Thursday, March 6, 2008

Taking Flight

Violinist Leila Josefowicz
March 8, 2008
With the Brooklyn Philharmonic at BAM
Howard Gilman Opera House

March 18-19, 2008
92nd Street Y
Lexington Avenue and East 92nd Street

Violinist Leila Josefowicz is among a handful of top-flight soloists on today’s classical music scene. She first attracted attention as a teenage virtuoso, making her debut at Carnegie Hall in 1994. Since then, she has settled into a long and fruitful career, performing the full gamut of music from Bach to Beethoven to Prokofiev to Shostakovich -- as well as chamber music by Stravinsky and Dvorak, which she will play at the 92nd St Y on March 18 and 19.

Her March 8 appearance with the Brooklyn Philharmonic will show why she is also one of our most compelling and committed interpreters of contemporary music: She will be the soloist in John Adams’ concerto for electric violin and orchestra, Dharma at Big Sur, on a program that also includes music of Bela Bartok and Toru Takemitsu.

The violinist spoke recently about her affinity for music both old and new.
Kevin Filipski: You’ve had a long association with music of John Adams, including playing his Violin Concerto at Carnegie Hall last season. Now you're performing his 2003 work Dharma at Big Sur, which is written for electric violin. What can you tell us about this piece?
Leila Josefowicz: It’s one of my specialty pieces, and one I’ve worked on a lot with John Adams conducting. It’s a hybrid between a Western composition and an Indian style raga, but the funny thing is that it’s neither; it walks a thin line between the two. This piece, like a lot of John Adams’ compositions, has a very strong rhythmic sense at all times. And since he loves to write in a very free style, there’s a lot of lyricism that you can hear, along with what I call rhythmic “grooving.” John has often shunned classical traditions, even though he had a very strong formal training while at Harvard. He’s decided to do things a little newer and within himself, so his sound is very individual. For me, it’s very emotional music.

KF: It’s rare to play an amplified electric violin. How does your style change?
LJ: Well, it’s very difficult to do, of course. I’m one of the very few traditional violin soloists on today’s classical music scene who will do a piece like this. I have a fantastic sound designer who supports me through everything; I’d be much more anxious about performing this piece if I didn’t have someone like that to depend on. When you think about it, this is a major classical music tradition being broken. If you only have acoustic, non-amplified violin with an orchestra, it’s possible to mix the two to achieve the balance you need to hear everything. For this work, part of the balance I hear myself, thanks to a speaker I have behind me. The job of my expert sound designer is to balance the sounds in the hall as well. So the risks are different. In an acoustic concerto, the orchestra might overwhelm the soloist. With amplification, it’s the other way around, which is power trip for me!

KF: When you appear at the 92nd Street Y, you'll be playing music of the 19th and 20th centuries. Are these works you play often?
LJ: Yes, definitely. I love both Stravinsky’s Duo Concertant and Dvorak’s Piano Quintet. First, Joseph Kalichstein and I are playing the Stravinsky, which is one of my very favorite piano/violin pieces ever written. Each movement has extreme character and wit, and all of the movements are either tragic and extreme or bouncy and enjoyable -- even silly, which I love! The work really gives the players the chance to show what they can do. As for the Dvorak quintet, it's a lot of fun to play; it’s both rambunctious and romantic, and it suits us very well as an ensemble.

KF: This marks another of your appearances with violinist Jamie Laredo, whose Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio also performs at the Y.
LJ: It’s really incredible for me to still be playing with him, because I studied with him at Curtis (Institute of Music) and I’ve known him since I was 13. I’m 30 now, so it’s been a long friendship that has developed and changed over the years. He’s someone I respect so much.

KF: Talk about your latest recording of another new work, the Violin Concerto by British composer Oliver Knussen.
LJ: That performance in London last summer and the recording turned out really well. I love playing modern works and also revisiting the classics by composers like Beethoven and Mendelssohn; it’s essential to me to play the standard pieces and get the chance to look at them in a new way. The music of Prokofiev, Stravinsky, and Shostakovich suits me very well, I would have to say, but I really don’t know why.

originally posted on

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