Singing with Strings

Friday, October 28, at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center

Four works for string orchestra spanning nearly 300 years testify to the medium’s incredible expressive and sonic range, while underscoring this instrumental family’s ever-present vocal element.

FEATURED SOLOIST: Alexi Kenney, Violin

2016 Avery Fisher Career Grant recipient Alexi Kenney has been praised for “…immediately drawing listeners in with his beautifully phrased and delicate playing” by the New York Times .

Visit Alexi Kenney’s website





  • The recipient of a 2016 Avery Fisher Career Grant, violinist Alexi Kenney has been praised by the New York Times for “…immediately drawing listeners in with his beautifully phrased and delicate playing.” His win at the 2013 CAG Victor Elmaleh Competition at the age of nineteen led to a critically acclaimed debut recital at Carnegie Weill Hall.

    In the 2016-17 season Alexi plays concerti with the Riverside Symphony (New York), A Far Cry, Symphony of Northwest Arkansas, Staatstheater Orchester Cottbus (Germany), and returns to the Santa Fe Symphony for the third consecutive year. He also plays debut recitals at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival and tours the East Coast with Musicians from Marlboro.

    He has given recitals at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., Jordan Hall, Caramoor, Napa’s Festival del Sole, Chicago’s Dame Myra Hess series, and the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, and has been featured on Performance Today, WQXR-NY’s Young Artist Showcase, WFMT-Chicago, and NPR’s From the Top. Recent concerto engagements include the Las Vegas and Santa Maria Philharmonics, the Santa Fe and Roswell Symphonies, and the New England Conservatory Philharmonia, with which he performed John Adams’s Violin Concerto in Boston’s Symphony Hall this past season.
    A passionate chamber musician, Alexi has performed at Caramoor, ChamberFest Cleveland, ”Chamber Music Connects the World” at the Kronberg Academy, the Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival, Marlboro, Music@Menlo, Ravinia, Yellow Barn, and on tour with Musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Institute, collaborating with artists including Pamela Frank, Miriam Fried, Gary Graffman, Steven Isserlis, Kim Kashkashian, Gidon Kremer, and Christian Tetzlaff.
    He is the recipient of top prizes at the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition (2012), the Mondavi Center Competition (2010), and the 2013 Kronberg Academy master classes. He was praised by Strings magazine for his “beautiful, aching tone” for a performance of the Sibelius Concerto with the China Philharmonic Orchestra in Beijing during the Menuhin Competition.

    Born in Palo Alto, California in 1994, Alexi received his Bachelor of Music degree from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where he is currently the only violinist in its selective Artist Diploma program. At NEC he studies with Donald Weilerstein and Miriam Fried on the Charlotte F. Rabb Presidential Scholarship. Former teachers include Wei He, Jenny Rudin, and Natasha Fong.

    Copyright © 2016 Alexi Kenney


    Born June 13, 1965, in Iowa City, Iowa

    Played continuously, Still Things Move comprises three sections, called Wish, Sport and History. Although the sectional divides are in some cases sonically explicit, there is frequent play between the passages of each section throughout the piece. The titles Wish, Sport and History are not important as movement titles in a traditional sense so much as they are expressive states that live together and affect one another. The music of Wish—a kind of prayerful desire, or a desirous prayer, depending—opens the piece and moves quickly to the lively, fast, spare stuff of Sport. History arrives later on—though perhaps with a sense of having been there all along—in the form of sudden stillness articulated by an open, widely-spaced interval in the double basses and high cellos. The upshot of all this, maybe, has to do with finding stillness in action, and action in stillness, as well as with reflection, and—as in any piece of music, not to mention life—with the negotiation of time. When to move and when to stay still? And how to find the one inside the other? It is perhaps self-evident that I intend and enjoy the double meaning of the word ‘still’ in the title, as a description of the state of ‘things’ and at the same time in the sense of something abiding: And yet . . . in spite of it all . . . even so . . . things move.

    Still Things Move for string orchestra was premiered by Metamorphosen (for whom it was written and to whom it is dedicated) with conductor, Scott Yoo, in Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory in September of 2002. It was subsequently played by the American Composers Orchestra with conductor Steven Sloane in Carnegie Hall in October of 2003. Some modest revisions were made to the score for this 2016 performance by the Riverside Symphony with George Rothman.

    Copyright © 2016 by Anna Weesner

    Born January 27, 1756, in Salzberg, Austria
    Died December 5, 1791, in Vienna, Austria

    Composing for the entertainment of noblemen (background music performed at banquets and other social occasions, for example) was a common task for the eighteenth-century composer. From this practice, “divertimento” or “cassation” emerged as the most common moniker for such a work, invariably laid out in five movements with the second and fourth as minuets. Since the “divertimento” heard tonight is cast in the three-movement, fast-slow-fast format exemplary of early classical symphonies, a widespread scholarly verdict—not only refuting the composers’ putative intention, but also the very authenticity of the designation scrawled on the manuscript—comes as no surprise. Indeed the Divertimento in F major is often regarded among a group of three “Salzburg Symphonies” written at the tender (yet artistically commanding!) age of 16, just following Mozart’s return to Salzburg from his second and final trip to Italy.

