Caramoor favorites Colin Jacobsen (founding member of The Knights and Brooklyn Rider), Nicolas Cords and Edward Arron (both Evnin Rising Star alumni) join forces for a special performance of Bach’s iconic and beloved Goldberg Variations, arranged for string trio. Opening the program will be Biber’s haunting Passacaglia from his Mystery Sonatas, for solo violin.
Colin Jacobsen, violin
Nicholas Cords, viola
Edward Arron, cello
Biber Passacaglia in G Minor for Solo Violin, C. 105 Bach Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, transcribed for string trio by Dmitry Sitkovetsky
Goldberg Variations with Mischa Maisky, Nobuko Imai, and Julian Rachlin
Violinist and composer Colin Jacobsen is “one of the most interesting figures on the classical music scene” (Washington Post). An eclectic composer who draws on a range of influences, he was named one of the top 100 composers under 40 by NPR listeners. He is also active as an Avery Fisher Career Grant-winning soloist and a touring member of Yo-Yo Ma’s famed Silk Road Ensemble. For his work as a founding member of two game-changing, audience-expanding ensembles – the string quartet Brooklyn Rider and orchestra The Knights – Jacobsen was recently selected from among the nation’s top visual, performing, media, and literary artists to receive a prestigious and substantial United States Artists Fellowship.
In 2005, the violinist founded Brooklyn Rider with violinist Johnny Gandelsman, violist Nicholas Cords, and his brother, cellist Eric Jacobsen. Hailed as “one of the wonders of contemporary music” (Los Angeles Times), the quartet combines true new-music chops and genre-bending innovation with an equal mastery of the classics. Together its members have presented a wealth of world premieres and toured extensively across North America, Asia and Europe, in venues ranging from clubs and rock festivals to Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. Brooklyn Rider’s recordings Passport, Dominant Curve, and Seven Steps all made NPR’s best-of-the-year lists; the group’s Silent City, its collaboration with Iranian kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor, was named one of Rhapsody’s Best World Music Albums of the Decade; and with Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass, the four musicians proved themselves “stunning interpreters” (Time Out Chicago) of the composer’s music.
Violinist Colin Jacobsen is a founding member of the string quartet, Brooklyn Rider, and The Knights chamber orchestra. Jacobsen also tours as a violin soloist and has composed works both for chamber and orchestral ensembles.
It was to foster the intimacy and camaraderie of chamber music on the orchestral stage that Jacobsen and his brother, conductor and cellist Eric Jacobsen, founded The Knights. As the New Yorker reports, “few ensembles are as adept at mixing old music with new as the dynamic young Brooklyn orchestra.” The “consistently inventive, infectiously engaged indie ensemble” (New York Times) has appeared at New York venues ranging from Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the 92nd Street Y to Central Park and (Le) Poisson Rouge, storied concert halls worldwide including Dresden Musikfestspiele, Cologne Philharmonie, Düsseldorf Tonhalle, and National Gallery of Dublin.
Colin Jacobsen’s work as a composer developed as a natural outgrowth of his chamber and orchestral collaborations. Jointly inspired by encounters with leading exponents of non-Western traditions and by his own classical heritage, his writing reveals an eclectic personal voice with a “knack for spinning lines with an elasticity that sounds uncannily like improvisation” (New York Times). Among Jacobsen’s most notable compositions for Brooklyn Rider are Brooklesca, an homage to his Brooklyn home; Beloved, do not let me be discouraged…, as heard on the quartet’s acclaimed recording with Kayhan Kalhor; and Achille’s Heel, which is showcased on Dominant Curve. His most recent compositions for the group include Three Miniatures – “vivacious, deftly drawn sketches” (New York Times), which were written for the reopening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Islamic art galleries. Jacobsen collaborated with Iran’s Siamak Aghaei to write a Persian folk-inflected composition, Ascending Bird, which he performed as soloist with the YouTube Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House, in a concert that was streamed live by millions of viewers worldwide. His work for dance and theater includes music for Compagnia de’ Colombari’s theatrical production of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself.
As a violin soloist, Jacobsen was “born to the instrument and its sweet, lyrical possibilities” (New York Times). He has collaborated with orchestras including the New York Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony, and has premiered concertos by Kevin Beavers and Lisa Bielawa. He has performed with such prominent artists as Emanuel Ax, Joshua Bell, Steven Isserlis, Yo-Yo Ma, Christian Tetzlaff, Mitsuko Uchida, and composer Tan Dun, with whom he toured China. With Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters as narrator, Jacobsen recently performed Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat. He has regularly appeared with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, at Bargemusic, and as a member of the Metropolitan Museum Artists in Concert, besides enjoying cross-disciplinary explorations with dance and theater companies including the New York City Ballet, Mark Morris Dance Group, and Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. His numerous summer festival engagements include Caramoor, Marlboro, Mostly Mozart, Moritzburg, Ravinia, Salzburg, Tanglewood and Taiwan’s National Concert Hall.
