Why Does The Devil Always Play A Fiddle?
Violinist Ju Young Baek stood before the group of music lovers and introduced the first piece, a sonata for violin and piano known as Il Trillo del Diavolo The Devil's Trill. Italian Baroque composer Giuseppe Tartini wrote the sonata after having a dream in which the Horned One appeared at the composer's bedside to bargain for the man's soul. Feeling cocky, Tartini challenged the devil to a musical duel and was then astonished at the beauty of the devil's sonata and the skill with which he played. Evidently waking before he had to pay up, Tartini wrote his piece in an effort to replicate what he heard in his dream. Had the devil shown up with, say, a trombone, we might not have this masterpiece today.
The first of Tartini's four movements had Ju Young swaying as her bow swept across the four strings in a somber larghetto. The second movement was the very definition of allegro fast, lively, and fun. Despite the minor key, it conveyed lightness. The third movement, grave, was sweet sadness, with very soft chords that nevertheless projected clearly throughout the room. Difficult trills were played throughout the piece, including some beautifully subtle trilling in the softer passages. The final movement, also played allegro, contained a wild cadenza that had been added by violin virtuoso Fritz Kreisler in his 1905 adaptation for modern violin in an effort to make the challenging piece even more of a "devil" to play, joked Ju Young. She made it look easy to us.
Antonin Dvorak's Romance for Violin and Piano in F Minor featured long, sweet notes on the strings and soft piano chords reminiscent of Dvorak's Slavonic Dance No. 2. The violin's entire dynamic range was used, from fortissimo to pianissimo. Wow! Take an evening walk with your sweetheart through Wenceslas Square, and you'll get the same effect. (The Square is in Prague, but I'm sure they'll build a mockup here in Las Vegas soon.)
Ju Young Baek began playing violin at age six. Still a young lady, she has performed with orchestras all over the world and is quite poised, as you might expect from someone who plays difficult music before crowds of strangers. Even more challenging than the Tartini sonata was the next piece, by Heinrich Ernst: Variations on an Irish Air, The Last Rose of Summer. Rolling her eyes a bit, Ju Young explained that Ernst "wanted to compose technically difficult etudes (studies) to allow a performer to show off his/her virtuosity." This piece didn't seem to intimidate her, though: she flew furiously through the notes, rapidly changing the bow's angle to hit each string in time. Some of the softer notes were so high that they sounded like someone whistling. Frequently she played long notes with the bow while plucking other notes on the violin's neck with her left hand. I got cramped fingers just watching what she called "my left-hand workout."
After the Ernst piece, Ju Young entertained some questions from the guests. A humorous incident occurred when a man in the back asked if the room's acoustics sounded as good to her as they did to us and, not quite hearing him, she said, "Pardon me?" This interaction with the performer is one advantage of the Soirées' intimate settings. Another advantage I enjoyed was my sitting next to the Philharmonic's principal second violinist, Shakeh Ghoukasian, who told me that tonight's musical programming reflected the style of the early twentieth century. She explained that during that era the violinist would typically perform only one really technical piece and one sonata, and would then treat the audience to some "ear candy" such as the final bit of music on this evening's program.
The duo performed the second and third sections from Pablo de Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), a lament and a dance. The first part vividly evoked old women with weathered faces, softly weeping or suddenly wailing during the intense musical flourishes. Then the second piece jumped right into a lively jig with changing rhythms as if to say, "Enough mourning let's celebrate life!" Ju Young's bow could be seen bouncing off the strings as she raced through the notes.
The host of this Soirée is an automobile dealer and an obvious car aficionado. His dealerships include exotic cars, and he had a stunning blue Aston Martin prototype parked in front of the house for his guests to view as we arrived and departed. Perfect! My eyes didn't have to go home tonight envying my ears. There was enough candy for both.