By Ethan Sadoian
On June 2nd and June 4th, the Connecticut Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra will celebrate 20 years of making music in Connecticut with a commemorative Gala Concert, the finale of the Orchestra’s concert season this year.
Dr. Cathryn Addy has been involved with the Virtuosi for nearly all of those 20 years, serving as board member and then president of the Virtuosi’s board of directors, until her retirement from that position last year. “Music is my avocation. My mother was a professional musician, so it’s always been a part of my blood. I think she wanted me to be a music major; I declined, but as a matter of personal interest, I play the piano and several other instruments. So music has always been very near and dear to my heart, and if I wasn’t going to be a musician, at least I can be a supporter and provide venues within my power to expose others to the music that I love so dearly,” she says.
As president of Tunxis Community College in Farmington, she has been a great supporter of the Virtuosi and its activities to provide high quality music education to students all over the state, in a relationship that also contributes to the culture at the college: “My desire always is to enhance some kind of music curriculum, or certainly extracurricular access to musical activities, at the college. … The Virtuosi Summer Music Institute and the Virtuosi Music Academy have been located at a property that the college owns. We try to provide them the space, they provide us with music. I think it’s wonderful!”
The program for the 20th Anniversary Gala Concert will include Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77. Virtuosi artistic director Adrian Sylveen will perform as violin soloist. Sylveen, who refers to the Concerto as his “dream piece,” adds that the complexity of Brahms’ orchestral writing presents a challenge to the whole orchestra, not just the soloist—especially since the Virtuosi will perform it without the aid of a conductor. “It will truly be the Virtuosi performing,” Sylveen says.
Another exciting highlight of the concert will be the premiere performance of “Shesh,” a composition by Jonathan Kane. Kane, a Connecticut native and a recent graduate of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, has also served as a faculty member in viola and music theory at the Virtuosi’s Summer Music Institute, where he composed a piece for the Institute’s student orchestra. “Jonathan is such a very ambitious person,” says Sylveen. “He represents an intellectual curiosity which I think we both share to some degree. I’m very excited about him writing this piece and about this collaboration, I’m truly optimistic about it.”
The piece abandons traditional instrumentation to an extent: instead of grouping all the string instruments into two sections of violins and one section each of viola, cello, and bass, Kane writes individual parts for each string instrument. “I wanted a little more flexibility in terms of how I grouped the strings together,” he says. “Pretty frequently they’re not all doing different parts, but [notating them that way] was just an easy way to break it down into its individual parts, so I could put them together however I want.”
The title “Shesh” is the Hebrew word for the number 6, and takes on both a musical and rhetorical significance within the piece. “The harmonic chord that the whole piece is based around has six notes in it,” Kane says. “Almost all of the harmonies in the piece are derived from it.” The melody that plays above the chord is a four-note motive with a “tritone” as the central melodic interval, an interval that has historically been associated with the number 6. It is no coincidence that this interval is the only interval not contained in the six-note harmonic chord the piece is based off of: “My focus was on this particular chord and this particular motive and trying to fit them together. I purposely made them so that they don’t fit together, so a lot of the tension in the piece comes from these two things not meshing completely.”
On a more rhetorical level, the word “shesh” is represented by the two letters, “שש,” the Hebrew letter “shin” twice. The symmetry of the two letters is inherent in the symmetry of the Kane’s composition, most notably in the two symmetrical groups of three notes that make up the six note chord the piece is based off of. The decision to title the piece in Hebrew is a tribute to Kane’s own Jewish heritage, and the heritage of immigrants in the local community. “Many of my ancestors were Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants who came here from eastern Europe around the turn of the twentieth century, and I have named this piece in Hebrew in their honor,” Kane says.
The premiere represents the Virtuosi’s commitment to creating opportunities for young musicians. Sylveen sees these opportunities not as support for burgeoning careers of young musicians, but rather as the building of a community that is so important to him, to the Virtuosi organization, to the young musicians, and to our local community: “I think that as long as we have the comfort to create, we are fine. I’m more interested in building community, one person at a time, of likeminded people who are sharing with me and with us the sort of passion and compassion for music making, and I think that’s what we are accomplishing here. It is this very creative curiosity that brings us all together.”
Dr. Addy has seen this for years through the Virtuosi’s Music Academy and Summer Institute: “Some of these students who are coming through, who are students of the Music Academy or the Summer Institute, they are absolutely phenomenal. And it’s ‘passing the baton’ to the next generation, and encouraging, and teaching, and being devoted to spreading that kind of talent that I think has been one of [the Virtuosi’s] very biggest strengths.”
The eventual ‘passing the baton’ within the Virtuosi organization is something that has occurred to Sylveen, too. 20 years of music making is an impressive accomplishment, and the Virtuosi and its audiences look forward to next season and the next 20 seasons, but Sylveen is well aware that he will not forever be the artistic director of the organization. “I will be working very hard for the next few years to minimize my role on the administrative side, and to see if it floats. In other words, we try to see if without me the organization is solid. I hope that we will continue to morph into the always creative art organization that we are. Because that’s really what is the function and the joy of making music.”