A recent top prizewinner in the George Enescu International Cello Competition and Beverly Hills National Auditions, Evnin Rising Star alumna cellist Sarah Rommel is indeed a star on the rise. She has been the recipient of several awards and grants, including the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artists Award, which led to a subsequent appearance on NPR’s From the Top. Pianist Xiaohui Yang joins Rommel for a varied program that pairs cello works from neighboring Germany and Czechoslovakia, including Martinů’s brooding variations on a Slovak theme and Beethoven’s delightful variations on Papageno’s aria from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte.
Sarah Rommel, cello
Xiaohui Yang, piano
Beethoven 12 Variations on “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen,” Op. 66 JanáčekPohádka Strauss Cello Sonata, Op. 6 Martinů Slovak Variations, H. 378
Evnin Rising Stars
The Evnin Rising Stars program is one of Caramoor’s four mentoring programs for emerging professionals. Each fall, Pamela Frank, Artistic Director for the mentoring program, selects six to eight young classical musicians for a week long chamber music residency. The Rising Stars spend the week in workshops, reading sessions, and ensemble rehearsals, culminating in live performances in the Music Room with their mentors. This mentoring program, named in honor of Judy Evnin, Caramoor’s Chairman Emerita, has identified some of the finest musicians of the next generation and helped them cross the threshold from their student years into the early stages of a professional career.
The Evnin Rising Stars mentoring program relies, in part, on special gifts to Caramoor’s Endowment and Annual Fund from donors interested in identifying and developing promising classical musicians.
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American cellist Sarah Rommel is a recent top prizewinner in the George Enescu International Cello Competition and Beverly Hills National Auditions. She has been the recipient of several awards and grants including a Williamson Foundation Grant, Frank Huntington Beebe Fund Grant, Anna Sosenko Trust Grant, and Jack Kent Cooke Young Artists Award, which led to a subsequent appearance on NPR’s From the Top.
Ms. Rommel has given solo performances and recitals in Philadelphia, New Jersey, Seattle, Aspen, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, France, England, and Italy, in addition to having made her solo orchestral debut in Bucharest, Romania with the George Enescu Philharmonic. She has actively participated in classes at the Piatigorsky International Cello Festival, Academie Musicale de Villecroze, and IMS Prussia Cove. She has worked closely with distinguished professors such as David Geringas, Gary Hoffman, Frans Helmerson, Carter Brey, Paul Katz, and members of the Emerson, St. Lawrence, Orion, and Takács Quartets in master classes.
Sarah Rommel has been the recipient of several awards and grants including a Williamson Foundation Grant, Frank Huntington Beebe Fund Grant, Anna Sosenko Trust Grant, and Jack Kent Cooke Young Artists Award, which led to a subsequent appearance on NPR’s From the Top.
An enthusiastic chamber musician, Ms. Rommel won the silver medal in the 2007 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition as a member of the Newman Quartet. She has been invited to perform at festivals such as Music from Angel Fire, NM, Music in May Festival, Santa Cruz Chamber Players, Chamber Music Palisades, as well as Ravinia’s Steans Institute of Music and Marlboro Music Festival. During the summer of 2013, Ms. Rommel joined the Antipodes String Trio for their concert tour of New Zealand under the auspices of Chamber Music New Zealand. Ms. Rommel has collaborated with composer John Adams in concert at the Kennedy Center and has most recently collaborated with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Orpheus Chamber Ensemble, and the Guarneri, Cleveland, and Orion String Quartets.
Ms. Rommel began her musical studies on the piano at age nine and was later introduced to the cello at age twelve. She is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, where she pursued a Bachelor of Music degree under the tutelage of Peter Wiley. Previous teachers include Efe Baltacigil and Hans Jørgen Jensen. She currently studies with Ralph Kirshbaum at USC Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles.
