Recital at Mannes College, Oct. 24 at 8pm

I’m playing a recital this Thursday night, October 24 at 8pm, at Mannes College, where I am on the college faculty. I hope those of you who are in town can come and hear it! Here is the program, with program notes by me:


Miranda Cuckson, violin

with Yegor Shevtsov, piano 

Mannes Concert Hall, 150 West 85 street, NYC
admission free
October 24, 8pm


Sonate pour violon et piano (1917)     Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Sonata for violin and piano  (1996)    Steven Mackey (b. 1956)


 Fantasy-Variations for solo violin (1962) Donald Martino (1931-2005)
Sonata in C minor Op. 30, No. 2 (1802)     Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)


Program notes:

Though I often craft programs in order to illuminate context and specific connections, or to introduce newly created works to listeners, for this evening, my first recital as violin faculty in the College Division, I decided simply to perform two works from the Western classical canon along with two somewhat recent compositions. There is no specific “theme” to the program, besides an assertion of my continuing belief in the value of art both old and new. One connection: Steven Mackey studied with, and fondly remembers, Donald Martino. Martino’s “Fantasy-Variations” can be heard on my Centaur Records CD “Music by Donald Martino”. 

Claude Debussy’s Sonata for violin and piano was his last composition, written the year before his death. Having planned to write a series of six sonatas for a variety of instrumental combinations, he finished just three: the cello sonata, the sonata for viola, harp and flute, and the violin sonata. Debussy performed the piano part in his last public performance. Known for his revolutionary use of modes and non-tonal harmony, and his tantalizing experiments with texture and color, he turned in his late works to a piquant use of dissonance and a distilling of his earlier music’s lushness. The Sonata is in three short movements. It is thought that at the time of writing, Debussy was under medication which caused to him to feel dizzy – precipitating the swirling, giddy rhythms and gestures of the piece.

Steven Mackey grew up in northern California, steeped in the vernacular idiom of American rock and jazz. In his teens, he became fascinated with contemporary classical music and, while continuing to play and write for the electric guitar, he devoted himself to composing concert music. He is chair of the Music Department at Princeton University, where he has taught since 1985, and has written for leading orchestras, ensembles and soloists. Steve’s note:

“I have been interested in the combination of violin and piano for a long time. In fact, my first piece ever was a duo for violin and piano. I am interested because it is a preposterous, awkward liaison. The two instruments could not be more different in terms of construction, physics, sound, character and playing technique. It is obviously well suited for a melody in the violin and restrained accompaniment in the piano but achieving any other kind of workable co-conspiracy requires some imagination. It is like having a baby: it’s really hard but millions of people do it and the challenge does you good.

I developed my interest in this combination in college where I, as a young rock guitar player, first encountered chamber music. My theory and history teachers frequently appeared as a violin and piano duo and their performances of Sonatas by Debussy, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, the Duo Concertant of Stravinsky and other mostly twentieth century works literally changed my life – I became a composer. 

There are two features which deserve special mention. First, the violin part makes occasional use of microtones – notes in between the familiar equal tempered tones. Second, the two movements are highly asymmetrical. The first is about two minutes long and the second is closer to 18 minutes. Sonata for Violin and Piano was written for David Abel and Julie Steinberg and commissioned by the McKim foundation at the Library of Congress.”

One of America’s prominent Modernist composers, Donald Martino brought together a sophisticated, intricate mastery of twelve-tone technique and a freewheeling Romantic sensibility. While his works are, for the most part, strikingly complex in construction and texture, they feature vibrantly colorful instrumentation, intense virtuosity, sharp juxtapositions of moods, and jazz-influenced improvisatory flair. A clarinetist, he studied composition with Milton Babbitt, Roger Sessions and Luigi Dallapiccola. He freelanced as a jazz musician in New York before taking professorships at Princeton, Yale, Brandeis and Harvard.

 The Fantasy-Variations for Violin presents a veritable encyclopedia of violin effects, ranging from many sorts of pizzicato to harmonics, glissandi, varied bowing styles, and combinations thereof. Martino indicated in minute detail not only the desired dynamics, but in many cases, extremely specific nuances of phrasing and pacing. The work has the feeling of a scherzo, with brief phrases and different characters succeeding each other abruptly, and a nervous intensity which pervades the piece. Recurrences of the bold opening 10th mark the start of some of the variations. In the work’s middle section, marked Il più presto possibile, the mute is quickly applied and removed amid hushed scorrevole murmurings. Following a climax, the scherzando variations resume. As the work draws to an end, gestures become more relaxed, melodic and almost elegiac. 

 Ludwig van Beethoven’s three Sonatas Opus 30 for piano and violin came at the cusp of a new productive era for him, his so-called “Middle Period” in which he wrote larger-scale works in a highly charged dramatic rhetoric. Coming soon after his despairing “Heiligenstadt Testament”, the sonatas bristle with a defiant will to create and be energized in creating. The Op. 30 No. 2 is in C minor, the same key as his Fifth Symphony, Coriolanus Overture and Pathétique Sonata.  Its stark opening motive (long note followed by four 16ths and a downbeat, an amplified form of the crisp, quicker dotted rhythms later in the piece) establishes a tension-filled anticipation that erupts in brusque outbursts, before gaining momentum in a tightly contained march and stormy 16th-note runs. The Adagio is an exchange of spacious dolce melodies, with light and shadow coloring the harmonies at surprising moments. In the Scherzo, the eruptions of the first movement retain their robust vigor but are now good-humored and joyous.  The Finale returns to the anxiousness and ominousness of the opening, sudden sforzandos having the startling force of a feisty fist-punch.