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Signs, Games and Messages
Kim Kashkashian, viola
Lachrymae, Op. 48
Kim Kashkashian, viola • Pei-Shan Lee, piano
About Kim Kashkashian:
Hailed as “an artist who combines a probing, restless intellect with enormous beauty of tone,” Ms. Kashkashians’ work as performing and recording artist and pedagogue has been recognized worldwide.
She won the coveted Grammy Award for her recording of Ligeti and Kurtag solo viola works in 2013, and received the George Peabody Medal and Switzerland’s Golden Bow Award for her contributions to music. In 2016, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2020, was named an Honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music.
As soloist Kashkashian has appeared with the orchestras of Berlin, London, Vienna, Milan, New York and Cleveland in collaboration with Eschenbach, Mehta, Welser-Moest, Kocsis, Dennis Russel Davies, Blomstedt, and Holliger.
Recital appearances include the great halls of Vienna, Rome, Paris, Berlin, Munich, Tokyo, Athens, London, New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia where Ms. Kashkashian appears with the Trio Tre Voce, and in duo partnerships with pianist Robert Levin and percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky.
She is also a regular participant at the Verbier, Salzburg, Lockenhaus, Marlboro, and Ravinia festivals.
Pursuing her lifelong search for new directions in music making, Ms. Kashkashian has forged creative relationships with the world’s leading composers—including György Kurtág, Krzysztof Penderecki, Alfred Schnittke, Giya Kancheli, and Arvo Pärt and commissioned compositions from Eötvös, Ken Ueno, Betty Olivero, Thomas Larcher, Lera Auerbach, Tigran Mansurian, and Toshio Hosokawa.
Ms. Kashkashian’s long association with the ECM label has yielded a discography that has garnered an abundance of praise and international awards—including a Grammy in 2013 for her solo recording of works by György Ligeti and György Kurtág, a Cannes Classical Award in 2001 for her recording of the viola concertos of Kurtág, Béla Bartók, and Péter Eötvös, and an Edison Prize in 1999 for her recording with pianist Robert Levin of the sonatas of Johannes Brahms. Ms. Kashkashian’s most recent recording of the six unaccompanied suites of J.S. Bach, was released to critical acclaim in October 2018 and garnered the Opus Klassik Prize.
Ms. Kashkashian, who studied with Karen Tuttle and Walter Trampler at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory and Felix Galimir at Vermont’s Marlboro Festival has held teaching positions at Indiana University, the Freiburg Hochschule für Musik, and the Hans Eisler Hochschule of Berlin. Currently, Ms. Kashkashian makes her home in Boston where she coaches chamber music and viola at New England Conservatory of Music.
Ms. Kashkashian is Founder and Artistic Director of “Music for Food” a musician-led hunger relief initiative that to date has presented hundreds of artists in concert which have created more than one and a half million free meals for people in need.
To learn more, visit www.musicforfood.net.
Signs, Games and Messages
Hungarian composer György Kurtág, born in 1926, emerged as a significant voice in contemporary music relatively late in his life. He spent most of his adult career as professor of piano at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest (during much of which time Hungary was under its communist regime), only composing occasionally, with a perfectionist’s caution and reticence. It has been in small, fleeting forms that Kurtág has felt at his most expressive: his collection of ephemeral two- and four-hand piano works, Játékok (“Games”), begun in 1973 and to which he has been adding to this day, exemplify what he has described as his “courage to work with even fewer notes.”
Like the Játékok, Signs, Games and Messages is a collection of miniatures (the least miniature movements last a handful of minutes; the most miniature, a matter of seconds) composed for various string instruments, the earliest of which dates from 1961. Many of the pieces have specific and named sources of inspiration: fellow artists, friends, even a child Kurtág met who was just beginning to learn the violin. The work is open-ended, in several senses of the term: each piece is something of a fragment — a postcard offering an enigmatic glimpse into a wider world left only partially disclosed. And Kurtág has continued adding pieces to the collection over the years, leaving performers free to determine which pieces to play and in what order. More recent revisions have been made in view of leading champions of Kurtág’s music, including Kim Kashkashian, who, as one recent reviewer wrote, “has internalized Kurtág’s concentrated scores — which can include more words of instruction than notes — so that in her hands they sound as natural as a nursery rhyme.”
Lachrymae, Op. 48 (1950)
The full title of Benjamin Britten’s Lachrymae continues: “Reflections on a Song of Dowland.” The reference is to John Dowland, an English lutenist active at the turn of the seventeenth century and best remembered for his songs of forlorn romance. Although Britten’s interest in early music was primarily channeled through his completions and “realizations” of works by Henry Purcell, it was Dowland to whom he chose to pay homage in 1950, taking a brief pause from work on Billy Budd. The occasion was the debut visit of Scottish violist William Primrose to Britten’s summer festival at Aldeburgh, where the work was premiered. The viola was, after all, an instrument of predilection for Britten, who had studied viola alongside the piano from the age of ten, although he was sitting at the keyboard during the premiere.
Lachrymae refers to Dowland’s most famous work, the Seven Tears — a set of what Dowland described as seven “passionate pavanes” dedicated to Anne of Denmark. Musically, however, the work alludes not to Dowland’s Tears but to his 1597 song, “If My Complaint Could Passions Move,” beginning with the ascending three-note motif with which the viola ascends. The concluding lines of Dowland’s poem offer a taste of his style of lament:
If Love doth make men’s lives too sour
Let me not love, nor live henceforth
Die shall my hopes, but not my faith
That you that of my fall may hearers be
May here despair, which truly saith
I was more true to Love than Love to me.
Not all was melancholy for Dowland, however. As he wrote to Queen Anne on the dedication page of his Seven Tears: “And though the title doth promise teares, unfit guests in these joyfull times, yet no doubt pleasant are the teares which Musicke weepes; neither are teares shed alwayes in sorrowe, but sometimes in joy and gladnesse.”