A Mongolian “Meditation”

Xian Angelo YuAfter the posts of about the fiery Prokofiev concerto performance from Symphony Hall, thought I’d share another side of the remarkable artistry of the young violinist Xiang “Angelo” Yu.  Last year we invited him into the Fraser Performance Studio at WGBH, where he not only shared the story of his Mongolian origins with host Cathy Fuller, he also played this breathtakingly beautiful version of the Meditation from Jules Massenet’s opera Thaïs…for solo violin alone.

Soon afterwards, Angelo was invited to be a Young Artist in Residence at Performance Today, a series that I’m proud to say continues after we launched it at NPR in the late ’90s with pianist Mia Chung, and has over the years featured such terrific ensembles and artists – all preparing live-for-radio recital programs – as guitarist Jason Vieaux, the Sejong Soloists, the Borromeo and Pacifica Quartets, pianist Jeremy Denk, and many, many more!

Truth To Power II: Angelo Yu plays Prokofiev

This was the performance at the Symphony Hall concert by Hugh Wolff and the NEC Philharmonia (which happened to take place on Sergei Prokofiev’s birthday) that got the rock’n’rollers in the control all excited — this no-holds-barred performance by NEC Artist Diploma candidate Xiang “Angelo” Yu of the Violin Concerto No. 1.  A piece that Prokofiev wrote around the time of the Russian Revolution (e.g., 1917), but not premiered until several years later in Paris.

The story goes that Prokofiev’s concerto took a while to catch on, particularly because despite the fact that the Paris premiere was led by no less a figure than Serge Koussevitsky, the soloist was not one of the major virtuosi of the day. As the late Michael Steinberg put it in his invariably-excellent program notes:

Marcel Darrieux, Koussevitzky’s Paris concertmaster, was a solid musician and an able violinist, but he lacked the spark to make a convincing case for the piece, 

Might’ve been a different story if Angelo had played it!

Check out his thoughtful comments at the start of the piece, too, skillfully brought out by my co-conspirator James David Jacobs….

Music for Eastertide: Biber’s “Mystery” Sonatas

Passion, devotion, and a wealth of invention…at Easter time I am drawn to the remarkable set of the 15 “Mystery” (sometimes called “Rosary”) sonatas by the 17th-century composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. It’s a collection of 15 short sonatas chronicling key moments in the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary, organized into five “Joyful Mysteries,” five “Sorrowful Mysteries” and five “Glorious Mysteries.” And I find the final Passacaglia to be some combination of all three.

Which makes it all the cooler that uber-cool violinist Johnny Gandelsman (of Brooklyn Rider and Silk Road Ensemble fame) included this ancient marvel in his solo recital debut in NYC…at Le Poisson Rouge (“serving art and alcohol”). Go, Johnny Go!   And if you’re hooked, you can read more about the intricacies of Biber’s sonatas here.