Lara St. John, violin, and Martin Kennedy, piano

It had been a long time since I had been to a classical performance. Too long, in fact. Luckily I had the opportunity of seeing Lara St. John, violin, and Martin Kennedy, piano, this past Saturday, as part of the Windham Chamber Music Festival.

Lara St. John is a violinist originally from Canada who made her debut as soloist with an orchestra at the ripe age of, well, four years old (she began her violin studies at the age of two). She has since toured the world and released multiple critically acclaimed CD’s. Her accompanist for the evening was Martin Kennedy, a pianist and composer who holds a doctorate from Julliard. My heart has always had a special affinity for each of the composers on Saturday’s program, and the evening was an absolute delight.

Sonata No. 8 in G Major Opus 30, No. 3
Ludwig Van Beethoven

Allegro assai

Tempo di minuetto ma molto moderato e grazioso

Allegro vivace


Second Rhapsody
Bela Bartok


Czardas Caprice
Vittorio Monti


Pablo de Sarasate


Maurice Ravel


Carmen Fantasy


The Allegro assai  first movement of Beethoven’s sonata opens with piano and violin together, mimicking one another at first before the music turns into a conversation between the two. That conversation continues for the duration of the movement, which is both lightly dramatic and charming. The second movement, Tempo di minuetto ma molto moderato e grazioso, has a beautiful melody on violin, and Lara St. John’s legato was superb. One note blended effortlessly into the next, creating a river of song… I thoroughly enjoyed Martin’s playing as well. Some people might think that accompanists don’t really matter, but not everyone can play the part with ease. An accompanist can either make or break a performance, and all too often the good ones are underappreciated.  The last movement of the sonata, Allegro vivace, is quite energetic. It’s dramatic, as the first one was in it’s own way, but there’s nothing light about the drama in the third movement… It’s much more fully developed. The last few measures are a sprint to the finish, and the piece ends grandly by both instruments.

Piano opens Bartok’s Second Rhapsody, before violin is introduced. The violin plays slightly dissonantly, in a beautiful – yet unusual – fashion. The extraordinary work is certainly not traditional in it’s structure and sounds, but no one ever said Bartok is a traditionalist… He definitely is not, and is all the more genius because of it. The piece has the feel of motion, but not always in the same direction; it’s constantly shifting, transcending time and space. Midway through there’s a pause in the music, before it starts back up again with a driving force. You’d think that would push the music forward, but the interesting part is that it doesn’t. The music circles around instead, still never coming to a destination, and the ending of the piece is both a statement and a question.

For Monti’s caprice, the piano begins ominously and violin enters shortly thereafter with determination and mystique. It’s a passionate work, as caprices are,  and Lara’s playing was truly, truly inspired. It gave me goosebumps and brought tears to my eyes… Her nimble fingers danced with lightning speed along the neck of her violin, and she showed the prowess of her technique. My heart raced along with her fingers to the end.

You can tell from the opening of Sarasate’s piece that it’s going to be a dramatic one. It has a melancholy melody which tears at your heart and takes it captive, not even releasing it after the last note has disappeared. What the piece takes away, however, it gives back twofold, inflating ones spirit with sweet sadness. It’s heartwrenching music, yes,  but I’ll take the pain of freedom over an emotionally stifled prison any day.

Ahh… I took a deep breath on Saturday and sighed in anticipation as Lara tuned for Ravel’s Tzigane, one of my favorite works by one of my utmost favorite composers (especially in regards to works for violin and piano). And Lara St. John did not disappoint in her playing of it. Asian influences can be heard in a lot of Ravel’s music, through his use of harmonies, and those influences are clear in Tzigane. You can also hear how Ravel drew inspiration from many other sources, such as old folk dances and the music of Spain. The piece is at times hypnotic, at other times, liberating. The variety of sounds and textures Ravel’s music can produce (if played well) is astounding! Upon listening, one is lifted from their chair and carried by the music, which is very much a live and pulsing energy. Tzigane is an enigma, for it puts you into a daze, yet clears your mind of all else.

Jazzy piano introduces Franz Waxman’s Carmen Fantasy somewhat majestically. It’s perhaps one of the most well known of the gypsy/Spanish flaired classical works, and Waxman based his piece on themes from George Bizet’s opera of the same name. Even if people don’t know the title or the composer’s name, most will recognize the melody. It’s another piece designed to showcase the violinist’s passion and technique, and once again, Lara St. John lacked in neither. The music gives the listener a personal  sense of grandeur and, although it has it’s dark moments, is ultimately uplifting. This is what the Zorro soundtracks – both the original and the remake – wish they could be. I’d rather listen to Waxman’s fantasy and create my own dreams anyway, and there were points in Saturday’s concert that I felt like I was in a dream… It was a night full of imagination and wonder. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought so, because the entire room gave the musicians a standing ovation (and the majority in attendance weren’t exactly spring chickens). A wonderful night indeed.

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