To provide the audience with unique insights into the upcoming concert presented by the Punta Gorda Symphony, Music Director Raffaele Livio Ponti held a thought-provoking, imaginative, and informative pre-concert seminar at the Florida Southwestern campus in the Rush Auditorium on January 14. The auditorium is an intimate venue with a stage, a large screen for multi-media presentations, and an excellent sound system.
Maestro Ponti began by describing and demonstrating the inventive method and modus operandi of French post-impressionist artist George Seurat. We were treated to a video demonstrating Seurat’s pointillism technique in slow motion, showing how a series of tiny dots and dashes, akin to modern pixels on photos and television screens, can evolve into a beautiful work of visual art. He noted Seurat’s 1884 work A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, a picture of remarkable beauty that arguably set in motion the post-impressionist movement.
He spoke of the artist’s motivation to create “who he is” rather than “what he is” in a work, noting some of the philosophical foundations of art that make it a universal language of peace.
Seurat’s process of creating a visual work paralleled techniques utilized by Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award-winning composer Jennifer Higdon and her work To the Point, a featured selection for the Sunday, January 16 concert. Ponti explained the power of colors and how they express meaning in paintings and music. Yellow, for example, might represent a specific tone or mood, and some dots and darker colors might represent not only tones but specific musical instruments. A combination of colors might represent a single pitch or combination of instruments, just as the foreground in a painting represents sounds while the background represents silence.
Ponti described the significance of “silence” in visual and musical art. In an example of pointillism painting, he explained that light colors denoted silence, populating the area around a darker, clearly articulated structure. In music, silence might represent a notated “rest,” where perhaps, ironically, the melody or instrument builds energy by ceasing sound for a moment or more. This attribution of silence as energy and structure leads to consideration of a work’s meaning as more than is seen or heard superficially; instead, its meaning is multi-layered and non-discursive.
A delightful recorded performance of Gamelan music from Indonesia came next, with an ensemble of musicians playing percussion and wind instruments. The music was exciting, joyfully and masterfully performed, and utilized carefully crafted modal thematic contexts. Virtuoso wind players used rotary breathing to ensure uninterrupted musical phrases. Reference was drawn to the string quartets of Debussy and Ravel after their exposure to the medium at the 1889 World’s fair.
We listened to a recording of Higdon’s work. The audience could now experience visual, aural parallels with fresh, insightful perspectives of music and visual art and the structures and ideas expressed through music. The work utilized pizzicato, bowing, and phrasal imitation in quasi-fugato successions. Gamelan and pointillism collided seamlessly in the musical work. Maestro Ponti had made the piece accessible and meaningful.
Thought-provoking indeed, I’ll digress for a moment. After the Gamelan ensemble, my mind dallied on Zen, silence, music, art, and John Cage’s 1952 work 4’33” (Four Minutes, Thirty-Three Seconds), a three-movement work performed without a single note. You may also recall John Cage’s book Silence, a compilation of his lectures and writings. Of note and in this context were his Lecture on Nothing (1949) and Lecture on Something, exemplifying the energy of silence between words. Similarly, I attended a recital some time ago where a performer smartly dressed in formal garb entered the stage, bowed next to a Steinway nine-foot grand piano, set up his stopwatch on the piano desk, and sat still for the work’s (4’33”) duration. I noticed coughing, fidgeting, distant street traffic, and car horns during the performance. When the time passed, he stood up and bowed to thunderous applause. It seemed odd at first and certainly evoked some smiles, but it made sense considering what was noticed during the work’s lack of performed sounds.
The highlight of today’s venue was the arrival of concert violinist Sirena Huang. She introduced herself, discussing her studies since age four and her work in the Juilliard pre-college division. She is a down-to-earth, charming individual.
At Maestro Ponti’s request, and to our delight, Huang beautifully performed the Andante from J. S. Bach’s second violin sonata. She spoke about her conformity to Bach’s bow markings to ensure an authentic performance and noted that she played on an Amati violin circa 1620. I would argue that she sounds marvelous on any instrument. I recall a story of the great Jascha Heifetz playing the violin at a private party in New York. One of the attendees remarked to him on how well his Stradivarius sounded. The sometimes curmudgeon Heifitz replied, “I bought this violin at a dime store on my way to the party tonight.”
Huang closed the mini recital by performing Henri François Joseph Vieuxtemp’s magnificent, virtuoso encore work Souvenir d’Amerique, Op. 17, Variations on Yankee Doodle. This charming piece is devilishly difficult and explores the range of what can be performed on the violin by an extraordinarily accomplished and gifted artist. It was breathtaking, and Sirena Huang is that artist indeed.
Violinist Sirena Huang is the guest soloist for the Sunday concert performing the Antonin Dvořák Violin Concerto in A minor (1879). The concerto is a marvelously lyrical work, with its famed finale opening and closing with a furiant, an energized Czech folk dance. The great violinist Joseph Joachim is considered the “godfather” of this marvelous work, although he never performed it. In a letter Dvorak wrote to his publisher in 1882, Joachim had held his work for two years for his insights and suggestions.
From the symphony’s recent press release:
As first-place prize winner in 2017 of the esteemed Elmar Oliviera International Violin Competition held annually in Boca Raton, Huang is a rising star in the violin world and has performed as a soloist with prestigious orchestras around the world, including the New York Philharmonic, National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra, and Russian Symphony Orchestra. The highly anticipated performance will be a rare opportunity to hear the acclaimed soloist play the Dvořák Violin Concerto.
What: Dvořák Violin Concerto featuring Guest Violinist Sirena Huang
Where: Charlotte Performing Arts Center, 701 Carmalita Street, Punta Gorda
When: Sunday, January 16, 2021, at 7:30 PM
Tickets: $65 Adult. $15 Youth/Student. Visit www.PGSymphony.org, or call 941-205-5996.
Samuel Barber | Essay No.1
Antonin Dvořák | Violin Concerto in A minor, Sirena Huang, violin
Jennifer Higdon | To the Point
Ildebrando Pizzetti | La Pisanella
Readers may also enjoy the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony Immersive Experience, Organ and Orchestra by the American Symphony Orchestra, and The Orchestra Now at Symphony Space.
Sirena Huang at the Elmar Oliveira International Violin Competition