About this Recording
8.559662 - Violin Recital: Fain, Tim - PUTS, K. / GLASS, P. / KERNIS, A.J. / ZHURBIN, L. / DANIELPOUR, R. / BOLCOM, W. / HIGDON, J. (River of Light)

River of Light
American Short Works for Violin and Piano


The American violinist Tim Fain has an affinity for developing interesting, musically diverse projects. Aside from hearing him in recital or as soloist in venues throughout the world, you can also hear him as the sound of Richard Gere’s violin in the feature film Bee Season and on the soundtrack and on screen in the Academy Award winning film Black Swan. You can see him on tour with Philip Glass and Leonard Cohen, collaborating on stage with choreographer Benjamin Millepeid and the New York City Ballet, or performing with a wide variety of jazz, pop, and chamber artists. This disc, a selection of short pieces built around a keen, ongoing investment in the music of his time—all but one of the composers featured here are still living—offers an incisive glimpse into his vivid curiosity.

“I grew up performing the classics,” says Fain, “including short pieces—virtuosic and lyrical—by Sarasate, Wieniawski, Dvořák, Saint-Saëns, and so many others. In recording a disc of short works by American composers living in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, I aim to bring the tradition of the ‘short piece’ into the present.”

Perhaps taking its inspiration from the work of many of the composers, this recording reflects the adventuresome spirit of Fain and the composers of our time. Here is a violinist luxuriating in the rich array of his solo repertoire, from raw minimalism to soaring lyricism and hot jazz, with many stops in between. Most of the compositions recorded here, as is the fortunate case with so many new works, grew out of personal relationships. For example, some years back, after Fain performed the concert version of Glass’s Einstein on the Beach at Carnegie Hall, the composer said he “played the hell out of the piece—I’ve never heard the piece like that, and there’s no going back now!” That work is on this disc.

As Fain says: “While the pieces I’ve chosen are each unique and varied in style and character, the composers represented here share a melodic vision and gift for lyricism in common with so many of the most poetic composers of the past. Having worked closely with the composers on this disc—many are good friends—I see in them the vital present and the future of American music.”

William Bolcom’s Graceful Ghost Rag is a reconfiguring of this composer’s most famous melody, and, like most of his music, cares little for settling on a given style. Though its title pays homage to turn-of-the-last-century Ragtime, a bawdy dance music favored by incessant syncopation, in this case, as the work is in memory of his departed father, the character of it is somewhat more nostalgic.

Lev Zhurbin began composing Sicilienne on the Long Island Railroad, where the composer says he “aimed to create a lilting, peaceful, and romantic dance in imperceptibly changing meters.” The very title of the work roots it in the past, it being a slow, sorrowful Italian aria in a triple meter.

Light Guitar, written for Fain by Patrick Zimmerli, takes its title from a small section of prose in Joyce’s monumental Ulysses, and is cast in three movements. “The first,” according to the composer, “is in the traditional simple song form.” The second is “about sensual romance, a song sung to a lover that should melt anyone’s heart,” while the third is folksy and up-tempo, requiring the violinist to play at lightning speed.

Kevin Puts’ soaring and lyrical Aria is inspired by the second section of the composer’s Arches for solo violin, to which he later added a piano to create an encore. It is favored by a chorale-like texture, with the piano playing simple, bell-like chords over a vocally-inflected violin line. As Puts says, “It is a vocal piece for violin and piano.”

The only composer not with us is Ruth Shaw Wylie, though, according to Fain, her Wistful Piece “really shares an aesthetic with the other tracks on the disc.” It is a single-movement work that starts quietly (ergo the title) but, through an accumulation of what Wylie called “planes” of music, increases to a massive fortissimo climax and immediately calms.

Aaron Jay Kernis says that his Air is “a love letter to the violin. Songlike and lyrical, it opens up a full range of the instrument’s expressive and poignant possibilities, composed with two main themes and open in harmony. The first theme poses melodic questions and their responses, while the second is still, rising ever-upward into the highest range of the violin. Following a middle section of dramatic intensity, it cycles back to the themes in reverse, developing each along the way, and ending quietly after a final plaintive ascent.”

“I composed River of Light with a metaphor in mind,” says composer Richard Danielpour, “that of crossing the river—preparing to meet one’s maker. Writing this work may have been a small step for me toward trusting and preparing; although I hope to be here for many years to come, I know I must begin to practice, in simple ways, the art of dying—even as all of us practice the art of being alive.”

Composer Jennifer Higdon says, of her work, “Legacy represents life’s wholeness, the good and the bad, and all of the learning and experiencing that goes with living. One’s life is a song, continuous, complex, ever-eventful. We share and we love and we lose, but we gain in the process. Everyone leaves a legacy.”

“It is important to keep our ears open to the music of our time,” Fain insists. “If there had not been musicians like Joseph Joachim for example, championing the music of Johannes Brahms, would we know of Brahms’s music today to the extent we do? This recording is a vote of confidence—at once a tender look back to the music I fell in love with as a kid, and a hopeful—no, an eager—look forward to the next generations of composers and musicians.”

Daniel Felsenfeld
Daniel Felsenfeld is a composer who lives in Brooklyn.

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