Last Sunday afternoon, visiting artist Stephanie Chase performed a solo violin performance at the Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall. Chase is a world-renowned violinist, praised for her elegantly “virtuous” interpretations and “matchless technique” – she especially excels in her interpretation and performance of contemporary music. Sunday was no different, and Chase intrigued her audience with her offbeat choice of musical pieces. Titled “The Art of the Solo Violin,” Chase’s performance covered pieces composed between 1720 and 1956 and included music by composers such as Bach, Prokofiev and Telemann, to the more obscure Bartok and Hiao-Tsiun Ma. Chase’s performance was not only a display of her immaculate technique, but also a chance for the audience to delve into one of the more obscure branches of classical music.
Chase began the recital with a piece by Georg Telemann, Fantasia for violin solo, No. 10 in D Major. This was an interesting opening piece and definitely set the tone for the rest of the performance with its atonal motifs and unmelodious composition. Chase took her audience on a strange journey through the three movements with confidence, often contrasting pure musicality with periodic interruptions of single notes and sounds. Chase continued on this same trajectory with her second piece, Sonata No. 2 for violin solo, Op. 115 by Ernst Krenek.
Chase took a slightly different approach with her performance of Bela Bartok’s Sonata for violin solo, Sz 117/BB124. In this piece, there was a noticeable shift away from the atonal and dissonant qualities of the first two pieces to a much more expressive and classically “musical” landscape. As Chase progressed through the movements, there was an increasing sense of emotion and stimulation that reached a peak with the third movement “Melodia.” The undertones of folk music present in the piece added to its charming and agreeable quality.
After a short intermission, Chase returned to perform three more pieces, beginning with Bach’s “Ciaccona” from Partita in D Minor for violin solo, BWV 1004. With the transition from the first to the second part of the performance, the audience saw a shift to a more upbeat choice of classical music. The piece by Bach was filled with soft transitions and appealing melodies that most audiences would be able to interpret and furthermore enjoy. The highlight of the afternoon came with Chase’s performance of Hiao-Tsiun Ma’s Variations on a Chinese Popular Theme. It was a somewhat eccentric and brave choice for Chase to include this 20th century piece in a performance that consisted of mostly 17th and 18th century European composers, but it was a choice that paid off. Musically, the piece was simple and in singular notes and mirrored the Eastern qualities that inspired it. It was a welcome deviation and added to the offbeat quality of the performance that Chase may have been trying to create.
Ending on the atonal and slightly clashing note on which she started, Chase concluded the performance with Sergei Prokofiev’s Sonata for violin solo in D Major, Op. 115. In her introduction to piece, Chase informed the audience that Prokofiev’s music had been inspired by the industrial qualities of machinery in the war – this was definitely apparent in the piece. The piece resonated with a metallic quality and was hugely intricate in terms of the turns being made at every measure and the constant contrast of melody with single, sharp notes. It was an interesting way to end and gave an impression of the performance itself having come full circle.
Chase demonstrated technical ability along with a high level of maturity that was evident through her professional interpretation. Many concerts feature a background piano player so Chase was very brave to have put on a solo violin concert. Essentially, Chase carried the entire weight of the performance in terms of interpretation and execution, so her delivery had to respect a certain level of virtuosity that would keep the audience’s attention. Chase may have alienated her audience with the inaccessibility of the pieces she chose, but her decision to play largely contemporary and atonal music was a bold one, and she definitely strayed from the mainstream. All in all, the Sunday concert was an extremely enlightening and intriguing one and definitely one not to have been missed.