A graduate of the Juilliard School and the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, Jacobsen’s principal teachers have included Doris Rothenberg, Louise Behrend, Robert Mann and Vera Beths. He received an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2003.
Colin Jacobsen plays a Joseph Guarneri filius Andreae violin dating back from 1696 and a Samuel Zygmuntowicz violin made in 2008.
Violist Nicholas Cords is strongly committed to the advocacy and performance of music from a very broad historic and geographical spectrum. His busy touring schedule has led him in recent years to Carnegie Hall, the Concertgebouw, the Cologne Philharmonie, and the Library of Congress. As a soloist, he has appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the New York String Seminar Orchestra. He appeared at the 2012 White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg where he performed recent contemporary American chamber and solo works, including Morton Feldman’s The Viola In My Life 3. At the 2012 Vail International Dance Festival, he gave two performances of Stravinsky’s Elegie for solo viola with the Brazilian ballerina Carla Korbes in a late Balanchine choreography that hasn’t been seen for thirty years. He has appeared in recent years at the Schleswig-Holstein, Santa Fe, Tanglewood, Spoleto, Moritzburg, Lincoln Center, Mostly Mozart, Ravinia, Smithsonian Folklife, and Bard Festivals.
Mr. Cords is a regular member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, a musical collective that uses the historic Silk Road trading route as a metaphor for musical exchange and creativity in the present. The group has not only traveled to many of the major musical centers of the United States and Europe, but also to China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, India, Egypt, Iran, Syria and a number of the Central Asian Republics. In addition to performing with the ensemble, he has taken a role in the organization and development of new creative projects, programming for concerts and museum residencies, and as an active part of two long-term residencies with the group; one at the Rhode Island School of Design and one at Harvard University. Mr. Cords appears on all four of the ensemble’s albums; Silk Road Journeys, Beyond the Horizon, New Impossibilities and Off the Map.
Mr. Cords is also a founding member of Brooklyn Rider; a genre-defying string quartet dedicated to creative programming of repertoire both new and old. The group has collaborated with composers all over the globe, as well as with Irish fiddler Martin Hayes, Persian kemancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor, Japanese shakuhachi player Kojiro Umezaki, banjo phenomenon Bela Fleck, and songstress Suzanne Vega, to name a few. Equally at home in concert halls and clubs, Brooklyn Rider was the only classical group invited to play in the 2010 South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. Last season’s highlights included Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall debuts. This season sees the group touring in North America and Asia, along with premieres of works by John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Vijay Iyer, Padma Newsome, Greg Saunier, and more. Their recordings, Silent City, Passport, and Dominant Curve, Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass, and Seven Steps have received wide critical acclaim from sources ranging from Gramophone Magazine to Pitchfork.
Mr. Cords began his musical education at the Juilliard School where he won top honors in the viola competition and subsequently gave the New York premiere of John Harbison’s Viola Concerto at Avery Fisher Hall. He completed his studies at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. His teachers have included Karen Tuttle, Harvey Shapiro, Joseph Fuchs, and Felix Galamir. A committed teacher, Mr. Cords currently teaches at Stony Brook University. He spends part of his summer schedule teaching at the Bennington Chamber Music and Composers Conference and served for eight years as viola instructor at Princeton University. He has twice participated as a mentor along with other members of the Silk Road Ensemble in the Weill Institute Professional Training Workshops at Carnegie Hall and has also delivered a series of teacher workshops for the New York City Department of Education on music and the role of it can play in cross-cultural understanding. He recently presented a talk at the American Association of Museums National Conference on the role of music in a museum setting. He is a regular contributor to NPR’s classical music blog Deceptive Cadence. Mr. Cords plays on an instrument made for him in 2008 by famed Brooklyn maker Samuel Zygmuntowicz.
Cellist Edward Arron has garnered recognition worldwide for his elegant musicianship, impassioned performances, and creative programming. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Mr. Arron made his New York recital debut in 2000 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Since that time, he has appeared in recital, as a soloist with major orchestras, and as a chamber musician throughout North America, Europe and Asia.
