Virgil Boutellis-Taft and Anna Polonsky

Violin and Piano

December 16, 2018, 4 pm

Music Room

French violinist Virgil Boutellis-Taft won a first prize at the Paris Conservatoire before continuing his studies in Budapest, London, and Tel Aviv. After winning the international competition at the ISA in Austria in 2010, Boutellis-Taft established a reputation as an exciting young soloist, with Le Canard enchaîné describing him as “an unrivaled violinist.” His 2016 album Entre Orient et Occident included the Violin Sonatas by Debussy and Janáček as well as well as Aminollah-André Hossein’s Caravan, which he will perform at the Phillips, alongside works by Schumann, Brahms, Franck and Saint-Saëns. Pianist Anna Polonsky was born in Moscow and later emigrated to the US where she studied with Peter Serkin at the Curtis Institute and Jerome Lowenthal at the Juilliard School. Former Chamber Music Society Two member, she has collaborated with artists such as Mitsuko Uchida, Yo-Yo Ma, David Shifrin, Richard Goode, Emanuel Ax, Arnold Steinhardt, Peter Wiley, and Jaime Laredo


Caravan for Violin and Piano (arr. Tara Kamangar)

F-A-E Sonata

Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105
Mit leidenschaftlichem Ausdruck


La Follia

LEOŠ JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Sonata for Violin and Piano
Con moto

Danse macabre, Op. 40

Hailed as an “unrivaled violinist,” “of fiery temperament,” Virgil Boutellis-Taft regularly performs throughout Europe and the US.

He has played in halls such as Carnegie Hall, Salle Gaveau, Theatre des Champs-Elyssées, Banaroya Hall, Tel Aviv Opera House, and Wigmore Hall, as well as with orchestras such as the Dayton Philharmonic, the Springfield Symphony, the Israel Chamber Orchestra Emeritus, the Mid Atlantic Symphony, and the Sinfonia Varsovia. He has also performed at major international festivals including Bowdoin (US), Eilat and the Red Sea Valery Gergiev (Israel), Valdres (Norway), Prussia Cove (England), Les Violons de Légende, the Roque Anthéron, the Folle Journée (France)...

Virgil’s chamber music partners include the harpist Emmanuel Ceysson, the pianists Guillaume Vincent, Vanessa Wagner and Abdel Rahman El Bacha, the guitarist Thibaut Garcia, the cellists Anne Gastinel and Camille Thomas…

Works have been dedicated to him by Paul Cantelon, Tara Kamangar, Drew Hemenger, and since 2015, Virgil forms the Duo La Rose and Reseda with the violinist Irene Duval.

In 2016, Virgil recorded for Evidence Classics/Harmonia Mundi the album Entre Orient & Occident that was acclaimed by the critics and praised for its “incandescent intensity”…

As First Prize of the Paris Conservatory and winner of the Bleustein-Blanchet Foundation, Virgil decided to pursue his musical career abroad, invited by the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, and at the Royal College of Music in London where he obtained his Masters and his Artist Diploma. He then spent two years in Israel, invited by Tel Aviv University for a postdoc, as part of its International Music Program. He has worked with pedagogues such as Zakhar Bron, Ivry Gitlis, Ida Haendel, Schlomo Mintz, Igor Oistrakh, Haim Taub, Hagai Shaham, Almita Vamos. In 2010 he won the first prize of the ISA International Competition in Austria. Virgil plays the Domenico Montagnana "ex Régis Pasquier" Venice 1742, on generous loan from an anonymous benefactor.

Pianist Anna Polonsky is widely in demand as a soloist and chamber musician. She has appeared with the Moscow Virtuosi, the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, the Memphis Symphony, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble, and many others. Polonsky has collaborated with the Guarneri, Orion, Daedalus, and Shanghai Quartets, and with such musicians as Mitsuko Uchida, Yo-Yo Ma, David Shifrin, Richard Goode, Emanuel Ax, Arnold Steinhardt, Peter Wiley, and Jaime Laredo. She has performed at chamber music festivals such as Marlboro, Chamber Music Northwest, Seattle, Music@Menlo, Cartagena, Bard, and Caramoor, as well as at Bargemusic in New York City. Polonsky has given concerts in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Vienna Konzerthaus, the Alice Tully Hall, and Carnegie Hall’s Stern, Weill, and Zankel Halls, and has toured extensively throughout the US, Europe, and Asia. A frequent guest at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, she was a member of the Chamber Music Society Two during 2002-04. In 2006, she took a part in the European Broadcasting Union’s project to record and broadcast all of Mozart’s keyboard sonatas, and in the spring of 2007 she performed a solo recital at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium to inaugurate the Emerson Quartet’s Perspectives Series. She is a recipient of a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship and the Andrew Wolf Chamber Music Award.

