Beethoven Septet & Louise Farrenc Nonet in Australia
Following last year’s Schubert Octet tour, I was delighted to return to Australia for another chamber music tour with the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra. This year’s tour of Beethoven’s Septet and Louise Farrenc’s delightful Nonet began in Sydney at the stunning new Neilson Recital hall on the Sydney waterfront and ended in Melbourne. Read more about the program here. It was a true privilege to play the Septet and discover Louise Farrenc’s nonet—premiered in Paris in 1850 by none other than a young Joseph Joachim!—with this dream-team of colleagues: Georgia Browne (Flute), Tatjana Zimre (Oboe), Nicole van Bruggen (Clarinet), Anneke Scott (Horn), Lisa Goldberg (Bassoon), Stephen King (Viola), Daniel Yeadon (Cello), and Rob Nairn (Double Bass).
“…A performance of abundant energy and great refinement…There was such a unanimity in their phrasing and a common intent providing ensemble playing of the highest order…The massive violin parts were played with life and verve by Jenna Sherry who also showed many whimsical moments in interpreting the music. The cadenzas in each work were played with shape and direction bringing out the phrasing to perfection.”
—June 12, 2023 classikON, Peter Hagen
Photo by Robert Catto
Birdfoot 2023 Video Snapshot
Birdfoot Festival 2023 was the festival’s most adventurous season: At the heart of the festival was a listening pilgrimage that asked how we can understand our entwined relationship with the natural world through our ears. Winding through the entire 2023 festival, the listening pilgrimage unfolded as a series of outdoor pop-up concerts that reached beyond the concert hall to celebrate the simple beauty and the mythic dimensions of nature, bear witness to environmental degradation, and meditate on our place in the world.
Here’s a Birdfoot 2023 video snapshot that captures some of the highlights.
Photo by rhrphoto.com
Birdfoot Backstage — On the Radio
As a radio-lover myself, it was a fun challenge to translate Birdfoot Backstage—Birdfoot’s signature musical deep-dive which usually takes place as a live event, into radio.
This episode explores the connections between music, silence, and ecology and the inner-workings of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony — a preview of the 2023 Birdfoot Festival. Huge thanks to everyone at WWNO New Orleans for their enthusiasm and the funding to do this, and pianist & radio-maker Guy Livingston for working with me to realize the concept.
March 7, 2023
Photo by rhrphoto.com
Schubert Octet in Australia
It was a joy to join the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra as guest leader for their Sounds of Vienna tour. Over eight concerts, we toured a program of Schubert’s epic Octet and Eybler’s lesser-known String Quintet in D major to Noosa, Brisbane, Orange, UKARIA cultural center, Newcastle, Woodend, and Sydney. And what a pleasure to share the stage with Nicole van Bruggen (Clarinet), Niels Coppalle (Bassoon), Anneke Scott (Horn), Peter Clark (Violin), Simon Oswell (Viola), Daniel Yeadon (Cello), and Rob Nairn (Double Bass).
“Using instruments from the period, they adopted…a spirit of indulgent freedom and whimsical enjoyment. This came alive most freshly in the finale, a concertante movement for the first violin, to which Jenna Sherry brought spirited brilliance and virtuosity.”
— June 16, 2022 Sydney Morning Herald (Peter McCallum)
“During the Menuetto, Jenna Sherry was almost tapping her feet as her fingers danced on the violin. The final movement, with its feelings of impending storm, ended in joyful triumph.”
— June 19 2022, classikON Heidi Hereth
Photo by Wallis Media
Birdfoot Festival 10th anniversary Online Season
The 2021 Birdfoot Festival celebrated the festival’s 10th anniversary with a series of online musical explorations in the format of the festival’s Backstage event. It was a joy and inspiration to put together each event with these inspiring colleagues. The recordings of these events can be watched at the links below.
RHYTHM: DVOŘÁK & PRICE— Backstage with the Jasper String Quartet
TEXTURE: KATHERINE BALCH—Backstage with the Argus Quartet
VOICES: HAYDN & MOZAR—Backstage with Jenna Sherry, Mayumi Sargent, Elizabeth Smalt, & Lucile Perrin
TIME: LILI BOULANGER—Backstage with the Linos Piano Trio
GRATITUDE: BEETHOVEN—Backstage with the Borromeo String Quartet
MEMORY: BRAHMS—Backstage with Jenna Sherry, Shuann Chai, & Teunis van der Zwart
June 30, 2021
Brahms & Dohnányi Recording Reviews
It has been truly delightful and moving to hear from friends and colleagues who took the time to listen to the Brahms & Dohnányi disc. The recording has been heard on Bartók Radio, WFMT Chicago (New Releases with Lisa Flynn), and you can hear me talk about the recording (and other things) on WWNO New Orleans’s Inside the Arts with Diane Mack. We are also grateful to the writers and reviewers who listened & engaged with the recording—and for their thoughts and words! Here are a few:
International Piano magazine Jan/Feb 2021 (Ateş Orga):
“Dániel Lőwenberg is a pianist whose warmth and depth of tone is ideally suited to Brahms and the emotional nuances of fin de siècle Austro-Hungarian music. In the New Orleans violinist Jenna Sherry, now based in London, he has a sensitive partner to share the journey. She advocates the music commandingly, its rise and fall blooming naturally, her vibrato expressively tasteful and restrained. Production values favour intimacy, opaqueness and muted russet shades. Dohnányi’s Sonata (1911) — a quicksilver Brahmsian homage that doesn’t end quite as one might imagine — is persuasively, sensually championed. Gorgeous.”
