November 20, 2007

Hope Briggs and Arabella Steinbacher

For those who say that "classical music" is dying, I have to disagree. No, it is not because I am a violinist - it is because there are always moments when we are reminded that the art form is alive and well - sometimes those reminders coming through receiving news of a friend's progress or tuning into a radio broadcast and finding oneself mesmerized. Here are two stories of two great women.

Hope Briggs
A few days ago I heard from Hope Briggs, a wonderful soprano with whom I have the pleasure of working during the Tulsa Opera's April 2007 production of Porgy and Bess.

Should you have an opportunity to hear Hope, do so -
you will not be disappointed, as her musicmaking is quite stunning.

When speaking with Hope, I became fascinated with both her warm spirit and infectious optimism - traits that will take her quite far - and was blown away upon hearing her sing: Hope brought a disarming emotional intensity to the stage during this production, as well as the power, clarity, and musical sensitivity that is hallmark of all great artists.

For those of you who do not follow the news, Ms. Briggs was released - quite oddly - from the San Francisco Opera's production of Don Giovanni earlier this year. That decision undoubtedly sparked some serious disappointment in San Francisco among opera patrons and particularly among those who were excited about hearing Ms. Briggs, as she has performed throughout both the Bay Area and the world to audience and critical acclaim. A great testament to the human spirit, Ms. Briggs has, if I may, bounced back from this little derailment quite beautifully, and I am proud to be her colleague.

In support of my colleague, I am pleased to share this review with you - a glowing review of Ms. Briggs' recent performance with the Oakland East Bay Symphony.

Arabella Steinbacher

A new violinist has also become one of my favorites, and I discovered her as I have discovered many things - by accident. On Monday evening my hosts were listening to Washington's WETA and Bill McLaughlin was hosting "Concerts from the Library of Congress". On this particular segment the pieces were Mozart's Concerto for Violin in A Major, K. 219 and Gyorgy Ligeti's String Quartet No. 2, the latter being performed by the Mandelring String Quartet.

The Mozart concerto was performed by the Wuttenberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn, with Arabella Steinbacher as the violin soloist. Ms. Steinbacher gave a very compelling and interesting performance of the concerto - not only were all of the "elements" there (impeccable intonation, a seamless, unforced sound, etc.), but there was a musical maturity and captivating degree of thoughtfulness given to every phrase.

Upon hearing the first few notes, I did think "Who is this? I should listen." While listening, I not only found myself wanting to hear more: I found myself truly listening and, yes, almost analyzing every note, everything that she had done.

Honestly, I have to say that I am somewhat embarrassed that I had not heard of Ms. Steinbacher until now, but look forward to hearing more of her and more from her. From a wider perspective, however, part of growth and going out into the world - and the expansion of one's self into the world - may not always be about the "expansion and presentation one's self" physically. Perhaps the expansion of one's self includes the continued accumulation of knowledge of the world, the instrument that we all study and love, its repertoire, the countless number of great artists and, of course, the way our instruments work (which is a new one for me, but a joy - I have made it a point to stop into every violin shop that I can and, if possible, ask questions about the work, everything from what is used to clean an instrument to "major surgery").

Now wanting to rework Mozart 5, it is not my intention to "copy" Ms. Steinbacher's performance: as we all know, there is always debate about listening and trying to emulate the artists that we hear and admire. Hearing Ms. Steinbacher's incredibly thoughtful and elegant interpretation reminded me that it is so important for us as artists to keep our "minds, souls, and imaginations" - as well as ears and hearts - open to the unexpected.

Update:   I recently found this written about Ms. Steinbacher's 
2005 performances in the Washington DC area.

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