Shapey concert at Contempo, University of Chicago

I am thrilled to perform and present, with my organization Nunc, a concert tribute to Ralph Shapey on March 1, on the Contempo series at the University of Chicago. There is info on Nunc’s website here.

Here is the note I sent them for the program book. If you’re in the Chicago area, I hope you’ll join us!


I was truly delighted when Shulamit Ran and Elsa Charlston asked me to put together this concert of Ralph Shapey’s music for the Contempo series. His work has been immensely satisfying to play and explore. After performing his Evocation No. 1 on a recital in 2005, I dove into studying more of his music, recorded most of his solo violin and duo works on two CDs, and organized and performed in a Shapey “Composer Portrait” concert at Miller Theatre in New York in 2009. It is wonderful now to have the opportunity, with my new non-profit Nunc, to share its vibrancy and strength and beauty here in Chicago. I am especially happy that, in addition to including two performers who worked directly with Shapey, this concert features a younger generation of artists for whom his work continues to be exciting and meaningful.

Shapey was a composer working in and expressing his own time but he was vehemently committed to studying and appreciating the great music of composers before him: Beethoven, Bach, Haydn, Mozart. He was inspired by their remarkable craft and their striving for expression of the greatest qualities in people – spiritual, strong and noble, or warm and loving – though he also conveyed lightness and humor. Culture nowadays often focuses on the currently interesting, and people innovate by drawing from the flood of information and sources around them, and do not necessarily feel they need to connect their creations or their values to the greatness of the past. While any person can create whatever they wish and call it art, I think there should always be a treasured place for those like Shapey who engaged with the collective learning and achievements of our musical forbears and sought to continue these values into the present in their work.

As a violinist, I enjoy playing Shapey’s music because he was a violinist and he wrote both very naturally and very challengingly for the instrument. I also love his slow movements, which are expansive like a vast landscape, and his impish, goofy humor, and the mighty ruggedness of some of his music. Shapey was particularly inspired by Beethoven, and I love the gritty strength and abundance of energy and the radiant joy of both composers.

For tonight’s program, we chose three pieces – the Piano Quintet, “2 for 5” for clarinet quintet, and the String Quartet #10 – from late in Shapey’s life and career, and one earlier piece, “Five”. The late works are very moving to hear as a culmination of Shapey’s lifelong work. His evolution involved several periods and stylistic changes, his early music being more neo-classical and transparent and metered, the middle period being strongly gestural and dramatic and having a more free sense of time.  His late music, like some other artists’ late work, conveys alternately a sense of spiritual ecstasy, spacious calm, noble striving and released joy. It was innovative in that it is based more on texture and rhythm than on melody; its layers of counterpoint create harmonies and energy but the drama stays in one state rather than constantly developing. The violin/piano duo “Five” is from his middle period, a work in five succint movements that packs quite a punch, with wit and vivacity.

(Jan 29, 2013)