arco collaborative

Projects

Bridge to Beethoven

This four recital series features music performed and composed by artists of diverse heritage with newly commissioned works by Vijay Iyer, Andrew Norman and Anthony Cheung.

Bridge to Beethoven explores the impact and significance Beethoven has had on a diverse group of composers and musicians. By pairing Beethoven’s ten sonatas for violin and piano with new works over four programs, this project seeks to ignite creative conversations around his music not only as a cornerstone of classical music but as a universal, culture-crossing source of inspiration. Bridge to Beethoven I features a new commission from composer Vijay Iyer to be paired with Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata; Bridge to Beethoven II pairs Jörg Widmann’s 'Sommersonate’ with Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata; Bridge to Beethoven III features newly commissioned, interweaving works by Andrew Norman throughout Beethoven’s Opus 30 Sonatas (Numbers 6,7, and 8); and Bridge to Beethoven IV pairs a new commission by Anthony Cheung to be paired with Beethoven’s final, tenth Sonata. We passionately believe in the constant evolution of classical music as a vital, living organism through its capacity to include a myriad of influences and hope to illustrate the sustained power of Beethoven's revolutionary voice in our present day community of artists and audiences.
Jennifer Koh and Shai Wosner

Overview

Jennifer Koh and Shai Wosner

 

PROGRAM I BEETHOVEN Violin Sonata in D Major, Op. 12, No. 1
VIJAY IYER Bridgetower Fantasy
(new commission & companion piece to the Kreutzer Sonata)
BEETHOVEN  Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 47, Kreutzer

PROGRAM II BEETHOVEN Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 12, No. 2
BEETHOVEN Violin Sonata in A minor, Op. 23
JÖRG WIDMANN Sommersonate
BEETHOVEN Violin Sonata in F Major, Op. 24, Spring

PROGRAM III ANDREW NORMAN Bridging I
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 30 No. 1
ANDREW NORMAN Bridging II
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 7 in C minor, Op. 30 No. 2
ANDREW NORMAN Bridging III
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 7 in C minor, Op. 30 No. 2

PROGRAM IV BEETHOVEN Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 12, No. 3
ANTHONY CHEUNG  Elective Memory
BEETHOVEN Violin Sonata in G Major, Op. 96

 

Vijay Iyer

Andrew Norman

 

Anthony Cheung

"Of Myth-making and Monumentality: A Composer’s Response to Beethoven"

 

Program Notes

Bridgetower Fantasy (Bridge to Beethoven I)

The "Kreutzer" Sonata was originally dedicated not to Rudolphe Kreutzer (who never performed it), but to George Bridgetower, a famed 18th-century Afro-European concert violinist. In an early draft, Beethoven jokingly labeled the piece in starkly racialized terms: “Sonata Mulattica composed for the mulatto Brischdauer, big wild mulatto composer."

Beethoven and Bridgetower performed the premiere, even featuring some improvised embellishments by the violinist. While celebrating afterwards, the two quarreled about what Beethoven construed as Bridgetower's insult of a female acquaintance; the composer then revoked the original dedication, adding Kreutzer’s name instead. The work gained acclaim, while Bridgetower's career languished; he eventually died in poverty.

Bridgetower has been the subject of considerable research and speculation, most notably in poet Rita Dove's book, Sonata Mulattica. From our 21st-century vantage, considering Bridgetower’s unique circumstance, we can only see him as an ambiguous figure who, in embodying difference, provoked inspiration, fantasy, desire, anger, and finally, erasure.

My piece is a collection of imaginings about George Bridgetower. It is not programmatic, but it takes on an episodic character, assembled from contrasting fragments. The dance rhythms, recurring figures, and gestural contours are intended to feature the embodied expertise and expressivity of the performers, who at times must access liminal sounds and execute complex synchronies. I am grateful to Jenny and Shai for involving me in their beautiful, virtuosic musicmaking.
Vijay Iyer

 

Sommersonate (Bridge to Beethoven II)

Widmann likes to re-examine canonical works in his music, using their musical content and symbolic meaning as cultural references. Sommersonate ("Summer Sonata") poses a question: is the idea of the sonata itself – for centuries one of the most durable models of classical music – still relevant for our own century? Does it still last? As a consequence, the piece goes back and forth between quasi-Romantic fervor and abstract fragmentation.”

 

Bridging I, II, and II (Bridge to Beethoven III)

Bridging I, II, and III are interludes by Andrew Norman written specifically to be performed between the three Op. 30 sonatas, numbers 6, 8 and 7. Each interlude begins with the end of one of the sonatas and transforms it, through repetition and variation, into the beginning of the next.
Andrew Norman

 

Elective Memory (Bridge to Beethoven IV)

The title Elective Memory is somewhat of a cross between selective memory, either unconscious or by will, and elective affinity, a concept made famous by Goethe as a kind of pseudo-scientific theory of natural predilection and inclination in the realm of human relations, as guided by chemical reactions. An elective affinity between Goethe and Beethoven manifested itself in a mutual admiration for one another’s work, but also a mismatched series of meetings in July 1812 (the same month when Beethoven wrote his mysterious “immortal beloved” letters, and also the year of his Op. 96 sonata). The legendary encounters took place in Teplice, a spa town in the present-day Czech Republic, in which each rebuked the other on account of perceived social failings.

My piece begins with a hazily recalled fragment of Op. 96, the opening plaintive birdcall trill that becomes the basis of an ongoing dialogue between the violin and piano, transforming it into something lonely and with simple longing, a dialogue no longer between the instruments, but struggling within itself, in displaced phrases and registers across the violin. The “golden age” referred to in the first movement could be that of Beethoven’s mythological past (through the rose-tinted glasses of hindsight) or simply an idyllic, paradisal world that Beethoven’s pastoral language evokes.

The second movement is all about dramatic contrasts and increasingly larger brushstrokes. Here, I turn to the elective memory of an earlier sonata for violin and piano, written when I was 18, a piece that I later consciously repressed but occasionally revisited, and which is itself about involuntary memory, inspired by the fictitious Vinteuil sonata of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. The re-awakening of that forbidden memory, recalled in fleeting moments throughout the movement, is interspersed with an equally passing gesture from the Beethoven, a simple up-down wavelike motion between the two instruments in absolute unity, before their bonds eventually become loosened. The naïve gesture soon transforms into a series of sweeping, impassioned movements, overlapping and traded between the instruments, before they are brought back together with rhythmic cohesion and propulsion. A final “Nocturne, Half-Remembered,” in contrast to the dawn music of the opening “Aubade,” returns us to the fragmented, drawn-out “bird” theme of the opening, this time even more disassembled and refracted. While the violin assumes an increasingly lyrical role, departing from yet always alluding to the opening motif, the piano’s role turns more accompanimental, providing a floating and ever expanding backdrop.
Anthony Cheung

 

See events page for concert dates

Commissions for “Bridge to Beethoven” are funded by SF PerformancesLaguna Beach Music Festival and MusicBridge, Inc.
  

Photo Credits: Vijay Iyer © Jimmy Katz, Andrew Norman © Jessa Anderson, Jennifer Koh © Jürgen Frank, Shai Wosner © Marco Borggreve