Miriam Fried & Jonathan Biss

Violin and Piano

February 18, 2018, 4 PM

International Student House of Washington DC, 1825 R Street NW

Born in Romania, brought up in Israel, and now in the US, Miriam Fried came to early prominence when she won the 1968 Paganini Competition. She followed this success in the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in 1971. A violinist in the great tradition—her teachers included Josef Gingold and Ivan Galamian—Fried has been praised in Musical America for her “fiery intensity and emotional depth.” Her recital partner is Jonathan Biss, who studied with Leon Fleisher at the Curtis Institute and is also Fried’s son. Their recital is comprised of three great sonatas: Brahms’s serene Violin Sonata in A Major, Bartók’s dazzling Sonata No. 2, and Beethoven’s C minor Sonata Op. 30, No. 2.


Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in A Major “Thun,” Op. 100
     Allegro amabile
     Andante tranquillo - Vivace
     Allegretto grazioso (quasi Andante)

BÉLA BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in C Major, Sz. 76, BB. 85 
     Molto moderato


LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)                                                        
Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 7 in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2 
     Allegro con brio
     Adagio cantabile
     Scherzo. Allegro
     Finale. Allegro

Miriam Fried has been recognized for many years as one of the world's preeminent violinists. A consummate musician—equally accomplished as recitalist, concerto soloist, or chamber musician—she has been heralded for her "fiery intensity and emotional depth" (Musical America) as well as for her technical mastery. Her supreme blend of artistry and musicianship continues to inspire audiences worldwide.

Fried has played with virtually every major orchestra in the US and Europe and has been a frequent guest with the principal orchestras of Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, as well as with the Israel Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the Royal Philharmonic and the Vienna Symphony. Recital tours have taken her to all of the major music centers in North America and to Brussels, London, Milan, Munich, Rome, Paris, Salzburg, Stockholm, and Zurich.

In recent seasons, Fried's schedule has included orchestral engagements with such prestigious ensembles as the Boston Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Orchestre de Paris, the Czech Philharmonic, and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. In 1993 she premiered a violin concerto written for her by Donald Erb with the Grand Rapids Symphony and recorded the work for Koss.

Fried's highly praised New York recitals of the complete Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin were the culmination of three years of international performances. She returned to this music, recording the complete Sonatas and Partitas in France in the spring of 1999 on the Lyrinx label. She has also made a prize-winning recording of the Sibelius Concerto with the Helsinki Philharmonic under the direction of Okko Kamu, available on the Finlandia label, which has become a bestseller.

Chamber music plays an important role in Fried's musical life. She was the first violinist of the Mendelssohn String Quartet for 10 years and collaborates regularly with her son, pianist Jonathan Biss.

Fried plays a particularly noteworthy violin, a 1718 Stradivarius that is said to have been the favorite of its 18th-century owner, the composer-conductor Louis Spohr. It was also owned by Regina Strinasacchi who, it is thought, used the instrument to play with Mozart the Sonata in B-flat, K. 454, which had been written for her.

A noted pedagogue, Fried is a professor at New England Conservatory and is invited to give master classes throughout the world.

Since 1994 she has been program Director of the Ravinia Steans Music Institute, one of the country's leading summer programs for young musicians. During this time she performed regularly at the Ravinia Festival as soloist with the Chicago Symphony, in recital and in chamber concerts.

Jonathan Biss is a world-renowned pianist who shares his deep musical curiosity with classical music lovers in the concert hall and beyond. In addition to performing a full schedule of concerts, he has spent 11 summers at the Marlboro Music Festival and written extensively about his relationships with the composers with whom he shares a stage. A member of the faculty of his alma mater the Curtis Institute of Music since 2010, Biss led the first massive open online course (MOOC) offered by a classical music conservatory, Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas, which has reached more than 150,000 people in 185 countries. Part Three is set to come out in January 2018, and he will continue to add lectures until he covers all of the sonatas.

