“How do they get all that in black and white?”

On February 25th, I attended the recital given by Wolfgang David, violin, and Timothy Gill, cello, at the Old Capitol Senate Chamber.  David and Gill presented a recital of modern music, 20th and 21st century pieces, for solo violin, solo cello, and violin and cello duo.  As I settled into an appropriate seat in the back of the room, I could not help but consider that I was about to watch a recital of new music in such a historical setting and while sitting in an old wooden chair- with no padding, mind you!  While I consider myself musically literate, I find that I have often had difficulty appreciating modern music and, consequently, proclaim my dislike of it often and at a loud volume.  I expected to have my notions of classical music challenged and was not disappointed in that regard.

In each piece that was played, I attempted to look for something I could relate to back to more tonal music so that I could understand the music better.  By and large, I was successful.  The first piece, “Nomina sunt Omina,” for violin and cello duo by Joseph Dangerfield which uses the Catholic naming ceremony of that name as its formal outline.  After learning this, I looked for “chant-like” qualities and found that the main theme was played as a chant, and antiphonal, with the melody trading back and forth between the violin and cello.  Also, the use of harmonics lend the music an austere quality that is often associated with chant.  By searching for these elements in the music, I found common ground with it and could take enjoyment from it.

The second piece, “Toccatina,” a study for violin by Helmut Lachemann challenged everything about violin playing I knew.  Much of the piece is played by using the screw of the violin bow by tapping it on the string.  This effect expands the boundaries of timbre associated with string instruments.  Along with “Toccatina,” Dr. Gompper’s solo violin piece, “Nuance” expands the colors a violin can achieve by using non-traditional bowing techniques or bow placements.  Another technique that I had not given thought to before the recital was to pluck the string behind the bridge.  I have bowed on the other side of the bridge before as dictated by the music, but never plucked there.  In addition, the solo cello piece “Curve with Plateaux,” by Jonathan Harvey, likened the different registers in the cello to body parts.  Written in an arch shape, it began in the lowest register, proceeded to the highest register, and returned to the lowest register again concluding with chords that were reminiscent of death knell.

During intermission, I conversed with a gentleman about the concert thus far and, knowing that I was a musician, he asked, “How do they get all that in black and white?”  In all honesty, I would like to know the same thing.  The ambiguous “that” spoken of by this gentleman included various bowing techniques, bow placements, and other techniques that I have mentioned that were used in the first half of the program.  Given my limited experience with modern music, I did not have a definitive answer for the gentleman.  From what I have seen, specific markings are made in the music and then demonstrated for the performers or explained by the composer until the desired effect is achieved.  More importantly, though, his words reminded me that no matter if the music being performed is by Bach, Beethoven, or Gompper, it is shown in black and white- there is no difference.

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