Polonsky made her solo piano debut at the age of seven at the Special Central Music School in Moscow, Russia. She emigrated to the US in 1990, and attended high school at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. She received her Bachelor of Music diploma from The Curtis Institute of Music under the tutelage of the renowned pianist Peter Serkin, and continued her studies with Jerome Lowenthal, earning her Master’s Degree from the Juilliard School. In addition to performing, she serves on the piano faculty of Vassar College, and in the summer at the Marlboro and Kneisel Hall chamber music festivals.

Highlights of Polonsky’s 2017/2018 season included performances in China with Yo-Yo Ma, and at Carnegie Hall with Peter Serkin. Beginning in 2019, she will perform as part of a trio with clarinetist David Shifrin and cellist Peter Wiley.

Aminollah-André Hossein: Caravan for Violin and Piano (arr. Tara Kamangar)
Hossein was born in Samarkand, now the second city of Uzbekistan in Central Asia, but historically one of the most important locations on the Silk Road: Marco Polo described it as “a very large and splendid city.” Though he studied in Russia and Germany before settling in France, Hossein never lost his fascination for Persian music and many of his concert works demonstrate this preoccupation. Hossein also composed music for films, including some directed by his son Robert Hossein. Caravan was originally a song, but its lyrical qualities are ideally suited to the violin in the arrangement by composer and pianist Tara Kamangar.

Johannes Brahms: Scherzo from the F-A-E Sonata
1853 was the year in which the 20-year-old Brahms first met Robert and Clara Schumann, and the violinist Joseph Joachim: a momentous encounter. Brahms, Schumann, and Schumann’s pupil Albert Dietrich decided to write a collaborative sonata as a surprise gift for Joachim. The work was known as the F-A-E Sonata, after a favorite saying of Joachim’s, “Frei aber einsam” (Free but alone), and all the movements weaves the notes F-A-E into their musical argument. Dietrich wrote the first movement, Schumann himself the second and fourth movement, and Brahms the Scherzo, his earliest surviving music for violin and piano. The outer sections (in C minor) are based on a driving rhythm and an urgent, yearning theme. The central Trio is in C Major where the nervous energy of the Scherzo is replaced by lyricism. Brahms unifies the movement by introducing a variant of the Scherzo’s yearning idea just before the return of the opening. This stirring early piece ends with a heroic recollection of the Trio theme, marked grandioso.

Robert Schumann: Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105
Schumann composed his First Violin Sonata in the space of a few days in September 1851 (his diary notes that he started it on September 12, that is was “nearly finished” on September 15, and that it was completed the following day). He gave it to his copyist immediately—even before showing it to his wife Clara—but on October 16, 1851, exactly a month after it had been finished, Clara gave the private premiere in Düsseldorf with the violinist Wilhelm Josef von Wasiliewski, concertmaster of the orchestra which Schumann had directed since 1850. The first public performance was given a few months later, on March 29, 1852, when it was played in Leipzig by Ferdinand David—who first suggested to Schumann that he should write a violin sonata—and Clara Schumann. It was published by Hofmeister in Leipzig the previous month. Curiously, Schumann himself was not particularly fond of the piece, saying that he “did not particularly like the First Sonata for violin and piano, so I wrote a second which I hope turned out better.” Others judged it much more positively. In her diary, Clara wrote after the premiere that she was “particularly moved by the elegiac first movement and the lovely second movement,” and she performed the work regularly after Schumann’s death, usually with Joseph Joachim.

The first movement, marked “with passionate expression” moves from dark brooding to stormy outbursts, the dialogue between violin and piano particularly intense and closely argued. There are occasional glimmers of hope, but the mood is predominantly one of impassioned despair: the “elegiac” quality noted by Clara when she first played the work. The central Allegretto, in F Major, has great charm and ingenuity, the strands of the seemingly simple tune woven between the two instruments. This tender intermezzo is structured as a rondo, and the first episode moves to F minor while the second is more animated, and in D minor. But after each of these the main theme returns, as does the mood of slightly hesitant allure. In the finale, there is sense of relentless energy, but this is not without moments of relief as Schumann introduces some more lyrical ideas. At the close, the main musical idea of the movement drives the sonata to a dramatic conclusion.