In 2013, Mr. Arron completed a ten-year residency as the artistic director of the critically acclaimed Metropolitan Museum Artists in Concert, a chamber music series created in 2003 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Museum’s prestigious Concerts and Lectures series. Currently, he is the artistic director, host, and resident performer of the Musical Masterworks concert series in Old Lyme, Connecticut, as well as the Festival Series in Beaufort, South Carolina and Chamber Music on Main at the Columbia Museum in Columbia, SC. Additionally, Mr. Arron curated a series, “Edward Arron and Friends,” at Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, and is the co-artistic director along with his wife, pianist Jeewon Park, of the new Performing Artists in Residence series at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
Edward Arron is currently an artistic leader of the Musical Masterworks, Chamber Music on Main at the Columbia Museum, and the Performing Artists in Residence series at the Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts.
Mr. Arron has performed numerous times at Carnegie’s Weill and Zankel Halls, Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully and Avery Fisher Halls, New York’s Town Hall, and the 92nd Street Y, and is a frequent performer at Bargemusic. Festival appearances include Ravinia, Salzburg, Mostly Mozart, Bravo! Vail, Tanglewood, Bridgehampton, Spoleto USA, Santa Fe, Seattle Chamber Music, Kuhmo (Finland), PyeongChang, Charlottesville, Telluride Musicfest, Seoul Spring, Lake Champlain Chamber Music, Chesapeake Chamber Music, and Bard Music Festival. He has participated in Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project as well as Isaac Stern’s Jerusalem Chamber Music Encounters.
Edward Arron began playing the cello at age seven in Cincinnati and continued his studies in New York with Peter Wiley. He is a graduate of the Juilliard School, where he was a student of Harvey Shapiro. Mr. Arron joined the faculty at University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2016, and has served on the faculty of New York University since 2009.
About the Music.
At a Glance
The main structural element of music during the century that contains the lives of Biber and Bach was a framework between the top and bottom of the musical texture. A firm bassline, often laid out in a repeating pattern, encourages, even demands that the composer create a seemingly free-flowing upper part. Whether the repeating element is the four-note descending figure of Biber’s passacaglia or the slightly more extended bass line of Bach’s “Aria,” the implicit challenge — brilliantly met in both pieces — is to provide constant renewal in the upper parts over the solemnity of the repetition below.
Of course, the Goldberg Variations remains one of the peaks of keyboard music in the world repertory. But Bach himself regularly reworked his music for many other instrumental combinations, so he would certainly not have objected to the arrangement for string trio by Dmitri Sitkovetsky, which poses its own challenges, both to the arranger and the performers, in translating so keyboardistic a composition for a chamber music ensemble. But meeting a challenge of that sort is precisely part of the fun.
HEINRICH IGNAZ FRANZ BIBER
Passacaglia in G Minor for Solo Violin, C. 105, (1676)
About the Composer
The Bohemian composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber was the most extraordinary violin virtuoso of his time and a superb composer who wrote both vocal and instrumental music to powerful musical effect. His reputation rests on a large body of sacred music and an equal body of violin sonatas, especially including the “Rosary” sonatas of 1676, which, after Biber’s death, remained unknown until they were published in 1905.
About the Work
The 15 sonatas, each representing an element in the beads of the rosary, are followed by a passacaglia for solo violin, an extraordinary series of variations over a simple bass line. In this work, Biber achieved something that was not matched until Johann Sebastian Bach wrote his great Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor for organ some four decades later.
Biber’s work makes extensive use of scordatura, the technique of “mistuning” the strings in order to obtain special effects (impossible with the standard tuning). As if to connect beginning and end of the overall conception, only the first sonata and the closing passacaglia employ the standard tuning of the instrument.
A Deeper Listen
A passacaglia is a strict variation form in which the bass line repeats a particular idea over and over again — as here, with just four notes descending from do to sol in the minor key, one slow step at a time — and repeated again and again throughout the work. Over that minimal material, Biber invents an astonishing variety of other musical ideas, generally growing more and more virtuosic and unimaginably fresh until the work finally concludes.
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, (1741) transcribed for string trio by Dmitry Sitkovetsky (1985)
About the Composer
This spaciously laid-out work, which, since the 19th century, has been called the Goldberg Variations, owes its origin (according to the 1802 account by Johann Nikolaus Forkel, Bach’s earliest biographer) to a commission from the Russian ambassador in Dresden, one Count von Keyserlingk. The ailing count (according to Forkel) had asked Bach for “a few keyboard pieces” for his young harpsichordist Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (1727-1756), works that might be “of such gentle and rather lively character that he might be somewhat cheered up during his sleepless nights.” This disposes of the old joke that Bach’s music was intended to put someone to sleep; clearly it was designed to make bearable the sleepless nocturnal hours.
About the Work
An “aria with diverse variations” — is there a comparable musical monument anywhere that bears such a modest title? Where, indeed, is the single keyboard work that can be placed as a monument next to Bach’s extraordinary summation of the art of the variation? Perhaps the only work that comes to mind is Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, which similarly begin in simplicity and traverse just about every possible byway of the keyboard imagination before coming to its close.
