Pre-Concert Talk with Composer Russell Platt
Tickets for the concert will be given out at the talk.
The music of Russell Platt (b. 1965) has been performed by some of the finest musicians before the public, including the St. Petersburg Quartet (Quintet for Bassoon and Strings, with Peter Kolkay); the violinists Frank Almond and Livia Sohn and the pianists Brian Zeger and Natalie Zhu (Autumn Music/Sonata for Violin and Piano); the New York Festival of Song (The Muldoon Songs); the tenor Paul Sperry and the pianist Margo Garrett (Eating Poetry); the Dale Warland Singers (Pray to What Earth Does This Sweet Cold Belong); Colin and Eric Jacobsen (Duo for Violin and Cello); the Mirror Visions Ensemble (From Noon to Starry Night: A Walt Whitman Cantata); and the bassoonist Peter Kolkay (Concerto for Bassoon and Strings) with the conductor Alexander Platt and the Waukesha Symphony. He has received commissions from Bargemusic (via the New York State Music Fund), Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Ensembles, the American Composers Forum, the Dale Warland Singers, and the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota; his work has also been performed at the Aspen and Grand Teton music festivals.
An alumnus of Oberlin, the Curtis Institute, the University of Minnesota (Ph.D. 1995), and St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge, Platt’s principal teachers were Ned Rorem, Dominick Argento, Alexander Goehr, Judith Lang Zaimont, and Edward J. Miller. Among his honors are the Aaron Copland Award from Copland House, both the Charles Ives Scholarship and Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the McKnight Fellowship from the ACF, and six residencies at the Yaddo artist colony.
Notable performances during the 2008-09 seasons took place at the Phillips Collection in Washington (the Verdehr Trio’s world premiere of Parlor Music: Trio for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano) and at Bargemusic (the New York premiere of the Violin Sonata, the world premiere of the Duo for Violin and Cello, and a performance of the Quintet for Bassoon and Strings) as well as the European premieres of the Clarinet Concerto with I Virtuosi Italiani in Verona and From Noon to Starry Night: A Walt Whitman Cantata at the American University in Paris (by the Mirror Visions Ensemble, which commissioned it); this last work has just been released on Albany Records. He is presently working on pieces for the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival and the Brooklyn ensemble The Knights.
Russell Platt is a music editor at The New Yorker and the classical music curator of the Westport (CT) Arts Center. He lives in northern Manhattan.
PLATT: Sonata for Violin and Piano (2004-05, 2007)
My Sonata for Violin and Piano was begun in fits and starts very early in 2004, moving into a sustained period of composition in the following months. It had been requested by a violinist friend with whom I was reading music at St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge, in 1991;
I came up with the opening idea—four bare notes, a collapsing “wedge” of intervals—soon after we talked, but other projects intervened as the years went by, and it was not until I moved to New York that I was able to make the time to write the piece.
(The concept of opening the work with a four-note theme was surely a recollection of the beginning of Handel’s Violin Sonata No. 4 in D major, from Op. 1, which I had played as a teenager.)
The first four pitches act as a kind of provocation in the first movement (Deciso: Allegro non tanto), a spade thrust into the garden dirt from which the piece grows. A respite comes with the second theme, another four-note kernel that is as lyrically lush as the opening is stoic and stark.
The second movement’s main theme, a further expansion of the sonata’s opening notes, unfolds gradually to expand into a tightly argued, yet melodically pliant, Adagio amoroso, which is both intimate and grand; the main theme, long shattered into fragments, reappears triumphantly at the close, a climber ascending a mountaintop.
This leads directly into the final Lamentoso: Chaconne, a liberal interpretation of the Baroque variation-dance. Its downward-falling “lamento” theme, which has no relation to the music of the first two movements, wanders through the centuries, trying on a number of stylistic masks.
I am grateful to the violinist Leslie Shank and the pianist Lydia Artymiw, who performed the world premiere of the piece on April 8 and 10 in two concerts of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Ensembles series. Livia Sohn and Natalie Zhu gave the first performance of the revised final version at Maverick Concerts in Woodstock, New York, on August 11, 2007.
— Russell Platt