This season Biss continues his latest Beethoven project, Beethoven/5, for which the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra is co-commissioning five composers to write new piano concertos, each inspired by one of Beethoven's. The five-year plan began with Biss premiering Timo Andres's “The Blind Banister,” a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music, which was followed by Sally Beamish's “City Stanzas” last season. This fall with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra he premieres Salvatore Sciarrino's “Il Sogno di Stradella,” paired with Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, and goes on to play it with the Cleveland Orchestra later in the year. The first two commissions continue to have a life, with “The Blind Banister” at the Jacksonville and New World symphonies and Beamish's “City Stanzas” at the BBC Philharmonic, Orchestre de chambre de Paris, and Swedish Chamber Orchestra, highlighting Biss's commitment to building the repertoire. In the final two years of the project he will premiere concertos by Caroline Shaw and Brett Dean.

In addition to his involvement at Marlboro, Biss spends the summer of 2017 continuing his complete Beethoven piano sonata performance cycles at the Aspen and Ravinia festivals, which he also begins at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra this season. Audiences will be able to experience all the piano sonatas in seven concerts over several years. In early 2018 Biss tours with Midori and Antoine Lederlin across Switzerland, Germany, and England, and with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in California.

Biss has embarked on a nine-year, nine-disc recording cycle of Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas, and in early 2018 he releases the seventh volume, including the Sonatas Op. 2, No. 2; Op. 49, No. 2; Op. 31, No.2 “Tempest,” and Op. 109. Upon the release of the fourth volume, BBC Music Magazine said, “Jonathan Biss will surely take his place among the greats if he continues on this exalted plane.” His bestselling eBook, Beethoven’s Shadow, describing the process of recording the sonatas and published by RosettaBooks in 2011, was the first Kindle Single written by a classical musician. The recording cycle will be complete in 2020, at the same time as the final Coursera lectures on the Sonatas.

Biss represents the third generation in a family of professional musicians that includes his grandmother Raya Garbousova, one of the first well-known female cellists (for whom Samuel Barber composed his Cello Concerto), and his parents, violinist Miriam Fried and violist/violinist Paul Biss. Growing up surrounded by music, Biss began his piano studies at age six, and his first musical collaborations were with his mother and father. He studied at Indiana University with Evelyne Brancart and at the Curtis Institute of Music with Leon Fleisher.

Johannes Brahms, Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in A Major “Thun,” Op. 100
Writing about this Sonata, Karl Geiringer emphasized its “sweetness and tenderness” as well as its song-like character—and Brahms actually alludes to his own song “Wie Melodien zieht es mir” in the second subject of the first movement. The similarity of the opening theme to the “Prize Song” from Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is very apparent. Whether this is a coincidence or not, what we do know is that Die Meistersinger was the work by Wagner that Brahms admired most highly, and he wrote to Wagner in 1875 asking for a copy of the score. Using vocal material as the inspiration for an instrumental work has clear echoes of Schubert, one of Brahms’s idols. The A Major Sonata was written during Brahms’s summer vacation in 1886 when he stayed on the shores of Lake Thun in Switzerland. It was a productive stay that also saw him complete two other major chamber works: the Cello Sonata in F Major, Op. 99 and the Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 101. The A Major is the most compact of Brahms’s three published Violin Sonatas, with the second movement serving a dual purpose as both the slow movement (Andante tranquillo) and the Scherzo (Vivace) sections alternate. The finale maintains the mood of radiant amiability that permeates the whole Sonata, a work in which, as Geiringer put it, “Brahms reveals himself as an idyllic composer.” The first performance was given in the small hall of the Musikverein in Vienna on December 2, 1886, played by Joseph Hellmesberger with Brahms at the piano. The Sonata was published by Simrock soon afterwards, in April 1887.

Béla Bartók, Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in C Major, Sz. 76, BB. 85
It is a measure of the importance Bartók attached to his violin sonatas that in an autobiographical sketch written at the end of his life, he listed his most significant compositions as “six string quartets, two sonatas for violin and piano, three stage works, two piano concertos; violin concerto; several orchestral works.” Later commentators have not always felt the same way: Paul Griffiths called them “less Bartókian” than the Second String Quartet and others have sometimes considered them rather marginal. As László Somfai has noted, the violin sonatas had even less luck in the composer’s native Hungary, being placed in the 1950s on a “semi-official list of decadent, forbidden Bartók compositions.” For the same reason—their striking modernism—these two highly original works were much admired by the musical avant-garde when they were new and they have gradually taken the place they deserve among the great works of the 20th-century violin and piano repertoire. The Second Sonata was composed in 1922 and it was written with two particular performers in mind: the violinist Jelly d’Aranyi (to whom both sonatas are dedicated) and Bartók himself. In fact the premiere was given in Berlin by Imre Waldbauer on February 1923, then played in Amsterdam by Zoltán Székely in April. Bartók and Jelly d’Aranyi did not play the work until May 7, 1923 at the London festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music.