Xiaohui Yang, piano
Chinese pianist Xiaohui Yang has been featured as a soloist and chamber musician in performances throughout Asia and North America, in venues such as Carnegie Hall and the Seoul Arts Center. Recent engagements include concerto performances with the Louisiana Philharmonic, New Jersey Symphony, Curtis Symphony, and Milwaukee Symphony orchestras, and her competition prizes include awards from the New Orleans International Piano Competition, the American Protégé International Competition, the Piano Arts Competition, the Hong Kong Piano Open Competition, and the International Chopin Piano Competition in Asia. A dedicated chamber musician, Xiaohui has attended such festivals as Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, the Tanglewood Music Center, the Taos School of Music, the Beijing International Music Festival and Academy, and the Mannes Beethoven Institute. This season, she will attend the Marlboro Festival and will also be a featured artist in the Ravinia on Tour concerts throughout the United States.
Upon earning her bachelor’s degree in 2013, Xiaohui was awarded Curtis’s Festorazzi Prize for the best graduating piano student and was also selected for the Curtis On Tour performances in the United States and Korea.
Born in the Chinese town of Liaoning, Xiaohui first studied at the Attached Music School of the Shenyang Conservatory of Music, where she was a pupil of Danwen Wei, Xianwei Cheng and Rosemary Platt. She moved to the United States in 2008 to attend the Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with Ignat Solzhenitsyn and was recipient of the Michael and Cecilia lacovella Capuzzi Memorial Fellowship. Upon earning her bachelor’s degree in 2013, Xiaohui was awarded Curtis’s Festorazzi Prize for the best graduating piano student and was also selected for the Curtis On Tour performances in the United States and Korea. In 2015, Xiaohui earned her master’s degree at The Juilliard School as a recipient of the Cecilia Felman Piano Scholarship and pupil of Robert McDonald.
In addition to her studies at Curtis and Juilliard, Xiaohui has worked with such artists as Leon Fleisher, Menahem Pressler, Seymour Lipkin, Emanuel Ax, Peter Serkin, Jerome Lowenthal, Gary Graffman, Richard Goode, Jonathan Biss. Currently, Xiaohui lives in Baltimore, where she is a Doctor of Musical Arts candidate at the Peabody Conservatory, under the tutelage of Boris Slutsky.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
12 Variations in F Major on “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Op. 66
About the Composer
For generations the classic way of teaching composition to young musicians was by writing variations on a borrowed theme, which provided the opportunity to elaborate a familiar melody and experiment with varied textures while avoiding much of the struggle with intractable problems of harmony and melody, since that was already provided by the theme. At the same time, variations were among the most popular genres for home consumption. The performer could take a familiar tune and ring delightful changes for his own amusement or to entertain friends.
Many composers therefore turned out variation sets in large numbers, and some runofthemill hacks virtually specialized in the genre. Beethoven composed many variation sets in his earlier years, especially, for performers of at least middling ability (and sometimes for more virtuosic players). He usually chose popular arias from favorite operas. Potential purchasers loved to find a muchloved melody from a recent stage hit at the heart of the piece. In choosing tunes to vary, Beethoven turned to Mozart on several occasions. In 1792 or so he turned “Se vuol ballare” from The Marriage of Figaro into a variation set for violin and piano. “Là ci darem la mano” from Don Giovanni, was set for two oboes and English horn about 1795.
About the Work
Bracketing the turn of the century, he twice turned to The Magic Flute (which, with its overt ethical message, was always Beethoven’s favorite Mozart opera). In both cases he employed the cello for these variations, possibly because he chose passages featuring the baritone character Papageno, and the cello most nearly matched his vocal range. Or perhaps it was the other way around: when choosing an aria to use as the basis of a set of variations for cello and piano, he naturally gravitated to Papageno’s scenes. In any case, about 1800 he turned to Papageno’s cheerfully poignant little song – his answer to the question of what he really wants out of life – into a set of variations on “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” (A girlfriend or a little “wifey”), published in 1801.
Papageno sings his cheerful song after a scene in which his comrade Prince Tamino is preparing to undergo a trial by fire and water to achieve a rank higher than “prince” – Mensch, or, fully human being, beyond all artificial elements of rank. Papageno, a simple child of nature, has no desire to undergo such trials. When he is asked what he seeks, the answer is simple: a sweet little wife with whom to while away the basic joys of life.