BBC Music (Jan Smaczny):
“Dániel Löwenberg’s decision to play an 1898 Steinway certainly adds an interesting sonic dimension, matching Jenna Sherry’s clear violin tone in well recorded performances that are technically irreproachable.”
Brahms & Dohnányi recording is out!
Many thanks to Strad Magazine for inviting me to write a blog post on this project! Read it here: “Forgotten by Violinists: Brahms’s Op. 120 Sonatas”
Huge thanks are due to our wonderful collaborators on this project: producer Péter Aczél, sound engineer Viktor Szabó, and BMC Records label manager Tamás Bognár. Thanks also to Márton Kerékfy, who wrote the booklet notes and László Huszár designed the beautiful cover art.
Press releases and photos from the recording session are available in the online Press Kit.
Photo credit Krisztina Csendes
Brahms & Dohnányi on BMC Records – Out on 6 November, 2020!
As we get ready to share this project, I’ve been reflecting on how we got started and the journey from discovery to finished album. I have vivid memories of our first rehearsals of the Dohnányi sonata for a concert in Budapest several years ago. How enchanted we were by his glowing sound world and charming turns of phrase! There was a feeling of emerging from the far side of a magical rabbit hole as we made our way through his most ear-bending modulations. Especially vivid are the memories of moments when we started to enjoy the ride, trusting that we would come out of every harmonic scrape, James Bond-style, only slightly dusted up. But above all, I remember how the eloquence of the music touched us: Out of the opening three-note motive (D#–E–C#), Dohnányi weaves an epic journey, tendril by musical tendril, until these three notes work themselves so far into your psyche that you feel they must have always been there.
The idea of recording this gem of a sonata came up surprisingly early in those first rehearsals. But the idea got stuck on a crucial question: What to pair it with? We quickly rejected most of the obvious choices (Strauss, Janacek, etc.) because none quite complemented the qualities we most wanted to bring out, namely Dohnányi’s personal voice, his meticulous craft, and that distinctly late-summer feeling of nostalgia for summer itself which the late-romantics did so well—and which suffuses this sonata.
Then, by pure happenstance some months later, I noticed an announcement that Bärenreiter would re-publish the forgotten violin versions of Brahms’s Op. 120 clarinet sonatas. The link between the two composers is well known (Brahms championed the young Dohnányi’s first piano quintet in Vienna), but in these sonatas it feels as if Dohnányi picks up where Brahms left off. As Márton Kerékfy has so eloquently written in the booklet for this recording, “the late style of Brahms was Dohnányi’s musical mother tongue.” A short phone call to Dániel later, it was decided.
If you ask any violinist or music lover, they will most likely agree that Brahms wrote just three violin sonatas (Op. 78, Op. 100, Op. 108). The violin version of the Op. 120 sonatas have been completely ignored by violinists and remained out of print for over a century until 2016. Since then, a few violinists have picked them up and a recent recording challenges this assumption with its title: “Brahms—The Five Sonatas for Violin and Piano.” It’s a good headline, but I think the music tells a more complex story—not unlike the multiple layers and truths that so often coexist in Brahms’s sense of rhythm and narrative. When playing Brahms I find myself asking questions such as: Is the music in two or three? Dancing or crying? — and the answer is usually: Yes, and more.
The Sonatas Op. 120 (in F minor and E-flat major) date from 1894, shortly after Brahms came out of self-imposed retirement in order to write for clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld. “No one could play the clarinet more beautifully than Herr Mühlfeld does here,” he rapturously wrote to Clara Schumann. After hearing Mühlfeld herself, Clara replied, “it’s as if he were created for your work. This profound simplicity, and the subtlety of his interpretation!”
The genre of the clarinet sonata was brand new (and surprising, as attested to by remarks and reviews from the time), and playing the viola was also not yet thought of as a distinct pursuit from playing the violin. Although the timeline is not clear, Brahms soon envisioned a viola version of the sonatas, and shortly after in February 1895 sent a teasing letter to his publisher about yet a third version: “Since you do not care for original works, but only for arrangements—I say at once that immediately after the first issue I intend to make an edition for violin, for which some things would have to be changed—thus an independent edition.” By the end of July, 1895, all three versions had been published.
Although the Op. 120 sonatas were played by violinist Marie Soldat-Roeger and also by Joseph Joachim, who otherwise shunned transcriptions, should we really call these “violin sonatas”? Or is the DNA of the (mostly) vibrato-less clarinet so embedded in the writing that they can only be thought of as loving transcriptions of clarinet sonatas?
The chance to explore these questions and their musical implications on tempo, character, vibrato, and so much more, proved irresistible! The challenge of navigating between the three instrumental identities, each with its distinct voice, became an essential part of the rehearsal process (instruments were borrowed, friends consulted), and a source of constant inspiration. The beauty is inseparable from the ambiguity.
It is often said that these masterly late works have no extra notes—which they really don’t. And yet the music itself doesn’t know this or have that retrospective confidence as it unfolds. Over the process of making the recording, we returned again and again to the searching quality, sometimes turbulent, and sometimes child-like in its innocence, that suffuses these sonatas. I try to keep that thought fresh, even now that the recordings are “in the can,” as the saying goes—a constant reminder of what an intimate and vulnerable thing it was for Brahms, and indeed for anyone, to put notes on a page.
October 8, 2020