Reliving My Favorite Classical Works before Tomorrow’s Apocalypse

Tomorrow is the supposed apocalypse predicted by the Mayans. So since the world is ending, I figure that this is an ideal time to look back at my life as a violinist and violist and share a list of the classical music which has meant the most to me.

1. Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky. This is most fun piece I’ve ever played in orchestra. I had the opportunity to play it twice at The Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) and once in a Cleveland-area gig orchestra, and it gave me an adrenaline rush every single time. I especially love the primal energy and irregular rhythms in the Dance of the Earth at the end of the first section and the Sacrificial Dance at the close of the piece. I’ll never forget how my mild-mannered cellist friend roared like a caveman when we went backstage after performing this work.

2. Death and Transfiguration by Richard Strauss. I played this tone poem in eighth grade, during my first year with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra (CYSO). I was sitting 10th chair in the viola section, smack dab in the middle of the orchestra, and I was completely swept up in the sound swirling around me.

3. Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler. I played this symphony with the CYSO during my final semester of my senior year. It was my first experience with Mahler’s rich harmonies and passionate melodies. Just thinking about the Adagio movement of the still gives me pleasant goose pimples.  After our final concert, I nearly cried at the beauty of performing such an incredible piece with my youth orchestra for the last time.

4. The Planets by Gustav Holst. This is just a darn cool piece. The power of “Mars, Bringer of War”; the buoyant rhythms of “Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity”; the ethereal beauty of “Neptune, the Mystic”. Who could ask for anything more? But besides all of that, I also have fond memories of playing The Planets in a side-by-side concert with the Cleveland Orchestra when I participated in the Kent Blossom Music Festival. Playing with the Cleveland Orchestra was an amazing experience all on its own. But the cherry on top the whipped cream on top of the sundae was that I got to perform next to my viola teacher, Mark Jackobs.

5. Viola Sonata Op. 25 No. 4 by Paul Hindemith. This sonata rocks with Hindemith’s special blend of jazz sensibilities and          signature atonality. I loved this piece the first time I heard it on Kim Kashkashian’s album of Hindemith sonatas. I got to play it on my first Master of Music recital with Hindemith scholar and all-around awesome pianist Eric Charnofsky.

6. Sonata Op. 120, No. 1 in F minor for viola by Johannes Brahms. Brahms is one of my all-time favorite composers because of his delicious harmonies, sweeping melodies, and complex counterpoint. I was fortunate enough to play this piece on my second Master of Music recital with the former head of CIM’s collaborative piano department, Anne Epperson. She stepped in because the student pianist who was supposed to play with me had injured her arms two weeks before the recital. I should mention here that Anne has had an incredible career accompanying famous artists. She started off as a staff pianist for the master classes of renowned violinist Jasha Heifetz, for goodness sakes.  Playing with Anne felt like performing with an incredibly sensitive one-woman orchestra. She was able to bring out every nuance of the music, and I never had to struggle to project my sound over hers. I’m incredibly proud to have my name next to hers on the CD of my recital.

7. The Chaccone from Partita No. 2 in D minor by J.S. Bach. Bach is another one of my favorite composers, and I passionately love the Chaccone. I’ve spent many an hour in the practice room exploring the nooks and crannies of this complex and pyrotechnical work. Enough said.

8. Symphony No. 4 Op. 98 in E minor by Brahms. I had my favorite orchestral experience of all time rehearsing and performing this piece with the CIM Orchestra under the direction of guest conductor Alan Gilbert. Although our orchestra was full of incredibly talented musicians, we always tended to play at maximum volume without listening to each other. Under Gilbert’s consistent guidance, our orchestra began to open our ears and play like an ensemble instead of a bunch of individuals. He even got us to play pianissimo on the concert. Alan Gilbert was the best conductor I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with.

So there you have it – the eight pieces which means most to me. And if the world doesn’t end tomorrow, I’d love to hear which pieces mean the most to you.

Photo credit: Phil Plait via Flickr

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