By Rowan Sinclair-Gregg
October 9th I had the pleasure of observing tutors Christine Chen and David Bolotin as they played a lunchtime concert. The Junior Common room is brimming with students, faculty and parents who are visiting for parent’s weekend, and it is a cloudy Santa Fe day behind the white drapes. The tutors take their places at the front of the room, Ms. Chen draws out her violin, Mr. Bolotin takes his seat at the piano, –they are beginning the concert with Bach’s sonata number five in F minor. Mr. Bolotin explains that this piece, a sonata, has four movements, slow-fast-slow-fast and that it is a trio comprised of the violin and two voices in the piano (the left and right hand each have distinct parts.)
Ms. Chen and Mr. Bolotin are playing skillfully, the music transitioning from pensive to eager as the violin traces the piano, it echoes playfully and frenzied before the parts reconcile at the end of this second movement. The third movement the piano moves fast, contrasted against the solemn violin– it is not until the fourth movement that I feel I can hear, at the coaxing of the violin, the two separate parts of the piano. Being a Sophomore, I have been keeping Fux’s Counterpoint in mind throughout the concert, trying to remember the separateness of the three parts while listening and considering the piece as a whole.
Next, the tutors treat the audience to Beethoven’s sonata no.7 played in C-minor. Ms. Chen relates that the piece is considered to be a piano solo with violin accompaniment, and at the time of its composing Beethoven was losing his hearing and “expanding the boundaries in his symphonic and somatic forms.” She goes on to call it a bit of a “brawl between piano and violin,” playfully. This tension is clear in the first movement, the instruments alternate back and forth and the violin keeps egging on the piano. I watch as Mr. Bolotin jumps at the piano and his swift fingers follow suit. When we come to the third movement, a section Ms. Chen has called “spritely and cute and played in C major” the audience seems especially engaged, Blake Whitehead (SF’18) is a prime example of this, sitting next to me she is smiling at the spirited movement and tapping her foot.
The fourth and final movement of the sonata incorporates elements of the prior, beginning, as the first, second and third, with the piano. To my ear, the piano and the violin parts sound equal, at times the violin is leading the piano, but before long the roles are switched; there is tension here too, the back and forth is engaging and feels unresolved until the instruments reunite at the end of the piece. After the lunchtime concert I am thinking about how we talk about music as I turn to my fellow students and chat energetically about the performance. Questions arise in our conversation like, what vocabulary do we use to express what we’ve heard? Will we ever be able to read a piece of music, or view a concert, as though reading a novel or watching a play? How can we analyze something so emotional? There is clearly much going on in these pieces, but somehow it escapes articulation. Still, Sophomore year is very much at its beginnings, and I have the feeling we will learn how to talk about music without dissecting it coldly, or speaking only in terms of emotion– but by practicing a careful blend of considering a piece in all its complexity while simultaneously beholding its beauty.