A Deeper Listen
As it appears in the opera, each stanza of Papageno’s song is in two parts. The first, in duple meter, describes what he is looking for. The second half, in a faster 6/8 time, expands on what pleasure such a life you bring. For the purposes of the variation set, Beethoven creates the theme by combining the first eight measures from the first half of the song with the first eight measures of the second part – and in doing so, he converts the 6/8 meter to 2/4, like the first part. Having made this simple 16-bar theme, he creates twelve quite different versions of it, light-footed and charming, or serious and even pensive, and other moods in between.
Pohádka (Fairy Tale)
About the Composer
Janáček was a busy composer in his early years, but he mostly turned out pleasant but not especially memorable choral songs and the like. At the age of 50, he suddenly became one of the most original opera composers of the 20th century. Between 1904 and his death twenty-four years later, he composed six major operas that capped his career and opened up his work in other media; orchestral and chamber, to new approaches that also resulted in significant and novel items. The experience of opera showed him how to find inspiration in verbal sources, plays, stories, poems, and fairy tales.
About the Work
Aside from an early piano trio inspired by Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata (which he destroyed and later reworked into a string quartet), this three-movement work for cello and piano is Janáček’s earliest important chamber music work. Like the lost trio, it was inspired by a literary work. He originally named it after an epic poem by Vasili Andreyevich Zhukovsky (1783-1852) with the somewhat long-winded title The Tale of Tsar Berendey, of his son the Tsarevich Ivan, of the intrigues of Kashchey the Immortal and the wisdom of the Princess Marya, Kashchey’s daughter. Ballet lovers will at once recognize the names of Kashchey and the Tsarevich as principal characters in Stravinsky’s Firebird, composed in the very same year, 1910. The story told in Janáček’s piece is certainly related to that of the Stravinsky ballet, though it differs in many details. Still it involves enchantments and love at first sight (between the Tsarevich and Marya, the enchanted daughter of Kashchey) and transformations, finally leading to a happy ending.
A Deeper Listen
After having composed the work, Janáček wisely decided to forego any reference to the original story as a crutch for his music and simply renamed the piece Pohádka (“Fairy Tale”), leaving the listener to decide what elements of any generic fairy tale might possibly be evoked in the music. There is a great deal of canonic interplay between cello and piano that might well be interpreted as a dialogue between the lovers, with the cello taking the part of the young prince and the piano that of the beautiful and enchanted princess.
The original version of the score was premiered in Brno in 1910. A dozen years later Janáček revised the piece, and the final version, to be heard here, had its premiere in Prague on February 21, 1923, with Julius Junek as the cellist and Ruzena Nebusková as the pianist.
Cello Sonata, Op. 6
About the Composer
Strauss’s reputation is so much bound up with grandiose orchestral scores and operas that we are not likely to think of him as a composer of chamber music. Yet he did write in some of the traditional chamber genres, and though all of these works were early and might be presumed to be merely of historical interest, they betray a talent and an imagination that could have made the reputation of any composer who did not so utterly surpass himself with the works that came after. The chamber music reflects Strauss’s classical training and sheds an illuminating light on the classicizing of his later operas. In addition to a number of unpublished pieces from his earliest days as a composer (two piano trios, a work for flute and piano, and several compositions for horn-his father’s instrument-and piano), Strauss published a string quartet (Opus 2), a cello sonata (Opus 6), a piano quartet (Opus 13), and a violin sonata (Opus 18). Each of them marked a stage in the composer’s progress.
About the Work
He composed the Cello Sonata soon after entering the University of Munich in 1882, thus while just eighteen. Though the very opening strain, which was praised by Joachim, shows already the young Strauss’s love for soaring, broad-phrased melody. And though the continuation may seem more beholden to Mendelssohn (particularly his C-minor Trio, Opus 66, which Strauss seems to recall in the finale), this merely highlights the strictly classical training that his father insisted on. Yet, almost despite Papa Strauss’s constant adjurations to “keep it simple,” son Richard cheerfully disregarded this advice over and over again to unveil the energy and panache that was to become so striking a characteristic of his later masterpieces.
