Thursday July 9, 2015 7:00pm

Alexi Kenney & Renana Gutman

Overview

The next generation of phenomenal artists is only a debut recital away. Let us introduce you…

As a two-time participant in our Evnin Rising Stars mentoring program for classical string musicians, violinist Alexi Kenney honed his distinctive poise and thoughtful repertoire, stoking the creative fire that would lead him to a win at the 2013 Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition at the tender age of nineteen. Kenney attends the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where he studies with exceptional musicians such as Miriam Fried and Donald Weilerstein.

A top prize winner at the Los Angeles Liszt Competition, International Keyboard Festival in New York, and Tel-Hai International Master Classes, Renana Gutman has performed with orchestras including Jerusalem Symphony, Haifa Symphony, Belgian “I Fiamminghi”, and the Mannes College Orchestra. Gutman spent summers at the Marlboro and Ravinia Music Festivals where she collaborated with Richard Goode, Mitsuko Uchida, members of the Guarneri Quartet, and clarinetist Anthony McGill. Much affiliated with vocalists, she has performed with Lincoln Center soprano Susan Naruki, and mezzo-soprano and Caramoor Opera favorite Tamara Mumford.

Alexi Kenney, violin
Renana Gutman, piano

Westhoff Suite No. 2 in A major for solo violin
Bach  Sonata for violin and keyboard No. 3 in E major, BWV 1016
Poulenc  “C” (transcribed for violin and piano by Alexi Kenney)
Enescu Sonata No. 3, Op. 25

Kenney_Alexi_131008-MCAlexi Kenney

Violinist Alexi Kenney commands attention with his distinctive poise, musical intellect, and thoughtful repertoire, attributes that contributed to his recent win at the 2013 Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition at the age of nineteen. His numerous other awards include top prizes at the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition (2012), the Mondavi Center Competition (2010), and the 2013 Kronberg Academy master classes in Germany.

He was praised for his “beautiful, aching tone” by Strings magazine for his performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the China Philharmonic Orchestra in Beijing. Alexi has given recitals at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., Napa’s Festival del Sole, and the Mondavi Center, and he has been featured on NPR’s “From the Top.” Highlights of his 2014–15 season include concerto debuts with the Santa Fe and Roswell symphonies, a recital at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, and chamber music performances at Schloss Elmau in Germany and with the Jupiter Chamber Players and the Omega Ensemble in New York.

Alexi has collaborated with artists including Pamela Frank, Miriam Fried, Gary Graffman, Wu Han, Frans Helmerson, Steven Isserlis, Kim Kashkashian, Steve Mackey, Christian Tetzlaff, and members of the Borromeo, Cleveland, Guarneri, and Takács Quartets at festivals such as Caramoor’s “Rising Stars,” Music@Menlo and its Winter Residency, “Chamber Music Connects the World” at the Kronberg Academy, and the Ravinia Festival’s Steans Music Institute, with whom he went on tour in the U.S. and Cuba in spring 2014.

Born in Palo Alto, California, Alexi attends the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where he studies with Miriam Fried and Donald Weilerstein on the Richard Elias Scholarship. Previous teachers include Wei He, Jenny Rudin, and Natasha Fong.

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 7.20.16 PMRenana Gutman

Praised by the New York Sun for playing “with great vigor and aplomb” and for the “true poetry in her phrasing,” Renana Gutman has performed across three continents as an orchestral soloist, recitalist, and collaborative artist.

A top prize winner at the Los Angeles Liszt Competition, International Keyboard Festival in New York, and Tel-Hai International Master Classes, she has performed with orchestras including Jerusalem Symphony, Haifa Symphony, Belgian “I Fiamminghi”, and the Mannes College Orchestra.

An ardent interpreter of Beethoven, Ms. Gutman was one of four young pianists selected by the renowned Leon Fleisher to participate in his workshop on Beethoven Piano Sonatas hosted by Carnegie Hall where she presented performances of “Hammerklavier” and “Appassionata” to critical acclaim.

Ms. Gutman spent summers at the Marlboro and Ravinia Music Festivals where she collaborated with Richard Goode, Mitsuko Uchida, members of the Guarneri Quartet, and clarinetist Anthony McGill. She toured with “Musicians from Marlboro” in series such as the People’s Symphony Concerts (NY), Gardener Museum (Boston), and Freer Gallery (Washington). Much affiliated with vocalists, she has performed with Lincoln Center soprano Susan Naruki, and mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford of the Metropolitan Opera.

Her last seasons with duo partner, violinist Dan Zhu, included Ravinia Rising Stars, Washington National Gallery, Stresa Music Festival, Italy and a tour in South Africa.
Ms. Gutman’s former piano trio, “Terzetto”, with violinist Diana Cohen and cellist Tanya Ell, won First Prize at the Yellow Springs Chamber Music Competition in Ohio and has performed the Beethoven Triple Concerto with the Lansing Symphony. The Trio has been featured at “Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival”, the Banff Center in Canada, Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival (North Carolina), and the Saugatuck Music Festival (Michigan).

