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October 01, 2010
Vol. 52 No. 4

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Guest violinist to mix old, new repertoire through performance

Guest artist Salley Koo and Assistant Professor of Music Naomi Niskala will perform a musical recital in Stretansky Concert Hall today at 8 p.m.

According to the program, Koo has performed internationally as a solo and chamber musician. She first became interested in playing the violin when she was five years old.
"My kindergarten teacher's daughter came to play for my class, and I asked my parents for violin lessons. They thought it was like everything else I was asking for until they realized I'd been asking for over six months, creating fake violins with cereal boxes and rubber bands and singing while I played the violin," Koo said.

Both Niskala and Koo said the secret to a successful performance is creating a balanced program that incorporates a variety of musical styles in a reasonable time frame. Niskala added that a mix of new and old repertoire is also necessary.

The first section of the recital will include a sonata for piano and violin in three movements by German composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven and a sonata for piano and violin in four movements by Czech composer Leoš Janácek.

According to the program, Beethoven's sonata for violin and piano is "the more serious and somber of the three sonatas, with a virtuosic first movement, a deeply expressive middle movement and an exuberant finale Rondo movement." While Beethoven wrote ten violin sonatas, Janácek wrote less than six sonatas for violin and piano. Much of Janácek's work has been lost over the years.

"I have to feel connected to each piece on the program and to feel, in a way, that each piece is my favorite. That said, though, I am most drawn right now to the Janácek...The movements of that piece have such wonderful and amazing colors of harmony. There's a rhythmic vitality that provides such a range of energy and then the folk melodies are so wonderfully haunting," Niskala said.

The second section will include a sonata for piano and violin in four movements by French composer, organist and pianist Gabriel Fauré. According to the program, the sonata by Fauré is "radical and innovative in its harmonic language, use of color and rhythmic language." It also has a classical form and structure.

Niskala said that performing music is spontaneous and that how the performance sounds depends on the musical conversation between two performers. She added, "That's what I like about working and performing with Salley. For some reason or another, we really click musically and can read each other and react to each other on the fly and spontaneously, because we trust each other's musicianship."

In order to have a successful recital, Niskala said performers need to practice the pieces and "delve deeper to understand the language of the composer and the piece." Koo said she prepares by learning the notes, listening to recordings, practicing the pieces and discussing any questions or difficulties with other musicians. Koo added, "For example, I have a very good Czech violinist friend who lives in Prague and champions a lot of Czech music. I asked him a lot of questions about what he thought Janácek wanted in his sonata. Then Naomi and I rehearsed and discussed the music. The music developed not only through the rehearsal and how we played off of each other but through our discussions and our thoughts."

However, Niskala said nervous energy can be a positive thing during a performance because it motivates performers to concentrate on the material they need to perform and adds to self-motivation.

Both Niskala and Koo advocate live performances as opposed to recordings or "canned music." A live performance creates a connection between the performer and the audience where the performer acts as a channel "through which a piece is brought to the audience. It's the musical piece that's most important, not the performer," Niskala said.

"A good performance requires communication between the performers and the audience. We have to be decisive enough with our own interpretations and impressions of the pieces so that we can then convincingly communicate them to the audience, so that they can then go away with their own impressions and reactions," Niskala added.

Koo said: "Each composer has a different array of tools he uses to convey these emotions
and characters, from the rhythms to the articulations to the harmony and the colors. Just open your mind and your imagination and try to let the sounds paint something."

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