservatory, only taking sporadic private lessons in theory, composition, and piano. This created a fascinating dilemma in Gershwin’s life. On the one hand, he would often feel insecure as a composer, always looking up to and befriending the “masters” (Stravinsky, Ravel, Schoenberg, etc). And yet, the reason why those masters did indeed befriend him and the audiences adored his music is precisely because of his self-discovered and completely original style! The legend even has it that Ravel, after hearing of Gershwin’s desire to study with him, warmly replied, “You should give me lessons.” The very thing that George Gershwin often felt ashamed of was ironically what made him truly special! At 15, Gershwin dropped out of school to work as a pianist for the Tin Pan Alley, and soon after, he had already published his first song! Within the next ten years, Gershwin would hone in on a unique compositional voice that blended pop with classical, Western European with African American, and folklike with academic styles.

His iconic Rhapsody in Blue was commissioned by the jazz bandleader Paul Whiteman and would become the work that would define the Jazz Age. The tremendous success of its premiere on February 12, 1924, firmly established the 26-year-old Gershwin as one of the most notable composers of his era. It has since been richly featured in anything from films, such as Woody Allen’s 1979 Manhattan and Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 The Great Gatsby, to advertisements for United Airlines. Ironically, the writing process of the piece was quite nerve-wracking. Whitman and Gershwin had tentatively chatted about a new work but didn’t finalize any specifics. One fine afternoon a mere five weeks before the premiere, George’s brother Ira opened up a newspaper to read in horror of an upcoming performance of a new “jazz concerto” by George Gershwin. Recovering quickly from the shock, Gershwin set out to work, while traveling by train to Boston for an opening of a new musical. He later described:

“It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty bang, that is so often so stimulating to a composer…. And there I suddenly heard—and even saw on paper—the complete construction of the rhapsody, from beginning to end…I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot.. By the time I reached Boston I had a definite plot of the piece.”

February 14, 2024
Kariné Poghosyan, pianist

On Wednesday, February 14, 2024, at 8 PM. at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, pianist Kariné Poghosyan will be performing All That Jazz, a concert in honor of the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue. Also featured will be works by Ginastera, Coleridge-Taylor, Tania León, and Babajanian. This concert is presented by The Permanent Mission of the Republic of Armenia to the United Nations.

“Rhapsody in Blue is to me one of those iconic works that speaks to absolutely everyone,” says Poghosyan. “It is a stellar example of what Gershwin was aiming for with his compositions – erasing boundaries between different genres and styles of music! Therefore, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its premiere, I have created a program that highlights that magical combination of classical, jazz, and Latin elements, alongside works by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Alberto Ginastera, and Tania Leon, with a bit of my Armenian roots sprinkled in through virtuosic selections by Arno Babajanian.”

Tickets, $35-75 (seniors and student discounts available at the box office with valid ID), are available at www.carnegiehall.org, the Carnegie Hall Box Office at 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, or by calling CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800.

COMPLETE PROGRAM:

Alberto Ginastera, I Allegro marcato
II Presto misterioso
III Adagio molto appassionato
IV Ruvido ed ostinato

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, No.2 Andante, A-flat Major
No.3 Allegro, G Minor

Tania Léon, Tumbao

Arno Babajanian, Melody
Two Selections from Six Pictures
No.2 Folk Song
No.3 Toccatina
Elegie
Dance of Vagharshapat

George Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue

Enjoy a recent short video of Kariné playing Gershwin at the Soraya:

and Waltz by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor:

 

We recently sat down with Composer and Pianist Haskell Small, who suffered a debilitating stroke that rendered his left hand and foot paralyzed. At the time, Small feared his accomplished professional career would come to an end. Two years later, he is not only playing piano again but has embarked on a nationwide Celebration of Healing tour that recently launched in his hometown of Washington, DC. He will be the subject of a documentary film entitled Small Steps directed by Christopher McGuinness to be released later this fall. We sat down recently to talk with him about the process of regaining his performance abilities.

Did your work become more complex or focused during the time you spent rehabilitating and did it enrich your practice?

HS: “Yes to all! At first I could not use my left hand at all and I focused on writing and playing arrangements for my right hand alone. It kept me active and from getting depressed. I was also practicing with my left hand with help from a physical therapist who specializes in working with musicians with disabilities. Nine months later I started playing again with both hands. The disability is the loss of sensation as well as function — my left hand is not totally reliable and it is hard to control precise timing or to play extra softly. Despite these ongoing challenges, the practice encouraged by the physical therapist to play extra slow has definitely helped me get my left hand almost back to where it was and in some ways better, because I’m very focused on what needs to be done. It has enriched my capabilities in that way. The most profound enrichment though has been having the “privilege” of being able to immerse myself in the Diabelli variations. Parts of it are so beautiful that I can’t keep myself from crying. It’s been a spiritual journey to be inside this sublime music that Beethoven wrote when he was entirely deaf.”

Is it a story about disability as a tragedy to overcome, or more that the experience gave you insight into generating new aesthetic possibilities or something like that?

HS: “The answer is both. It generated a new composition for my right hand alone at first, ‘Diary of a Stroke: the Adventures if Herb and Pete,’ and as I recovered, ‘Etude for 2 Hands’ and ‘Song of a Stroke Survivor.’ But also I had to refocus on what I can and can’t do, rethinking what is important, and what I want to spend my time doing in my ‘autumnal years.’ Right now, I’m at a juncture where I am thinking about what I want to do after the Diabelli variations. I may look at old music or write new music. At this point, I am stepping beyond the stroke but may revisit some things that I did beforehand. May write a full symphony. I would love to do that if there was a possibility of a performance.”

 

Do you feel you’ve returned to normal? Do you identify as being disabled?

HS: “Walking-wise, my leg has the same lack of sensation as my hand. I’m finding more and more that I can place weight on it, but I don’t think I’ll ever walk normally. In terms of my hand and playing the piano, I would say, functionally, I’m 90-95% back to where I was; in some ways 105% because I have had to practice in a more intense, focused way. The sensation hasn’t returned and I don’t expect it to. But the function wasn’t lost- it was not the hand, but the brain that was damaged. The dead brain cells are lost, but as I understand it, my brain is rerouting the synapses so that I can access parts of the brain that are still functioning and piggyback off of those. By working on this incredibly challenging music, I am both helping my stroke recovery and growing as a pianist and musician.”