Eclectic violins

Colorado Music Festival presents program of classical, barnyard and tango

Karen Gomyo
photo by Gabrielle Revere

If the months-long Colorado Music Festival (CMF) were a gourmet restaurant, the spécialité de la maison would be the mini-festival that each year occupies a central place in the schedule.

In past years, the specialty has been either a composer (Beethoven, Brahms) or a genre (piano concertos). This year it is the virtuoso violin.

Big, bold concertos by Sibelius, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven? Yes, but also fiddler Mark O’Connor with his quartet and an unusual pairing of Vivaldi with Argentinean tango master Astor Piazzolla.

“It just was actually quite an easy pick,” Michael Christie, the CMF music director, says of this year’s mini-festival. “The violin really was the natural follow-up to the piano two years ago.”

Virtuoso Violins, scheduled for the week of July 10-17, takes a deliberately diverse view of its subject. There are the expected concertos, spread across three concerts and featuring three different soloists.

On Thursday, July 14, Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud will perform the Sibelius and Mendelssohn concertos with the Festival Orchestra. The next night, it will be Chad Hoopes, the 16-year-old violin phenom and veteran of performances with the Cleveland and Minnesota orchestras, the Pittsburgh and San Francisco symphonies, and the Brussels Chamber Orchestra, who will perform the Tchaikovsky concerto with the CMF orchestra. And on Sunday, July 17, it will be Canadian violinist and award-winning recording artist James Ehnes to perform the Beethoven violin concerto with the CMF Chamber Orchestra.

But not so expected is the inclusion of Mark O’Connor among the Romantic concertos, a choice that both recognizes the virtuosity of fiddling and reflects the eclectic character of the CMF. Scheduled as part of the World Music Series as well as Virtuoso Violins, O’Connor’s performance will be on Tuesday, July 12.

“You know,” Christie says, “it just struck me, as we were planning, that there’s this whole thing about fiddle music and what the violin means to America. We’ve had O’Connor here before, and he presents such a different feel in that improvised, relaxed and also just devilishly fast music that you get from barnyard fiddling, that I thought it would be just a really great way to keep our eye on American music.”

The week of Virtuoso Violins opens Sunday with a program that parallels the rest of the festival through stylistic juxtaposition: Eight Seasons, pairing the familiar “Four Seasons” of Vivaldi with Piazzolla’s exotic “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,” will be performed by violinist Karen Gomyo with the CMF Chamber Orchestra.

It’s hard to imagine styles more dissimilar than the motoric rhythms and violin fireworks of Vivaldi’s Baroque “Seasons” and the jagged, steamy rhythms of Piazzolla’s tangos. Yet the two works are often paired, ever since Gidon Kremer first brought them together in his 2000 CD recording “Eight Seasons.” Originally written for Piazzolla’s quintet, the “Seasons of Buenos Aires” has been rescored by Leonid Desyatnikov for the same string orchestra as Vivaldi’s concertos.

Gomyo has been fascinated by Piazzolla since her mother introduced her to his music when she was about 14.

“I was immediately captured by it and completely drawn into it and I thought, ‘OK, this is something I really want to explore,’” she says. “I’ve been playing his ‘Four Seasons’ since the music was available.”

She has performed them together with Vivaldi’s “Seasons” in various contexts, including in alternation with a Baroque violinist, but, she says, “This will be the first time that I play all eight seasons myself.”

Just like the Kremer recording, Gomyo will alternate between the two works, so that Vivaldi’s “Spring” will be heard directly next to the Piazzolla “Spring,” and so forth.

“The Baroque sound and this contemporary percussive and soulful Piazzolla sound are very different,” she says. “It will be a challenge for me to keep switching back and forth in a matter of seconds.”

Gomyo hopes that the juxtaposition of the two works will bring out commonalities as well as the contrasts. The orchestra arrangement helps that process, with subtle echoes of the Vivaldi “Seasons” in the orchestra part.

“Desyatnikov added the link by using some quotes from Vivaldi, in actually a very brilliant way, I find, and sometimes very subtle,” Gomyo says. “Unless you looked at the score you wouldn’t realize that some of the rhythms in the orchestra part actually come from Vivaldi.

“I hope the listeners find it interesting to go back and forth. I’d be interested to see feedback about what new connections they saw, or what new thoughts they had.”

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