Goldberg must have been a very gifted player (we would have been able to tell that from the work itself, even if we knew nothing else about him); he was a pupil of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and might even, at the age of ten, have studied with Johann Sebastian Bach himself. At all events, the composer knew the skill of the player, who presumably selected passages from the work as a whole to play whenever the count suffered sleepless nights. (It is unlikely in the extreme that he was expected to play the entire score night after night.)
If Forkel’s tale of the commissioning of the work is true, it is surprising that the publication bears no dedication to Keyserlingk. It is not surprising that there is neither reference nor dedication to Goldberg, who was, at the time of composition, only a young teenager and lacking the renown to have garnered a dedication in his own right. Though the Forkel account was not written until a half-century after the composer’s death, he corresponded with several of Bach’s sons, and he knew enough about the work to be able to comment that Bach’s own personal copy contained a number of corrections in his own hand. This statement was spectacularly confirmed in 1974, when Bach’s copy turned up in Strasbourg, so we may feel confident that Forkel’s story is generally accurate.
A Deeper Listen
The theme (labeled “Aria”) that forms the basis of the variations may or may not be by Bach; certainly no other attribution is known. It appears originally in the second Clavierbüchlein (a handwritten collection of keyboard pieces made for her own use) of Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena. As in most Baroque variation sets, the variations are built not on the richly ornamented tune of the aria, but rather on its harmony. The bass line, which outlines the harmony, has the nature of a sarabande, laid out in two sixteen-bar phrases, each of which is repeated. The fact that the variations are based on a harmonic progression gives the composer the freedom to build each variation on a different motivic idea, which, in turn, contributes to the remarkable variety of the set as a whole, while the harmonic plan holds it together more or less subconsciously.
No one who is familiar with even a small percentage of Bach’s output will be surprised to learn that the entire piece is laid out in a carefully planned overall architecture. Bach almost certainly never expected anyone to play through the entire work in a single sitting, he nonetheless felt compelled to make it as perfect a monument as possible. Every third variation is a canon in three parts (two imitative voices over the bass; only the very last canon is for just the two canonic parts with no bass line). The architectural planning goes beyond this; each canon is constructed with a larger pitch interval between the two voices than the one before, so that variation numbers 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, and 27 are canons respectively at the unison, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, octave, and ninth.
Further, from number 5 on, every third variation (5, 8, 11, 14, and so forth) has the character of a virtuoso showpiece, and from number 4 on, every third variation (4, 7, 10, 13, and so forth) has been described as a “character variation” (4 is a leaping dance; 7 a siciliano, or more fittingly perhaps gigue; 10 a fughetta, etc.)
Though we see the Goldberg Variations as a through-composed set, Bach also implies a division into halves. After 15 variations, he provides, for No. 16, a large variation in overture form, serving as an introduction to a presumed second half of the work. The crowning glory of this series is the richly ornamented chromatic adagio of variation 25, one of only three minor-key variations in the cycle. The tendency throughout is toward continuous intensification, with a somewhat light-hearted touch in No. 30, the Quodlibet (the term means something like “whatever is desired,” and it is applied in music to a work, usually written in jest, that combines a mixture of tunes, often of popular origin, that will delight the listener with their unexpected appearance. After all of this, Bach achieves a final relaxation by restating the aria that had started the entire adventure.
Bach wrote his enormous variation set to be played on a harpsichord with two manuals (which helps the player when the contrapuntal lines cross one another, since each hand can be playing on a different manual, just as an organist can do). Bach never undertook a transcription of this work for any other medium, but he was never averse to transcriptions allowing his music to be employed in varies ways. Today’s performance employs a transcription by violinist Dmitri Sitkovetsky for a standard string trio — violin, viola, and cello. For much of the work, Bach writes in two or three melodic lines, which makes it an easy fit for the string trio. This is especially true in the case of the canons occurring on every third variation: the cello plays the bass line, while violin and viola echo one another in the canonic parts. The main challenge for the transcriber comes when Bach employs a four-part texture (variation 4 to variation 22, the latter a three-part fugue over a free bass). The most challenging of all are variations 28 and 29, in which the writing is the most keyboardistic of all, especially employing rapidly alternating chords in the two hands. Variation 30, the delightful Quodlibet, blends several popular tunes into four-voiced texture before repeating the opening Aria to remind us of where we began this amazing musical adventure.
The world of music knows only a tiny handful of works that achieve this gigantic level of technical and artistic mastery, that control the span of the Goldberg Variations, and that offer an entire world of expression within that span.