Art of the Duo

By William Robin

First rule of Art of the Duo: You do talk about it, but make sure you don’t call it an accompaniment. It’s what every violinist learns in the first week of Juilliard, or any other conservatory for that matter. The pianist is not your backup. The pianist is an equal partner. Each of Beethoven’s 10 sonatas – half of which were performed last summer and the remaining five will be featured June 30 – is, in fact, titled “Sonata for Piano and Violin.” These are no virtuoso-laden concertos, but instead a dialogue where the violin is allowed to gracefully share the stage with the piano.

Before Beethoven’s time, the violin was a mere addition to the piano sonata, an optional part doubling the pianist’s right hand. Building on concepts Mozart developed, Beethoven brought new force to the violin’s role. What’s remarkable about Beethoven’s music is his care for balance; the way he created a powerful drama from the interaction of the two instruments. Titling a cycle of Beethoven’s sonatas “The Art of the Soloist” would do no justice to the composer and his performers.

Second rule of Art of the Duo: You do talk about, and embrace, its diversity. Not only will you hear the breadth of Beethoven’s own style – the classical refinement of No. 2; the storminess of No. 4; and the resplendence of the late “Kreuzer” Sonata – but you will also absorb an impressive array of perspectives on the music from nine musicians at the top of their field.

Violinist Tim Fain, an adventurous experimenter in multimedia and star of the “Black Swan” film soundtrack, will play alongside pianist John Novacek. Sisters Jennifer and Laura Frautschi tackle their sonatas with pianists Jeewon Park and Mr. Novacek, respectively. The Juilliard Quartet’s newest violinist, Joseph Lin, will meet head-on with Juilliard student Min Young Park. Michael Brown, a pianist with an impressive side career as a composer, is paired with French violinist Arnaud Sussmann.

Third rule of Art of the Duo: cultivate your duos. All of the violinists performing are resident Caramoor Virtuosi and alumni of Caramoor’s Evnin Rising Stars program, an annual week-long resident mentoring experience that immersed them in the study of chamber music. The performers forged bonds across instruments and generations, building a home at Caramoor and returning frequently to reconnect with their former musical partners.

Fourth rule of Art of the Duo: embrace the spirit of Beethoven in the Venetian Theater.  Beethoven’s 10 sonatas revolutionized the chamber music repertory, pushing the spectacle of the duo to new heights. Any of these works performed on their own would craft an individual sonic world, but played as a group, allows the listener a unique experience and a chance to witness the formidable connections Beethoven created between two instruments over the course of his entire compositional career. These young musicians breathe new life into these canonic staples, offering a 21st-century performer’s perspective on an enduring body of work from the 19th-century. What does Beethoven mean today? Join us and find out on June 30.

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