Viola, now and then

Two Faces of Viola: Nadia Sirota

Saturday, March 1 // 7:30PM - 9:30PM

Violist Nadia Sirota, a leading new music advocate – and former student of Jason Weinberger! – visits our stage to present “beautiful music of a higher order than anything else you will hear this year,” while the wcfsymphony violas take center stage in Brahms’ sumptuous (and violin-less) A major Serenade.

Judd Greenstein – In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves with Nadia Sirota, viola
Daníel Bjarnason – Sleep Variations with Nadia Sirota, viola
Johannes Brahms – Serenade no. 2

Sponsored by // Sally Malcolm // Cruisin' 1250
Buck a Kid Meet the ArtistsCurtain TalkFine Reception

Additional Info

Nadia Sirota

“A one-woman contemporary-classical commissioning machine,” (Pitchfork) violist Nadia Sirota is best known for her singular sound and expressive execution, coaxing solo works from the likes of Nico Muhly, Daníel Bjarnason, Judd Greenstein, Marcos Balter, and Missy Mazzoli. Her debut album First Things First was released in 2009 on New Amsterdam Records and named a record of the year by The New York Times, and her sophomore album, Baroque, released in March on Bedroom Community and New Amsterdam has been called “beautiful music of a higher order than anything else you will hear this year” by SPINMedia website PopMatters.

In addition to her work as a soloist, Nadia is a member of yMusic, ACME (the American Contemporary Music Ensemble) and Alarm Will Sound, and has lent her sound to recording and concert projects by such artists and songwriters as Grizzly Bear, Jónsi and Arcade Fire.


Program notes

Judd Greenstein - In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves

Commissioned by the Center and SMoCA in conjunction with the exhibition This is a Present from a Small Distant World, Judd Greenstein’s In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves was composed for violist Nadia Sirota.

SMoCA’s exhibition took its title from a recording launched into outer space in 1977 on the NASA Voyager spacecraft. The grand intention of this “Golden Record” was to communicate the entirety of Earth and human experience to an unknown, and in fact, unimaginable audience. To do this, astronomers, astrophysicists, linguists and mathematicians included music, recordings, pictures and text, along with the inscription “To the makers of music – all worlds, all times.”

Greenstein accepted the Golden Record’s challenge, asking what it would mean to teach music to an alien life form. His score, In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves, reaches for the emotion and agency of music to describe the Earth.

Judd Greenstein is a Brooklyn-based composer of structurally complex, viscerally engaging works for varied instrumentation. A passionate advocate for the “indie classical” community in New York and beyond, Greenstein writes much of his work for the virtuosic ensembles and solo performers who make up that community and tailors it to their specific talents and abilities.


Daníel Bjarnason - Sleep Variations

Daníel Bjarnason's stirring viola concerto Sleep Variations has been described by Music Press Daily as “14 minutes of sonic tossing and turning that is likely to be considered one of the greatest triumphs of his career.” The piece, scored for small ensemble of low strings, piano and percussion, is a musical response to Margaret Atwood's poem Variations on the Word 'Sleep':

I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head

and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear

I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center. I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and you enter
it as easily as breathing in

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.

- Variations on the Word 'Sleep' by Margaret Atwood

Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason has garnered widespread acclaim for his debut album, Processions (2010), with Time Out NY declaring that Bjarnason “create(s) a sound that comes eerily close to defining classical musics undefinable brave new world.” Daníel works equally as conductor and composer and has worked with many different ensembles including the London Sinfonietta, Ulster Orchestra and Sinfonietta Cracovia. He also regularly conducts at both the Icelandic Opera and Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Daníel’s versatilty as an arranger and conductor has led to colllaborations with with a broad array of musicians outside the classical field, including Sigur Rós, Efterklang, múm, Ben Frost, and Ólöf Arnalds amongst others.


Johannes Brahms - Serenade no. 2 in A major, Op. 16

At the age of 19, Johannes Brahms was both a virtuoso pianist and budding composer, but literally unknown in the fairly insolated musical circles of his native Hamburg. How quickly things would change with the 1853 essay by Robert Schumann, Neue Bahnen (“New Paths”) in which the significant leader of German Romanticism declared Brahms the inheritor of musical traditions and predicted symphonic greatness from the man who had written only a handful of piano works and songs.

Of course this placed an immense strain upon the shoulders of the younger composer. Who could possibly assume the mantle of the symphony after Beethoven? What more could be said within that medium? It would take Brahms many years to even attempt to tackle works for large orchestra, primarily because his tutelage under Eduard Marxen had not included a study of orchestration. This he owed to his friend, the famed Joseph Joachim, whose depth of knowledge was a constant resource. Within a few years and following the tragic death of Schumann Brahms also began regular communication with the composer’s widow, Clara. Brahms felt that she could be counted upon for earnest - and often critical  - opinions on all things musical.

Although his publications ceased for a number of years - due to his insistence on caring for Clara and her household, which included seven children - Brahms had kept on composing. By the early 1860s he had completed his first piano concerto and the two serenades. But he would not take on the arduous task of the symphony until the completion of the 14-year gestation of his first symphony in 1877.

The Serenades date from the winter seasons Brahms spent at the court in Detmold. It is thought that he intensely studied the scores of Haydn and in particular the luminous wind music of Mozart. Much is known about the second serenade as Brahms sent each movement to Clara for comment. Her replies were invariably enthusiastic; her response to the Adagio was “as if I were to gaze at each filament of a wondrous flower. It is most beautiful.”

The scoring of the work is vastly different from Brahms’s first effort, in that he eschews trumpets, timpani and (all of the) violins. The ten wind parts are independent to which the strings exist almost solely for contrast rather than support. Michael Musgrave notes the greater maturity achieved in Brahms’s adaptation of traditions, especially in his manipulations of rhythm  - hemiola, much in use here, would become a hallmark of his style - and harmony, in which sections of the music are found in unexpected (but seemingly “right”) keys. This is a work which is definitely deserving of much more attention in the Brahms canon.

- Brian Hughes

Related Media