Bartók makes extreme demands on both instruments and the music is often angular and brittle, but even so the composer subsumes elements from traditional Hungarian music into his own. The overall structure reflects the spirit of the verbunkos, also known as a “recruiting dance” as it was played when press gangs forced recruits into service. The verbunkos consists of two sections: lassú (slow), with a characteristic dotted rhythm, and friss (fast) and the form of the Second Sonata follows a similar pattern, although on a much expanded scale. As David Cooper has observed in his book on Bartók, the first movement is “a kind of abridged sonata form without a separate development section, but with considerable elaboration in the recapitulation.” The most important of the four themes in this movement suggests the improvisatory quality of Romanian melodies that Bartók had transcribed and analyzed a decade earlier. The second movement also has elements of Romanian dance music, though, as Cooper observes, Bartók incorporates these “without directly citing any specific tune.” This exciting movement includes a reprise of material from the Molto moderato near the end. Bartók’s use of dissonance in this Sonata is one reason why it took a while to be fully appreciated. Though he retreated from its extreme modernism in his later music, he was grappling with the problem of how a contemporary composer could remain fresh and challenging. He wrote an essay entitled The Problem of the New Music in which he explains what he tried to achieve in the Second Sonata and other works from the same period, in the process giving one of the reasons why he resisted going down the route of fully atonal 12-tone music. As he put it, “The music of our times strives decidedly toward atonality. Yet it does not seem to be right to interpret the principle of tonality as the absolute opposite to atonality.”

This modern masterpiece has a particular connection with Washington D.C. It was one of the three sonatas included by Bartók in the famous recital he gave with Joseph Szigeti at the Library of Congress on April 13, 1940 where it was played alongside Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata and Debussy’s Violin Sonata. It was an important milestone in Bartók’s career: he had taken the decision to leave Europe and arrived in New York just two days before the Washington concert, an event he described to a friend as his “first and most important recital” in the US. Fortunately, the 1940 concert was recorded and thus this extraordinary occasion can still be enjoyed by audiences today.

Ludwig van Beethoven, Sonata for Violin and Piano in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2
In 1803 Beethoven published a set of Three Violin Sonatas dedicated to Alexander I, Czar of Russia. They had been completed the previous year, at a complex time in Beethoven’s life. Just as he was starting to enjoy some critical acclaim and financial stability (thanks in part to an annual stipend from Count Lichnowsky), he was also having to come to terms with the gradual loss of his hearing—very soon after completing these Sonatas he suffered a breakdown and subsequently wrote the Heiligenstadt Testament, one of the most powerful and moving documents in musical history. It consists of an unsent letter addressed to his brothers Carl and Johann, in which he revealed the extent of his despair, and his terror of deafness—it was discovered among Beethoven’s papers shortly after his death. It was in this bleak mood that Beethoven composed the Op. 30 Sonatas, of which the second is in his favorite key of C minor—the key he often chose for dramatic and tragic discourse in works such as the Fifth Symphony, the Third Piano Concerto, the “Pathétique” Sonata, and Coriolan Overture. The urgent, uneasy first movement of the C minor Violin Sonata is driven by a terse theme heard on the piano at the very start and taken up the violin. To contrast with this, the second theme is like a parody of a military march, played by the violin over spiky notes in the piano. The movement proceeds to a dramatic development section, a recapitulation, and an imposing coda. The serene slow movement is in A-flat Major (the original draft was a semitone lower, in G Major) is both eloquent and profoundly serious while the Scherzo (in C Major) is good-natured and provides a relief from the predominantly dark mood of the outer movements. Indeed, its charm is comprehensively crushed by the finale, which opens with music suggesting the quiet rattling of bones before erupting into rage and despair, the conclusion remaining firmly in C minor. In this magnificent, numbing music, Beethoven offers neither consolation, nor any hint of relief.

–Nigel Simeone, 2018

Please note that this concert will be held at The International Student House of Washington DC, 1825 R Street, NW.