Elizabeth Chang & Alissa Leiser

On the morning of Monday, March 27, Loomis Chaffee welcomed violinist Elizabeth Chang and pianist Alissa Leiser to the island to perform a recital in Hubbard Auditorium. Elizabeth Chang, parent of senior Ilya Yudkovsky, studied in the pre-college division of the Juilliard School of Music. From there, she attended Harvard University, where she studied with some of the most talented violinists — Roman Totenberg, Leon Kirchner, and Luise Vosgerchian, to name a few. She has been a faculty member at New York University and at Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts. Currently, she is a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, and at the Pre-College division of the Juilliard School. She has performed solo recitals in the United States, Europe and South America, and taught masterclasses in France, Germany, Brazil, China, and in several musical institutions within the United States. Pianist Alissa Leiser has been a highly sought after teacher for over two decades, and has taught at Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and most recently, Amherst College where she was a faculty member from 1998-2015.

 

Mrs. Chang recalls being fascinated by music at a young age. “I began playing the violin at the age of 6, and yes, it has always been a major part of my life,” she noted. “I decided I wanted to be a violinist at the age of 7 and, though there have been ups and downs, I’ve pretty much stuck with it.” She emphasized her love for music as she noted that, “Classical music is a living art form that provides a visceral and intellectual communion with the past and sustains us in its infinite complexity and potential for emotional introspection.”

 

The duo began the recital sampler with Ludwig van Beethoven’s third violin sonata, opus 12 in E-Flat Major. This composition was written in 1798 and dedicated to Antonio Salieri, mentor to Franz Liszt, Franz Schubert, and Ludwig van Beethoven himself. Mrs Chang explained, “The Beethoven, Op 12, No. 3, is the third of a set written in 1798. It belongs to the so-called “early” period of Beethoven’s compositional output, and finds its “drama and excitement while adhering rather strictly  to the conventions of classical sonata form.” The sonata begins with an Allegro con Spirito (brisk, with spirit) first movement, an Adagio con Molta Espressione (slow, with great expression) second movement, and a lively Rondo – Allegro Molto (rondo form – very fast and lively) finale. Her beautiful, expressive performance of this sonata certainly impressed the audience, wowed by her impressive runs and passionate bow articulation.

 

Ms. Chang and Ms. Leiser closed the show with Maurice Ravel’s second violin sonata. This sonata, composed by Ravel between 1923 and 1927 while he resided in the French commune of Montfort-l’Amaury, reflects the several different styles of music he was exposed to. Mrs. Chang noted that the piece, “preserves the outlines of the three-movement convention while re-imagining the possibilities.” The sonata’s first movement exploits the differences in tone color between the violin and piano. While soft tones and flowing melodies can be heard throughout this movement, entitled “Allegretto,” one can also note the sharp dissonances, discordant melodies, and friction within the ensemble. Soft melodies produced by one instrument would often be accompanied by juxtaposing tone color from the other. The second “Blues” movement reflects the jazz and blues genre of music that developed in the United States during that time period. Specifically, Ravel was influenced greatly by the jazz musician W.C. Handy, who performed frequently in Paris throughout the early 1920s. The movement begins with eerie pizzicato chords, followed by dissonant piano drones, a playful staccato exchange, and the violin’s introduction to a jazzy, nonchalant melody. This bluesy section clashes with Ravel’s usual impressionist style, which is exemplified in the other movements. The third and final movement of the sonata is the perpetuum mobile finale. While the perpetuum mobile movement was anything but perpetual – it lasted a mere three-and-a-half minutes – it was certainly very fast and complicated. Dense with acrobatic rhythms and sharp articulation, this movement was undeniably impressive. Showcasing her great agility and musical prowess, Mrs. Chang’s fingers danced effortlessly up and down the fingerboard in this fast-paced movement. As though the two instruments were playing separate pieces, the brilliant violin part was accompanied by a remarkably simplistic piano part. The entire sonata concluded with several octaves followed by fast paced broken chords, cleanly executed by Mrs. Chang.
The duo performed a fantastic recital for the Loomis Chaffee community, exposing them to two pieces of contrasting style, structure, texture, and era. From the playful, classical Beethoven, to the sensual, yet raucous Ravel, the audience was given the opportunity to hear how music has evolved in just over a century. The Loomis Chaffee community looks forward to seeing Mrs. Chang and Ms. Leiser on campus again in the future!