Slovak Variations, H.378
About the Composer
The very prolific Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů lived in his homeland for the first half of his life, but after he went to Paris in 1923 to study with Albert Roussel, he rarely if ever saw it again, though he became devoted to its cultural and musical traditions to the very end.
In Paris he absorbed a wide range of musical approaches that showed up in his work over the years, including several short ballet scores employing jazz elements. La Revue de Cuisine (“The Kitchen Revue”), involving the complicated love triangles of the Pot and the Lid, the Twirling Stick, the Dishcloth, and the Broom, became a huge success and became a stepping-stone to his international career. He lived in Paris during the ‘30s, but his music also made its way back to Prague. His opportunity to befriend and impress the conductor Serge Koussevitzky, who had just become the conductor of the Boston Symphony, was to play an important role in his life in the following decade.
During the months after the Nazi invastion of Czechoslovakia in 1939, Martinů served as a cultural attaché for the Czech opposition, and assisted many Czech refugees coming to Paris. Having been blacklisted by the Nazis, he needed to get out of Paris when the war broke out. In the spring of 1940, he and his wife fled to the south, from which they eventually made it, via Portugal, to the United States in the spring of 1941.
Without most of his music, depressed, and with little knowledge of English, he was greatly helped by Koussevitzky, who commissioned his First Symphony, and then one a year for four more years. He was offered the directorship of the Prague Conservatory after the war, but an injury sustained in a bad fall at Tanglewood kept him the U.S., where he taught composition at Princeton for five years. The Soviet control of his native country kept him from returning; he lived his last years mostly in France and Switzerland.
These last years resulted in an outpouring of works—operas, symphonic works, and cantatas, as well as a large number of chamber works. Though he could not visit Czechoslovakia, he made frequent use of Czech or Slovak tunes and legends in his music of this period.
About the Work
The Slovak Variations come from the composer’s last months, as he was dying of stomach cancer. Despite being in constant pain, he completed his opera The Greek Passion, based on the novel by his friend Nikos Kazantzakis, two cantatas, a second nonet, and—among many other chamber works—this set of variations on a Slovakian tune, which he composed at Pratteln, in Switzerland, in March 1959. There he was the guest of the conductor and patron Paul Sacher, for whom he had composed a number of works. This is his last chamber work for instrumental duo.
A Deeper Listen
The variations are based (quite freely) on a Slovakian folk song, Kde bych já veděla (“If I had known”). Even without knowing the full text, the title and the melody emphasize a poignant feeling suggesting some kind of loss. Considering that Martinů was only about five months from death and was suffering greatly from the stomach cancer, the piece can be heard as valedictory.
A frequent “short-long” rhythmic pattern is typical of the text, since many words in the language are stressed on the first syllable. The theme is presented directly by the cello after a brief, atmospheric introduction in the piano.
The variations proper are quite free, often seeming to make little reference to the theme during considerable parts of each section (though there is usually an evident reference to the theme at the end of each variation).
The first variation is syncopated in the cello against a more straightforward rhythm in the piano, though a middle section becomes far more intense, before returning to the poignant song of the theme.
The second variation moves mostly by way of a driving rhythmic motive that repeats two quick notes leading to a downbeat, then repeated over and over. When hints of the theme come back in the latter part, the cello presents it with double-stopping.
For the third variation, the cello sings its mournful song throughout, quiet but intense, while the piano backs it up with chords at first solemn, then delicate.
The fourth variation begins in a livelier mood, like a scherzo, becoming at times a real triple-meter dance, almost a swinging waltz, before achieving a rhetorical close.
The piano sets up the final, hearty variation, a Slovak folk dance, in which one can see dancing couples in a vigorous outburst of joyous energy, closing with a final brief reference to the poignant song that is the theme.