Brahms Sonata Cycle

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Brahms’ Exquisite Violin and Piano Sonatas Come To Life In  Northeastern Ohio With The Talents Of Violinist Andrew Sords And Pianist Anita Pontremoli

22 year old virtuoso Andrew Sords addresses his connection with the music, his collaborating partner Anita Pontremoli and their upcoming performance of the Brahms Sonata Cycle on the Kent  State Recital Series Apr. 24th.

Ashtabula, OH April 1, 2008 – Despite being written over a decade of his life, Johannes Brahms' (1833-1897) Sonatas for Violin and Piano Cycle all come from his late period - a period oft described as autumnal in nature.  These three sonatas have a bittersweet character that permeate many of his works in this time period - only the third sonata breaks from the feel of the earlier two.  Becoming stormier and more assertive, the final movement of the third sonata by Brahms perfectly caps the instrumental relationship that he created over ten years and the previous 9 movements.  Brahms’ writing is especially noted for having a nearly impeccable balance between the violin and the piano, creating an intrinsic relationship where they intertwine in such a way that neither instrument is the sole focus.

On Thursday, April 24th, violin virtuoso Andrew Sords performs the Brahms Sonata Cycle with pianist Anita Pontremoli. The concert will be held at the Kent State Ashtabula Campus Main Auditorium at 7:30 PM, 3300 Lake Road West,  Ashtabula OH,  44004.  Tickets are free and a donation is encouraged.  On Tuesday, April 22nd, Sords will perform concerts for local school children in association with the Kent State Recital Series.  The Thursday concert will be preceded by an interview one hour prior to the concert start.  Interview and concert will be broadcast live on local television. 

Sitting with Sords and inquiring about this performance and his relationship with Pontremoli was enlightening as he spoke eloquently about the music, the upcoming performance and their relationship.

How long have you and Anita collaborated together and what brought you together in the first place?

This Brahms cycle marks the fifth year Anita and I have collaborated – I of course knew her by reputation for many years before that [Sords attended the Cleveland Institute of Music where Pontremoli is head of the Collaborative Music Department], but the first time we actually worked together was when she stepped in on about 15 minutes notice to play Chausson's Poeme with me! Since then, we have performed works by Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius, Franck, and others.

With that sort of history, have you created a special relationship by working together so frequently and on such diverse pieces of work?

I don't know if it's telepathy or a strong musical connection, but we need very little rehearsal time because each of us understands and responds to the give and take involved in this wonderful chamber music.  Anita's phrasing and control never ceases to inspire me and I always sense that our performances have a feeling of spontaneity to them.  Certainly, our comfort level is such that every experience is a positive one.

What would you describe as the best part of working with Anita?

Anita is the reference I go to with the chamber music masterpieces.  She has performed each an infinite number of times, and her wisdom is something I can always learn from.  I first learned the Brahms, Franck, Strauss and other sonatas with her, and feel that she greatly influences every performance.  She is a beautiful person and a gorgeous pianist – wait, switch those two! [Sords grins impishly with that last comment.]

Why did you choose to perform the Brahms Sonata Cycle in its entirety?  Were you influenced by this being the 175th anniversary of his birth?

I have always approached the 3 Brahms sonatas with significant reverence and respect – they really are the pinnacle of the Romantic sonata literature for the violin, and the entire spectrum of human emotions are covered, explored, and prodded with these works.  After performing the Brahms Concerto last winter, and having scheduled the Brahms Double with Charlie Tyler for next season, it seemed only fitting to also program the Sonata cycle.  With the 175th anniversary of Brahms' birth this year I felt it would be appropriate to take time to honor his works and his life!  Certainly I can take a month out of my life to explore these works – the legacy of Brahms will live beyond my current generation of violinists!

Having played these sonatas many times, do you feel that you identify with one sonata or movement more than the others?

In 2004, I was asked to play the d minor sonata [Sonata No. 3] on short notice for a California festival.  I was nervous - not for violinistic reasons, but because the work is so mature and perfectly conceived.   Each movement has a sentimental place within me, and I never tire of performing it.  However, I always feel a bit more strongly about the d minor because it was the first I learned.  Since then, I have performed the sonata with many partners – I suppose I have been promiscuous with that final sonata!

What is your history with the Sonata Cycle since that first nerve wracking performance?

My history with these sonatas has come out full circle.  My freshman year at the Cleveland Institute of Music, I approached Evan Fein, a composition student, and asked him to study [Sonata No. 2 in A Major] with me.  We were infatuated by it.  It should be titled the "Spring" Sonata, as it is so akin to Beethoven's Sonata of the same name in mood and disposition.   Rarely melancholy, this sonata possesses a level of exuberance that the other two don't seem to have.  However, it fits perfectly as the middle sonata, and segues nicely into the d minor.  Anyways – Evan and I learned the work and I ended up playing the A Major on a regional NFMC recital tour, and am returning to it now after 4 years.  In addition – this sonata and collaboration led to me commissioning a concerto from Evan – thus the compositional full circle!

Having learned the sonatas out of order, I learned the opening sonata [G Major] last, only taking it up recently.  As the opening sonata it is intimate, warm, and personal.  It is the longest, and has a great deal of introspection and maturity.  I always get goosebumps at the recapitulation of the theme in the second movement – it's a very moving work.

What is it about this program that you think will bring in people who may not necessarily be fans of classical music?  Or someone who may never have heard violin sonatas before?

These sonatas represent the highest form of art – and art, beauty and culture can and should be appreciated by everyone.  It seems only fitting that I am performing this cycle with Anita, and look forward to traversing the human emotions and our life experiences while channeling Herr Brahms for ninety minutes!

At the age of 22, Andrew Sords is already a veteran of the concert stage.  He is the winner of the 2005 National Shirley Valentin Violin Award, the 2004 and 2005 National Federation of Music Clubs Competition, the Fortnightly Music Club of Cleveland and the Festival de la Orquesta Sinfonica de las Americas Competition of the Casals Festival among others.  Sords has recently toured with the Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky concerti to critical acclaim, and has quickly emerged as one of the foremost violin soloists of his generation.

Sords completed his undergraduate education at the Cleveland Institute of Music, having studied almost exclusively with violin pedagogues Linda Cerone and David Russell. He has performed for the legendary Midori in master classes in New York and at the University of Southern California, while his burgeoning solo career has taken him from American concert halls to venues in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. In the fall of 2007, Sords entered an Artist Diploma program at Southern Methodist University with Chee-Yun.

Anita Pontremoli - Head of Collaborative Piano, received a Bachelor of Music degree in piano from CIM. She completed special studies in piano literature and chamber music at Yale University College of Music and the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milano, Italy. She has performed with internationally renowned artists including Lynn Harrell, Arnold Steinhardt, Aaron Rosand and Dale Clevenger, as well as Cleveland Orchestra artists and gifted younger musicians entering outstanding careers. She is also the head of collaborative piano for the ENCORE School for Strings and the Scotia Festival of Music in Halifax, Canada. Her recordings include Impresiones Intimas, the first of a projected five CDs of the complete piano music of Federico Mompou (Centaur Records) and the Duo Pontremoli Sonatas by Amy Beach and Grazyna Bacewicz. She was appointed to the CIM faculty in 1977.

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