Since 1967, John Heiss has taught NEC students the roots of 20th-century modernism both in the classroom and as a conductor and coach. His courses on Ives, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky have shaped generations of musicians. Each year Heiss recruits students interested in performing 20th- and 21st-century music to join the NEC Contemporary Ensemble.
György Ligeti Trio for violin, horn, and piano
Brendan O’Donnell, violin
Breanna Ellison, horn
Yannick Rafalimanana, piano
John Harbison Variations
Anna Czerniak, violin
John Diodati, clarinet
Linda Edsinga, piano
Aaron Copland Appalachian Spring chamber version
Adrian Sanborn, flute
Hunter Bennett, clarinet
Brittney Walker, bassoon
Matthew Vera, Léo Marillier, Sodam Lim, Jaesung Jeon, violin
Ting-Ru Lai, Kurt Tseng, viola
Seth Russell, Thomas Chartré, cello
Elizabeth Burns, double bass
Fred Lerdahl Waltzes
Laura Liu, violin
Matthew Vera, viola
Daniel Parker, cello
Elizabeth Burns, double bass
Shiuan Chang Lake Kawaguchi
Geoffrey Landman, soprano saxophone
John Heiss has written notes for two of the pieces on tonight's program, both written in 1982.
John Harbison's Variations, for clarinet, violin, and piano, were commissioned by Frank Taplin and written for Rose Mary Harbison, David Satz, and Ursula Oppens, who gave the first performance at the Santa Fe Chamber Festival. The same performers recorded the piece for Northeastern Records. Harbison writes:
“The first inspiration for the piece was a statue of the Canaanite fertility goddess dancing. I began a dance set: Spirit Dance, Body Dance, Soul Dance and Dervish-Finale. Then it turned into variations, with the same four section-divisions. The first three sections consist of five variations each, and the last is a fugal chase leading to an epilogue.”
The theme is presented in canon, against itself, and is called Variation I. There are five more canons later on, each at a different time interval. The listener will perceive a clear harmonic outline, which gains in flexibility as the piece continues.
The Variations have been often performed and prove elusive and challenging. Their classical surface has sometimes lured both performers and listeners into believing they are secure!
György Ligeti's Trio for violin, horn, and piano is a strange and unique work bearing the inscription “Hommage to Brahms.” Brahms’s own horn trio, written in response to the death of his mother, may be a kind of backdrop for the Ligeti trio, which was composed immediately after Ligeti’s recovery from a potentially terminal illness. The spectre or threat of death looms in the background of the first three movements, only to appear in full force in the final movement with its keening lament—a long descending sigh—which later appears prominently in the 1986 Etudes and in the great Violin Concerto (1993).
Ligeti’s sonic fingerprints are abundant throughout the entire work. Poignant melodic fragments from Hungarian and Romanian folk music (first movement) lead to longer lines (second movement), punctuated underneath by a staggering, irregular ostinato ("play as if drunk"). The third movement, a march with offbeat rhythms, becomes increasingly agitated, reaching a final culminating frenzy. Suddenly, in the fourth movement, everything is slowed down to a pensive, nearly-frozen state of suspended contemplation. The work, complex though it is, speaks to us with an all-consuming passion and eloquence.
When Ligeti was our guest here at NEC for two weeks in 1993 (at my invitation), we presented sixteen of his works within a four-day festival! He “lit us up” to an unimaginable degree. The Horn Trio, though scheduled, was unable to be performed due to the indisposition of one of the participants. Tonight’s performers, however, are (as you will hear) “fully disposed,” keen, prepared, and absolutely psyched.
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