Friday, August 30, 2013

Christina Jennings: Recording the Music of George Rochberg

Part I

Christina Jennings
I love my job teaching at the University of Colorado Boulder. This position allows me to work with outstanding young flutists from a wide range of backgrounds who are passionate about the community we have created at CU- a rich environment for learning, inspiration, and beautiful flute playing. I am so honored to be able to work in this setting! One of the truly incredible opportunities of university teaching is the sabbatical, granted every seven years after receiving tenure (which I did last year!). I will be on leave from CU this Fall semester and look forward to a bouquet of activities including: learning new repertoire, taking some intense yoga classes, rekindling my piano chops, and perfecting my strawberry rhubarb pie recipe! But my main focus will be recording a CD, the first volume of a recording of music for flute by the American composer, George Rochberg. I have been eager to make this recording for many years. I’ve known Mr. Rochberg’s music my entire life and feel a strong connection with his voice. He is not widely known among flutists but I think he should be, and I believe this project will expose flute players to some very beautiful and strong music.  Powell flutes asked me to report on this project as I go along, for which I am very grateful! Here are the details of the composer and the music I will record:

This CD will be the first of two volumes of a recording of music for flute by George Rochberg (1918-2005). Volume One will include three pieces: Caprice Variations, Between Two Worlds and Slow Fires of Autumn. Mr. Rochberg is one of the most important composers of the last century and as I will outline, I am especially qualified to undertake this project: the composer worked closely with my father and was a potent influence on my own musical development.

George Rochberg
George Rochberg was a product of the artistic turmoil of the mid-twentieth-century and he inherited the forbidding atonal aesthetic of the second-Viennese school of Berg and Schoenberg, composer. Soon after the death of his teenage son in 1964, Rochberg experienced a personal and artistic crisis, and he eventually abandoned serialism in favor of tonality, an aesthetic shift that provoked powerful reactions from audience and critics. At the 1971 premiere of his Third String Quartet at Lincoln Center, the final chords were greeted with a wild standing ovation, which was made up of nearly equal parts cheering and booing. In the article George Rochberg's Revolution (First Things June/July 1998), Michael Linton proposes that:
Some revolutions are noisy affairs from the start. The riot with which the Parisians greeted the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring comes immediately to mind. But other revolutions start quietly and get noisier only with time. Twenty years after the event, the first performances of George Rochberg’s Concord Quartets appear to have been the beginnings of that second kind of revolution.
Concord String Quartet (#6 movement 3)

This music was the soundtrack of my childhood, and I absorbed Rochberg’s distinctive musical vocabulary during my own development. The composer’s quartets 3-6, were written for the Concord String Quartet, in which my father, Andrew Jennings, was the second violinist. In his posthumously published memoirs (Illinois, 2009), Rochberg described the close collaboration with my father and his colleagues, as well as the special significance in his oeuvre of the monumental Caprice Variations, originally conceived for violin.

Link to my YouTube video of a few of the caprices:

My recording plan will allow me to work with 10-time Grammy award nominee recording engineer and producer Judith Sherman, and to collaborate with outstanding musicians for a September recording session at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City. George Rochberg was a member of the distinguished Academy, and the performance hall in the Academy’s historic academy is widely considered one of the best acoustical spaces for classical music recording.

The Caprices Variations are my transcriptions from the original 1970 collection for solo violin. These movements are entirely based on a single theme of Nicolo Paganini and demonstrate the stylistic compositional variety that Mr. Rochberg was known for. My transcription of 20 of the original 50 caprices, employ a variety of techniques that use the flute to its fullest capacity. The other two works for flute and one instrument are substantial, beautiful compositions that are not yet widely known among flutists. Both Between Two World and Slow Fires of Autumn are subtitled Ukiyo-E which is translated “pictures of the floating world” and refers to a style of Japanese painting and woodblock making. These pieces weave into their language a Japanese sound, in particular Slow Fires uses a popular Japanese folksong in its final moments. Between Two Worlds is for flute and piano and I will collaborate with Lura Johnson of the Baltimore Symphony and the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Slow Fires of Autumn for flute and harp will be played with June Han of Yale University and The Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Both of these musicians are considered to be at the top of their field and have recorded and performed widely in the new music arena.

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