A native of Israel, Ms. Gutman started piano studies at the age of six. Soon recognized as a prodigy garnering multiple awards and honors, she became a recipient of America Israel Cultural Foundation Scholarship with distinction from 1992-2004, and later on of Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women Scholarship.

Her most influential teachers were pianists Natasha Tadson and Victor Derevianko in Israel, Richard Goode at Mannes College of Music in New York, where she completed her Bachelor and Master of Music degrees, and the established composer Arik Shapira.

Since 2012, she has been serving as the staff collaborative pianist of Steans Institute at Ravinia Festival.

Ms. Gutman has previously been on the faculty of the Yehudi Menuhin Music School in the UK. She currently teaches at 92nd Street Y in New York City, and the Preparatory Division of the Bard College Conservatory of Music.

Johann Paul von Westhoff  /  1656 – 1705 / Suite No. 2 in A major for solo violin

Born in Dresden, Westhoff was one of several important violinists and composers for the violin (they were usually the same) in the generation before J.S. Bach. He was a pupil of Heinrich Schütz, the greatest German composer of the 17th century, who died when Westhoff was sixteen. He was a member of the Dresden Kapelle for 20 years, though he also traveled widely and developed a major reputation as a performer. He was a colleague of the young Bach in his last years in Weimar (they are believed to have met in 1703), and Westhoff’s output—what survives is entirely for unaccompanied violin and sonatas for solo violin with basso continuo. Both categories were early examples of their type, and they surely influenced Bach to write his six sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin. He made considerable use of double-stopping, and his approach to the solo instrument was essentially contrapuntal, as was Bach’s later .

The Suite No. 2 in A major consists of the four types of dances arranged in the pattern that was becoming standard (it continued to be used by Bach, though he also often inserted one or two other types of dances). Each dance is in binary form, with two sections, both of which are marked to be repeated. The Allemande moves in running 16th-notes with a texture frequently implying three contrapuntal voices, sometimes extending to four-voiced chords. The Courante moves smoothly, often with two lines running as parallel thirds. The Sarabande is slower with a texture that is fuller (often four voices). The final Gigue dances in a lively way, but the second half of each section tends to be more chordal that the implied counterpoint of the opening. This must have given many violinists of the day a bit of a shock—and created a challenge that they had to meet.

 

Johann Sebastian Bach / 1685 – 1750 / Sonata for violin and keyboard No. 3 in E major, BWV 1016

A very large part of Bach’s chamber music was composed during the happy years (1717-1723) he spent in the court of the music-loving Prince Leopold in Cöthen. Bach’s sonatas for violin (both with and without accompaniment) were probably composed there, not to mention several of the Brandenburg concertos, the violin concertos, and some of the most familiar keyboard works. Only in 1721, when the prince married a woman who was far less fond of music than he, did the bloom of Cöthen fade for Bach, and he began to look for another position.

A solo sonata in Bach’s day usually featured a melody instrument with the accompaniment of a basso continuo. In the written score, this would be a bass line only, to be played by the harpsichord (with the possible addition of a melody bass instrument); the harpsichordist was expected to fill in the harmonies during the performance, according to well-established harmonic practices. But in his six accompanied sonatas for the violin Bach chose to write out a full formal accompaniment for the keyboard, with an elaborated right-hand part presenting its own musical line, quite as if it were a second violin, for example, in the more common trio sonata. Indeed, these sonatas bear the texture of the trio sonata so strongly that one manuscript, copied by Bach’s son-in-law Altnikol, actually bears the title “Six Trios for Keyboard and Violin”!

All of the sonatas but the sixth have four movements arranged in the traditional pattern of the sonata da chiesa—slow, fast, slow, fast. In Sonata No. 3, the first movement displays three levels of activity: The very slow, sustained bass line in the left hand of the keyboard part, a steady sixteenth-note moving figure in the right hand, and—soaring above it all—the violin’s gently hovering song in pensive sustained notes decorated with lavish runs of thirty-seconds. The second and fourth movements—both Allegros—offer the same texture as one of Bach’s three-part inventions: two fast-moving upper parts in imitation over a slightly slower but energetic bass line. The most striking movement of the sonata is the third, a chaconne in which the keyboard’s left hand plays a repeating bass pattern repeated over and over (with slight adjustments for transposition to new keys), while the violin and the keyboard’s right hand alternate ecstatic melody and supporting accompaniment.

