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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Not so Quiet on the Northern Front

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One hundred years ago, a rumbling cannonade heralded the beginning of the First World War. On Friday, classical Czech musicians Rolf Haas and Miki Aoki opened with a softer tune – but one inspired by that conflict. Haas started the night’s performance with Janacek’s Violin Sonata, a traditional Czech folk-inspired melody written at the outbreak of WWI, the perfect piece to showcase the broad range of expressive sound that he is capable of. It was an expansive program bringing selections from around the world into a single virtuoso performance. The works of Janacek, Saint-Saens, Piazzolla, and others were presented with quiet intensity by both performers, and at times the two instruments collaborated in unison to bring the music to a higher energy that left the audience, an even mix of Northfield residents and Carleton students, in awe.

At times, the violin’s beautiful themes seemed to be warring with the piano’s aggressive, almost dissonant chords. The two seemed to be dancing with notes and chords. Neither upstaged the other, but instead each instrument complemented their partner in bringing Janacek’s complicated, extremely dynamic four-movement sonata to life.

Throughout the piece, there remained an uneasy juxtaposition between the violent figures and calm sorrowful harmonies from each instrument, but as the piece drew to a close, Aoki and Haas seemed to slowly unify, building a sense of comfort and reconciliation into the two instruments’ conversation. After the piece, Haas stopped to speak about how the piece reminded him of life in Northfield, with its sounds of nature and descriptions of contemplation, disagreements, and resolution: “It captures life and everything all around us–Janacek reminds me of my childhood running through the Arb.”

The second piece that was performed, Poeme elegiaque, Op.12 by Eugene Ysaye, was the only piece that Haas had memorized. Without the music stand in front of him, the emotion emanating from the instrument seemed more personal and powerful. He prefaced the piece by speaking of his grandfather, Harry Nordstrom, who was a music professor at Carleton.

“When I was twelve or fourteen years old, sometime during that period, my grandfather taught me how to play viola. Its dark, rich sound has had a profound effect on my violin playing, as well as my concept of sound. The special melancholic timbre which the viola can produce so effectively is evoked by tuning down the G string to an F.” This special tuning of the lowest string lent the violin some of the viola’s range, so that the climactic highs and depths of the lows accentuated Haas’ haunting performance. In this piece, Aoki’s masterful control of the keyboard carefully accompanied and provided a melodic chord background for the violin’s eerie trills to rise from.

The four other pieces that Haas and Aoki played, by Saint-Saens, Lutoslawski, Piazzolla, and Bizet, were no less beautiful and powerful. However, even though the concert was well performed, with both musicians displaying the range of skill and emotion they were capable of, more variety in the music chosen would have been appreciated. Since all of the pieces were folktune dance style melodies, after the first half of the concert, the music started to seem repetitive and overdone. On the other hand, the common theme throughout all of the music showcased was the way the music danced wistfully, highlighting the violin’s evocative melody and the piano’s vibrant range by turns. Although a little long and the selection lacking in diversity, all of the pieces demanded virtuosity, emotion, and dedication from both performers, making this concert a presentation to remember.

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