“Voices and Variations” combines solo violin and percussion in a unique concert program

This Friday at the First Congregational Church of Christ, percussionist George Nickson and violinist Samantha Bennett will join forces to present a unique program of solo and duo works for marimba, vibraphone and violin.

In this program, entitled “Voices and Variations,” musical selections have been chosen to highlight the similarities and differences between the (often) single melodic voice of the violin and the polyphonic capabilities of mallet percussion instruments. 

The solo works being presented are representative of the classical form of theme and variations. Alejandro Viñao’s Khan Variations displays the full ability of a solo marimbist to explore various polyrhythmic and polyphonic material. In this case, the piece is a unique set of eight variations based on a traditional theme from Qawwali music as sung by the Pakistani singer Ali Kahn.

Sergei Prokofiev’s Sonata for Solo Violin highlights the challenge of writing and performing a complete solo work with only the single voice of the violin, therefore requiring the composer and listener to infer much of the harmonic content while focusing on the single voice of melody. This piece is quite like a monologue where the actor has to both set the scene and play all of the characters simultaneously. The second movement exists in a true theme and variations form.

The Stillpoint, by Edward Top, focuses on the concept of two instruments (vibraphone and violin) playing the same melodic material, sometimes in unison, but most of the time in asymmetrical rhythms. The title is derived from T.S. Elliot’s Four Quartets (“Burnt Norton II”): “At the still point of the turning world.” The piece has four movements, each of which with a subtitle. Movement one, “in the silent croacking night” has a mysterioso character, consisting of a six-tone mode in different tempos. Movement two, “as the world turns” is a unison melody that increases in tempo step by step. The whole tone scale plays a prominent role in the third movement, “a pattern of timeless moments,” and the final movement, “the point of intersection of the timeless with time,” opens with an enormous fortissimo where the vibraphonist lets a glissando ring.

 Paul Lanky’s Hop is an unmistakable fusion of folk and blues in a contemporary style. Lansky has composed a freewheeling group of variations that ultimately culminates in the combination of voices, both marimba and violin, playing a modern take on the traditional chords of the American blues idiom. The marimba and violin seamlessly riff through a series of interlocking melodies. Lansky worked closely with marimbist Nancy Zeltsman during the composition of this work.

A percussionist of great versatility and virtuosity, Nickson has been hailed as “a performer handling his role with ease and flair” by The New York Times. A native of Port St. Lucie, Nickson is the Principal Percussionist of the Sarasota Orchestra. In addition to his engagements with the the SO, George performs regularly as a soloist and chamber musician, including concerts at the Lincoln Center and Le Poisson Rouge in New York City, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, Fla. An ardent proponent of new music, Nickson has worked closely with our greatest living composers, including Elliott Carter, Charles Wuorinen, Oliver Knussen and Steve Reich.

Hailed by the Chicago Tribune as a violinist “requiring no age-related caveats, full of subtlety and poise”, Bennett is an active soloist and chamber musician around the Boston area. As a recitalist, Bennett has performed in Boston’s Jordan Hall, London’s Wigmore Hall at the invitation of the Razumovsky Academy, and Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall. She made her solo orchestral debut with the Central Iowa Symphony at age 11 and has since performed concerti with several Midwest orchestras, including the Des Moines Symphony, the Ottuma Symphony, the Oskaloosa Symphony and the La Crosse Symphony. She has participated in internationally-renowned music festivals such as the Spoleto Festival USA, the Music Academy of the West and the Tanglewood Music Festival. As a member of the Tanglewood Music Center, Bennett had the privilege of performing as part of the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Charles Dutoit, and accompanied legendary soloists Yo-Yo Ma, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Gil Shaham and Emanuel Ax as part of the PBS broadcast of Tanglewood’s 75th Anniversary Celebration. Currently, Ms. Bennett is a leading member of the Discovery Ensemble, the Boston Philharmonic and the Haffner Sinfonietta. A fierce advocate of new music, she has premiered works by Gunther Schuller, Oliver Knussen, John Cage and Philip Glass.

“Voices and Variations”
Friday, March 22 – 8 p.m.
First Congregational Church of Christ
1031 S. Euclid Ave., Sarasota, FL 34237

$10 admission at the door. Tickets are now available at the First Congregational office.

- Program -

Prokofiev: Sonata for Solo Violin in D major, Op. 115
Viñao: Kahn Variations
Top: The Stillpoint
Lansky: Hop
Glentworth: Blues for Gilbert

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