 

Francis Jean  Matcel Poulenc / 1899-1963 /  “C” (transcribed for violin and piano by Alexi Kenney)

C is a setting of a poem by Louis Aragon that evokes, in carefully veiled words, the miseries of France under German occupation; Poulenc composed the song in 1943, and its first performance in Paris that year aroused the French audience to an enthusiasm that Germans in attendance did not understand. The “bridge of Cé” is where “it all began”—a place where the French vainly attempted to repel the Germans early in the war. Every line of Aragon’s poem ends with a syllable identical to the sound of the name of the bridge (prounounced “say”), making of the poem a hypnotic litany.  Poulenc’s setting, gentle and nostalgic, was—especially under the circumstances—overwhelming. Though the arrangement for violin and piano deprives the listener of the wordplay that was the starting point for Poulenc’s composition, the mood of the music remains the same.

 

George Enescu / 1881-1955 /  Sonata No. 3, Op. 25

Few things can be more damaging to an artist than overwhelming popularity. The Rumanian composer George Enescu (as an adult living in Paris and working internationally, he came to spell his name in French, as Georges Enesco) was not only one of the finest violinists of his generation, but also a superb composer and a fine pianist and conductor. His violin playing was in such demand that it frequently limited his compositional activity. But the real artistic problem of his life came from the simple fact that his two Rumanian Rhapsodies, published together in 1901, when he was only twenty, were so overwhelmingly popular that they drove virtually all of his other compositions into the shade—and these include an extraordinary opera, Oedipe (after Sophocles, regarded by some critics as one of the greatest operas of the century), three symphonies., choral music and songs, and a substantial amount of chamber music.

Enescu began playing the violin at the age of four, and the following year (once he learned how musical notation worked) he began composing. At seven he entered the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, where he also studied piano, organ, and cello. He absorbed Wagner through Richter’s performances and Brahms through playing in the conservatory orchestra with the composer present. He graduated in 1893—he was twelve!—but stayed an extra year for more work in composition with Joseph Fuchs. After this Viennese experience, he entered the Paris Conservatory in 1895 and studied there with Massenet and Fauré. He wrote his first orchestra piece there, a Rumanian Poem, and when he conducted it in Bucharest in March 1888, he was instantly hailed as a significant figure in Rumanian culture.

He graduated from the Paris Conservatory in 1899 and began the thoroughly bifurcated existence that marked most of his life—dividing his location between Romania and France and his activity between performing and composing. In the years before World War I he tended to tour as a violinist or as part of a chamber ensemble (including such partners as Alfred Cortot and Pablo Casals), then returned to Rumania for a quiet summer of composing in the countryside. He spent most of the war years building the musical life of his homeland (including the founding of an orchestra in 1917, and later, in 1921, of an opera company).

He had an electric personality that was commented on by almost everyone who met him. When he toured the United States in 1925, he so impressed the nine-year-old Yehudi Menuhin that he moved from San Francisco to Europe to study with him. Other violinists who benefited from his teaching included Christian Ferras, Ivry Gitlis, Arthur Grumiaux, and Ida Haendel.

One reason, perhaps, for the relative lack of renown of his own compositions was his modesty about his own music as well as his humble regard toward the music of others.

At least one aspect of his chamber music output is relatively well known: his three sonatas for violin and piano, because his principal performing medium was the violin. He composed his last violin sonata in 1926, subtitled “in the Rumanian folk style.” This does not by any means indicate that he simply assembles a medley of folk tunes. On the contrary, rather like Bartók at about the same time, he developed a musical language that seems to have absorbed the entire melos of Rumanian music within it. His characteristic mood (evident in the first two movements of the sonata) is the doina, also called the hora lunga, or “long song,” a form of very personal music-making with long drawn-out lines in a kind of parlando delivery, as a sort of instrumental recitative.

The opening movement (Moderato malinconico) lives up to the descriptive “melancholy” in the tempo marking, starting with a gradual unfolding of figures in a “gapped” scale (one that skips over certain notes, used in the doina) and decorative ornamentations often found in improvised folk traditions, in a slow tempo. The violin tends to sustain long, plangent notes against a more lively rhythmic accompaniment in the piano, like a soulful balladeer at some kind of festivity, and even the occasional bursts of livelier activity from the violin quickly turn back to the more internalized lamentation that is the principal mood of the movement.

The piano creates a steady ostinato on a single note at the beginning of the Andante sostenuto e misterioso, while the violin again sings long notes in a tone of lamentation, soaring over the pulsations in the piano. But a passage of a mysterious chromatic scale (like a howling wind) emphasizes the eerie character of the movement. Enescu’s music continually develops small motivic figures in varying tempi and moods, from plangent to passionate.

The slow movement—Andante sostenuto e misterioso—begins with a chill, high keening in the violin over a repeated note in the piano. The steady pulsation of the piano continues at length as the violin sings its doina, in a mysterious sustained lamentation. Suddenly a burst of lively activity changes the mood entirely to a vigorous dance character, then turning into another slower song of passionate urgency.

The last movement (Allegro con brio, ma non troppo mosso) takes on a real dance character, with a music designed for stomping and dancing, microtonal decorations, and filled with life.

© Steven Ledbetter