    Copyright © 1992, 2016 by Anthony Korf

    Born June 17, 1882, in Lomonosov, Russia
    Died April 6, 1971, in New York City, New York

    Reputed to be the wealthiest man in Europe at the time of his death in 1999, the Swiss conductor, patron and impresario Paul Sacher left a far more enduring legacy. Indeed, a considerable body of work by some of the 20th century’s most formidable composers, a few among whom he commissioned several times, bear Sacher’s name in dedication as founder and leader of the Basel Chamber Orchestra (1926-1987). The Concerto in D is a case in point, composed at Sacher’s invitation to commemorate that orchestra’s 20th anniversary. Stravinsky’s business-like response: “Let me know how long you want the piece to be” also contained the stipulation that the new work be “from ten to twelve minutes, like Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.”

    Such are the rather unromantic-sounding origins of this fine work, known today by fans of the dance (and unlikely unimaginable in any other setting) as the music to Jerome Robbins’ The Cage. Composed in the waning years of Stravinsky’s Neo-Classical period (if one may term 28 years a “period”), the Concerto in D, as suggested by the aforementioned correspondence, concerned itself equally with Baroque and Classical idioms. But in this work, as in the others from the composer’s “middle phase”, Stravinsky’s unmistakable, ever-present voice sweeps away any notion of unseemly debt to the early masters.

    Throughout the Concerto, a sense of well-mannered classicism is somewhat of a surface illusion; economy and eloquence serve expressive intent, bringing quickly to light the most mercurial, subtle shifts in character or emotional content. The first movement, for example—opening in the most playful, jolly (even sardonic) fashion—journeys through wistful, even plaintive, expressive territory before returning home, cadencing with a sly wink. Three short segments comprise the ensuing Arioso, a movement overflowing with lyrical affection, save the two hilarious V-I cadences which interpolate them. These “stop-starts” support any supposition that the temptation to humor was beyond Stravinsky’s ability to resist. Concluding in an air of mystery and quiet excitement, the Rondo’s perpetual motion illustrates George Balanchine’s observation that, “Even the works of Stravinsky which were not conceived as ballets contain unmistakable, compelling impressions of dancing movement.”

    Copyright © 1994, 2016 by Anthony Korf

    Born March 11, 1921, in Mar del Plata, Argentina
    Died July 4, 1992, in Buenos Aires, Argentina

    Born October 16, 1955, in Kharkiv, Ukraine

    The first wave of Italian emigration to the New World dates to the 1860s. Argentina was at first, and by far, the principle destination, surpassed only a half-century later by the United States. Midway along this timeline, an Apulian fisherman named Pantaleo Piazzolla made the journey to the Argentinean coastal town of Mar del Plata, where he would meet and marry the daughter of two Tuscan immigrants. From this rare union (intermarriage with the local population remained extraordinarily uncommon well after World War I) issued Astor Piazzolla, the musician and composer who so famously synthesized in cultural terms his twin inheritances of family and birthplace.

    Piazzolla’s early life was further enriched by an eleven-year stint in New York, where the peripatetic family settled in Little Italy in 1925. During these formative years, the young musician immersed himself in jazz, classical and Tango music, also learning Bach—at the tutelage of a Hungarian classical pianist who had studied with Rachmaninoff—on the bandoneon his father had purchased from a pawn shop.

    Upon the family’s return to Mar del Plata at age 15, Piazzolla was already playing at a professional level, moving to Buenos Aires two years later to play with the premier tango orchestras and later arranging for them. A personal theme of the ensuing 20 years was Piazzolla’s ambivalence about Tango versus classical music, the latter interest in which led to his studies with Ginastera, the transplanted German conductor Hermann Scherchen and finally, in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, tutelage under whom contemporaneously represented the standard rite of passage for any “legit” composer.

    However, it was Boulanger, more than any other mentor, who encouraged Piazzolla to pursue Tango as his true métier, though surely the refinement and sophisticated intricacy of his nuevo tango movement owed much to those earlier studies of form, orchestration and counterpoint. Of course the Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, with its unapologetic nod to Vivaldi’s popular masterpiece, personifies the composer’s twin affections.

    Dating from his later innuevo tango period, this irresistible work was conceived for the composer’s own folk ensemble, but owes its current form to Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov, who drew upon a “classical” arrangement of Las Cuatro Estaciones for woodwind quintet, three cellos and double bass by Brazilian cellist Jaques Morelenbaum.

    Twice removed thus from the original, which contained not so much as a violin part, much less for solo violin, the version heard tonight was repurposed to feature Desyatnikov’s frequent collaborator, violin virtuoso Gidon Kremer. Aside from the clever, colorful percussion effects drawn from the string orchestra, the Russian composer slyly incorporates both harmonic and melodic references to the Vivaldi, even going so far as to incorporate the Italian master’s “Winter” in the Piazzolla “Summer” movement, since it is summer in Argentina when the northern hemisphere is under snow.

    Copyright © 2016 by Anthony Korf

© Copyright 2016
Riverside Symphony

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