Some stories just have to be told.
That is what composer Jeffrey Nytch thought when he heard about Sandor Feher, a violinist who died on the cruise ship Costa Concordia while retrieving his violin from his cabin when the ship sank off the coast of Italy in 2012. “I heard this story, and I was just incredibly moved by it,” Nytch says. “I felt that I had to respond to it in a musical way.”
The world premiere of Nytch’s musical response, his Violin Concerto: Costa Concordia, will be presented by violinist Edward Dusinberre with the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra and conductor Cynthia Katsarelis. Performances will be Friday (April 13) in Cherry Hills Village and Saturday (April 14) in Boulder.
Pro Musica will also perform Bartók’s Divertimento for Strings both nights.
Katsarelis named the two-part program “The Heart of Hungary.” “Nytch is Hungarian-American,” she says. “And Feher was Hungarian. He helped save a lot of passengers, especially children, then made the decision to go back to his cabin to get his violin — his artistic voice — and he drowned in that effort.”
When he was inspired by Feher’s story, Nytch did not start writing music right away. “I spent a lot of time thinking about what I want the music to accomplish, what about this story is worth telling,” he says. “What emerged was the idea of telling this story from the standpoint of the violin. I just kept picturing the scene after Feher has perished, of the violin there in the depths calling out for its master.”
Nevertheless, the piece is not literally “programmatic.” You will not hear the collision of the Costa Concordia with a rock, or Feher’s dive into this cabin. Nor is the violin soloist “playing” the role of Feher. “Not really, no,” Nytch says. “It’s about their relationship, and the player is giving voice to Feher’s violin.”
The relationship between the player and instrument continues to the end, although it is transformed. “There’s a dissolution of the connection, and transcending into a new kind of unity,” Nytch explains.
As the first performer of the piece, Dusinberre feels emotionally what Nytch describes in abstract terms. At the beginning, he says, “there is kind of an earthy relationship when I’m playing. It feels very physical, and the violinist is very much alive. I’m doing the driving and there’s a lot of difficult things that have to be executed well.
“At the end, there’s an extraordinary disembodied quality to it, and at that point it’s almost like the violin starts playing me, and then it’s a question of not getting in the way.”
The first part clearly refers to Feher as the ship’s violinist. “You can almost imagine this player, who was an entertainer, who clearly had to show off,” Dusinberre says.
At the same time, Nytch was careful to avoid anything that might sound like a literal recreation of Feher’s performances, or to quote Hungarian tunes he might have played. “I tried to thread this very thin needle of looking toward the Hungarian gypsy medium that he would have played, but at the same time wanting to make sure it doesn’t sound like I’m imitating the Czardas, which I did not want to do.”
Katsarelis is thrilled with the concerto. “There are a lot of really beautiful layered textures that [create] a sense of the deep blue sea upon which the Costa Concordia was sailing,” she says. “It has lovely yearning melodies and terrific gypsy flourishes that are part of the story. It’s compelling and will pull everybody into the story of sacrifice and love.”
After the performance, Katsarelis, Dusinberre and Pro Musica will make a demo recording of Costa Concordia to try enticing a label into making an album.
Bartók’s Divertimento is another piece that Katsarelis feels strongly attracted to. Drawing on her Greek heritage and love of Baltic folk music, she responds to Bartók’s use of Hungarian folk idioms. “It’s a connection to our Eastern European roots,” she says. “Hungarian has its own accent, but Greek folk music also has mixed meter folk melodies and quirky accents.”
The characteristics of Hungarian folk music are evident in the Divertimento, but they are mixed with other influences to create a fascinating blend of styles. Katsarelis says the score “exemplifies Bartok’s Hungarian writing, where some of it is informed by folk music, but other parts (are) influenced by Debussy and Stravinsky. There’s a wide range of colors and expression in these melodies and harmonies that can seem exotic, and they’re just really beautiful.
As she says, “It’s delightful music, but it’s great music.”
On the Bill:
The Heart of Hungary. 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 13, Bethany Lutheran Church, 4500 E. Hampden Ave., Cherry Hills Village, Denver.
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14, Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place, Boulder.