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A Lost American Composer

Amy Glidden and Alison D'Amato

Amy Glidden and Alison D'Amato rediscover George Antheil

So, how do the Friends of Vienna follow “Cello Power”, their recent sold-out, standing room only event that featured four BPO cellists? Well, when you invite BPO associate concertmaster Amy Glidden and Eastman School of Music pianist Alison D’Amato to perform a recital and you give them carte blanche to come up with an interesting program of their own choice, it is pretty much guaranteed that your audience will be in good hands.

On Sunday April 26 at 3:30pm at the Unity Church, 1243 Delaware in Buffalo, Glidden and D’Amato will open their recital with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 7 in C minor for Piano and Violin, Op. 30, No. 2, one of his ten sonatas that are a cornerstone of the violin and piano repertoire. Also on the program, Fauré’s bravura Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano in A major, Op. 13 has been an audience favorite since its 1877 premiere by Marie Tayau, the leader of a pioneering all-female string quartet, with Fauré at the piano. The composer’s older colleague Camille Saint-Saëns wrote that “In this sonata you can find everything to tempt a gourmet: new forms, excellent modulations, unusual tone colors, and the use of unexpected rhythms.”

Glidden and D’Amato will also perform the Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano by George Antheil, a now almost forgotten American composer who made a very big splash both in Paris and New York City during the 1920’s and 1930’s, along with Crossings, a piece recently composed by the young, Buffalo-based composer Caroline Mallonée, who has been rapidly developing a high profile national reputation.

A search of both the BPO archive, which dates back for 80 years, and a search of Buffalo Chamber Music Society’s archive that dates back for 90 years, reveals not one performance of a piece of music composed by George Antheil (1900—1959) which is somewhat of a surprise, considering the high profile that Antheil enjoyed for the better part of two decades. Something of a wunderkind, Antheil was quickly embraced by the New York City avant-garde during the First World War era, gaining the lasting financial patronage of Mary Louise Curtis, founder of the Curtis Institute. An accomplished pianist who composed and performed many works for piano and other instruments, Antheil gained lasting notoriety with his cacophonous score for the Ballet Mécanique, a 1924 Dadaist art film by the artist Fernand Léger and Man Ray that featured numerous pianos and a pianola among other percussion instruments, including perhaps most memorably, airplane propellers. Antheil’s Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano has been described as having “an almost Ivesian kaleidoscope of popular tunes and it is as if we could now tune in a radio of the Twenties and go on wildly and rapidly switching the frequency knob,” before ending in unpitched noise, making it a worthy chamber companion to the Ballet Mécanique.

Crossings is from a collection of music I have been working on since 2006 called ‘String Tunes’” says Mallonée. “The title is descriptive: some of these pieces are in just intonation, some of the movements are played in scordatura tuning, and some of the music is inspired by fiddle tunes. It is an ambitious set of pieces; the finished collection will last more than an hour. Many of the pieces, including Crossings fall into the category of ‘Finger Music,’ a term I use for music that is about the left hand as one finger pattern is repeated on different strings. Crossings is a process piece as the one finger pattern is performed on each string before it changes. While Bach’s unaccompanied work often has finger patterns heard at different pitch levels, this left-hand music capitalizing on scordatura tunings is unusual. Because the ‘Finger Music’ pieces are left-hand conceptions, these pieces can be played on violin, viola, or cello. Crossings is in the tradition of a moto perpetuo, and in the end feels a bit like a tour de force for the performer. It also highlights the shimmery sound of ‘sul ponticello’ playing (close to the bridge), one of my favorite timbres.”

“I began these pieces while in residence at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. I found myself alone in my studio and I wanted to make music to share with other artists in residence, so I started writing music for myself to play on the violin. At the end of my residency, I presented a recital for my fellow colonists. Composing these pieces was unusually visceral for me—it was about the feel of the violin, the fingers on the fingerboard, the sound of one violin and about having fun with finger patterns. I am grateful to Amy Glidden for choosing to include the piece on her recital program. Although I have performed Crossings on the violin in informal settings and it has been performed by violists, Amy’s performances this spring mark the first formal presentations of the violin version.”

Tickets: $10/5 students


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