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1991 Naumburg Viola Award winner and Brentano String Quartet violist Misha Amory returns to the String Masters Series with pianist Thomas Sauer to perform a program that includes Amory’s own transcription of the Bach Violin/Harpsichord Sonata No. 3 as well as works by Hindemith, Bax, and Garth Knox. Amory is active as soloist, chamber musician, and teacher serving on the faculties of the Juilliard School and Curtis Institute of Music.
J.S. BACH: Violin/Keyboard Sonata No. 3 (arranged for viola by Misha Amory)
PAUL HINDEMITH: Solo Sonata, op. 11, no. 5
GARTH KNOX: Quartet for One
ARNOLD BAX: Sonata for viola and piano
Andrew Mark, artistic director
String Masters Series is a recital series celebrating the art of great string playing, featuring acclaimed artists from around the world.
J. S. BACH: Sonata in A major, BWV. 1016
III. Adagio ma non tanto
PAUL HINDEMITH: Sonata for Solo Viola, op. 11, no. 5
I. Lebhaft, aber nicht geeilt
II. Mässig schnell, mit viel Wärme vortragen
IV. In Form und Zeitmass einer Passacaglia
GARTH KNOX: Quartet For One
ARNOLD BAX: Sonata for Viola and Piano
I. Molto Moderato
II. Allegro energico ma non troppo presto
III. Molto Lento
Notes Written by Misha Amory
A violist often plays the role of magpie within the string family, eyeing the choicest morsels from its neighbors' repertoires and occasionally stealing one. The music by J. S. Bach for violin, cello and viola da gamba is an especially tempting collection, and we violists are constantly at work practicing and performing the solo suites, sonatas and partitas, not to mention the three sonatas for da gamba and harpsichord. We are less likely to dip into the six sonatas for violin and harpsichord, because they pose more of a dilemma as to whether to transpose down a fifth—thereby making the keyboard part somewhat low and muddy-sounding—or to play at original pitch, which might lead to an overly shrill, bright viola part. I have opted to transpose the radiant Sonata No. 3 in E Major down to A Major for tonight's program, having faith in the superb voicing and color management of my sonata partner, Thomas Sauer.
The other two large works on the program, Paul Hindemith's Solo Sonata op. 11 No. 5 and Arnold Bax's Sonata for viola and piano, were published within a year of each other in 1922 and 1923, and offer matching views of the viola's emergence as an important solo instrument: Bax wrote his work for the British superstar violist Lionel Tertis, and Hindemith of course wrote for himself. Contemporaneous though they are, the two pieces offer very different perspectives on where musical style was heading in the Europe of the 1920s.
Bax came of age around 1900, a time when the British music scene was completely in thrall to the Germanic tradition. Bax's generation was the first to strive for a British identity among composers; in the shadow of Elgar, they counted among their number Ralph Vaughan-Williams, Gustav Holst, Frank Bridge, Arthur Bliss, and York Bowen. Bax is a curiosity within this crowd; an urbane, hyper-literate member of a fairly privileged class, he was ultimately to fall completely in love with all things Irish, and to compose what he called "figures and melodies of a definitely Celtic curve." For myself, at least in the sonata, I hear rather more of a jazz-hall or salon influence, merged with plenty of post-Romantic richness in its sumptuous textures. It is a piece very much of its time, and offers a snapshot of Edwardian sensibilities that were on the verge of being left behind—or perhaps already had been.
The younger Hindemith, by contrast, was enjoying a kind of “wild-child” period in 1922, writing virtuosic and jarringly vivid music that featured both the churning rhythms of the machine age and a high, bright tonal palette that seemed to want to clear away the last remaining wisps of Romantic fug still in the air. The op. 11 No. 5 sonata is almost defined by its opening two stamping chords, expressly intended to shock a Romantic sensibility, which are the centerpiece of the first movement and which return in the last movement to form a basis for a passacaglia, an ancient form that emphasises clarity and structure. At the same time, in the middle movements, Hindemith offers up two satires of Viennese waltz style: one is lazy and self-indulgent, reclining on its chaise longue, and one is biting, militaristic and rather silly. As a whole, this is a sonata that refers to bygone styles and forms, but wishes to snap us awake from our assumptions about them.
As a lighter acknowledgment of our current pandemic crisis, I am also offering Garth Knox' Quartet For One, which is a seven-minute instruction manual for how to still play chamber music even when your friends can't come visit you.
About the Artists
Misha Amory, viola, has been active as a soloist and chamber musician for 30 years. He has performed with orchestras in the United States and Europe, and has been presented in recital at New York’s Alice Tully Hall, Los Angeles’s Ambassador series, Philadelphia’s Mozart on the Square festival, Boston’s Gardner Museum, Houston’s Da Camera series, and Washington’s Phillips Collection. He has been invited to perform at several esteemed festivals across the United States, and has released recordings of music by Bach, Hindemith, George Benjamin, and Richard Wilson. Amory is also a member of the Brentano String Quartet, which won the first Cleveland Quartet Award and the Naumburg Chamber Music Award, and serves on the faculties of The Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute. Learn more about Amory at brentanoquartet.com.
Thomas Sauer, piano, is a sought-after soloist and chamber musician. Recent appearances include concertos with the Quad-City and Tallahassee Symphonies; solo performances at Carnegie Hall and St. John’s College, Oxford; and performances with the Chamber Music Societies of Lincoln Center and Philadelphia. Sauer has performed in esteemed venues throughout the world with his long-time duo partner Colin Carr, and has also appeared with members of the Juilliard String Quartet, violinist Jennifer Koh, and the Brentano String Quartet. A faculty member of Mannes and Vassar Colleges, Sauer founded and directed the Mannes Beethoven Institute. Learn more about Sauer at newschool.edu.
Music Division and Performance Services
Dean of Music – Michael Shinn
Chair of Voice – Patty Thom
Chair of Instrumental Studies – Matthew Marsit
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