Arcangelo Corelli: La Follia Op. 5, No. 12
Corelli’s La Follia was first published as the last of his set of Twelve Sonatas Op. 5 in 1700, a landmark in the history of violin music. The final sonata is a brilliant set of variations on the old Spanish theme sometimes known in English as “The Follies of Spain.” Many composers of the time took this tune as the basis for pieces of their own, including Jean-Baptiste Lully and Marin Marais in France, J.S. Bach in his Peasant Cantata in Germany, and Handel in one of his keyboard suites, but Corelli’s version is perhaps the most remarkable of this distinguished group: a kind of virtuoso chaconne in which his instinct for a balance of mood, for the ebb and flow of the broader structure, results in music that ends with a dazzling variation for both players.

Leoš Janáček: Sonata for Violin and Piano
Janáček started composing the Violin Sonata in 1914 in response to the early Russian advances at the start of World War I. The Russian armed forces were mobilized on July 30, and Janáček’s date of August 1, 1914 on one of the sketches confirms that he began the work as soon as this news came through. In 1923, Janáček wrote that “in the Sonata for Violin and Piano of 1914 I almost heard the clanging of sharp steel in my troubled mind.” The composer may have been clear about this, but one movement, the “Ballada,” was completed a little earlier, by May 1914 in fact, when Antonín Váňa wrote to Janáček asking to borrow the manuscript for a performance. Since the “Ballada” is in the same manuscript as the rest of the sonata it is probable that an earlier version of the whole sonata existed by then. After some changes, the work was certainly finished by October 1915, when Janáček suggested a performance of it in Prague. The violinist Jaroslav Kocian was unenthusiastic and this prompted Janáček to revise the work extensively. Before then, however, the “Ballada” was published in 1915 as a stand-alone piece (with no mention of it being part of a larger work). Between 1915 and publication of the complete Sonata in 1922, the work was extensively rewritten. The original first movement, Con moto, was completely recomposed using the same thematic material. The original second movement was the Adagio that eventually became the fourth movement. The Ballada moved from being the third movement to the second and was replaced by a new Allegretto. The finale gave Janáček the most problems: originally it was a Con moto movement but this was replaced in about 1916 by a new Allegro, and this, in turn, was replaced by the Adagio. It was only when Janáček looked at the Sonata again shortly before publication in 1922 that the definitive state of the work was settled.

The first edition was issued by the Prague firm of Hudební matice in March 1922, and the premiere followed a few weeks later on April 24, 1922, at a concert of the Moravian Composers Club in Brno, when it was performed by František Kudláček (violin) and Jaroslav Kvapil (piano). The Prague premiere was on December 16, 1922 when the performers were Karel Hoffmann (first violinist of the legendary Czech Quartet), and Václav Štěpán. It was also a work that was played abroad during the composer’s lifetime: on August 5, 1923, it was given at the International Society for Contemporary Music Festival in Salzburg, Austria, and on May 6, 1926 it was performed by Adila Fachiri and Fanny Davies.

Jaroslav Vogel wrote of the “Russian atmosphere that pervades the work,” noting its close motivic connections to the opera Kát’a Kabanová. In 1915, Janáček was modest about the Sonata describing it to Maria Calma-Veselá as “not an exceptional work, but there is some truth in the second and third movements.” His subsequent revisions retained these (as the eventual fourth and second movements), and the two other movements were eventually reworked to his satisfaction. The final result has structural coherence and tension as well as great expressive richness. Hans Hollander summarized its qualities: “In the Violin Sonata, the glowingly emotional, rhapsodical chamber music style of the composer’s middle period appears in full flower.”

Camille Saint-Saëns: Danse macabre, Op. 40
The music of Saint-Saëns's Danse macabre has its origins in a song composed in 1872, but in 1874 he reworked and expanded this into a symphonic poem for orchestra and quickly set about making his own arrangement of the orchestral piece for violin and piano, dedicating it to the Austrian violinist Josef Hellmesberger, director of the Vienna Conservatory and concertmaster of the orchestra at the Vienna Court Opera. The original orchestral version of Danse macabre was greeted with some consternation at its first performance in Paris on February 7, 1875, but quickly started to enjoy international success: Theodore Thomas introduced it in New York less than a year later, on January 29, 1876. Arrangements for two pianos by Saint-Saëns and solo piano by Franz Liszt (both of which Saint-Saëns himself played in concerts) soon appeared in print, along with the composer’s violin and piano version, first published in May 1877. For the rest of his life, Saint-Saëns relished the popularity of Danse macabre, conducting it in places as far afield as Warsaw in Poland (1913) and San Francisco (1915). The composer’s own arrangement for violin and piano is particularly appropriate as the orchestral version features an obbligato violin solo. The piece, a kind of grisly Scherzo, evokes a gruesome legend: at midnight on Halloween, the figure of “Death” appears, luring the skeletons of the dead to dance to the tune of his violin before returning to their graves at dawn. 

Nigel Simeone, 2018