Sunday afternoon at three o’clock proved to be monumental at The University of Iowa. Guest violinist Wolfgang David and our very own David Gompper performed four breathtaking pieces, two composed by Dr. Gompper himself.
Every time Wolfgang David takes the stage I feel as if he has a secret connection to the room and the audience. There is a surreal understanding of what each performance will be before he even begins to play. He did not disappoint this weekend. I am still in awe of what these two musicians accomplished.
The concert opened with “Nuance, for solo violin” by David Gompper. This piece has been revised a number of times and this is the “final revision” according to Dr. Gompper, and I believe the best by far. The opening figures were reminiscent of wind. A soft rustling of sound, that carried through the entire first half of the concert. Dr. Gompper favored extended violin techniques throughout this piece including sections of flute like sounds on the violin, extended range and bowing I had never seen before. It seemed to me that the piece was structured around dyanmics (p/mp/p/ff/p/ppp) with the p sections being the anchor and containing similar sonorities of tri-tones mixed with P4s along with the light wind-ish rustling motif. I believe that this structural element was one thing that laypeople could grasp as “comfortable” in a sea of sound. Though for me, it was a favorite.
“Violin Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, op. 80” by Sergei Prokofiev was next on the program and continued the rustling wind sounds set in the first piece. The common ground between the two pieces created a nice relationship for the audience. There was a little girl sitting in front of me who leaned over to her mother and said “ooooh… more leaves.” I smiled as I was thinking the same thing. There was a rich interplay between the piano and the violin throughout all four movements, which included long “Straussian” lines and the occasional soaring high note. This first movement explored two different emotional areas (despair and hope for lack of better words).
The second movement had a much fuller texture, large amounts of imitation between the two instruments and incorporated areas of harsh percussiveness in both piano and violin. There was not a moment of wasted energy in this entire movement; it was a roller coaster of sonorities, large intervallic leaps and virtuosic playing. There were sweeping legato violin phrases that were far from tonal, however, it drew me in as if I knew where they were going. And maybe that’s just because it’s Prokofiev, and I kind of knew what to expect.
The Andante movement brought back the rustling and fluttering sounds, but more like birds; exotic and meditative but with a full bodied intensity and sensitivity. This movement reminded me of Hollywood silent film music or a modern ballet. Wolfgang closed his eyes as he played for almost the entire concert, but on this movement they were open and it seemed as if he could see the scene unfolding in front of him – whatever it was that he imagined, and it drew me in, almost seductively. I was surprised that after a few weeks of deeper study I could hear transpositions and inversionally related transpositions in some sections. The piano ended the piece with what felt like a classical chordal ending. Of all the elements of the various types of music I heard on the concert this ending was the one thing that didn’t sit perfectly with me, but I feel that many people in the audience appreciated that gesture.
Movement four introduced much simpler lines with thinner textures. The closest I could come to describe it would to be early Copland-like with a short perfect unison duet followed by a chase. At the end the violin comes back to beginning motive and the somber feel from movement one. This entire piece felt like it lasted no time at all, as it was a roller coaster of movement, sound and enjoyment.
“Ikona, for violin and piano” by David Gompper again contained the rustling sounds on the strings, but in a more ethereal ambiance. This piece featured WT tetrachord chunks, sound mass planing on the piano, extended bowing techniques on the violin and a slew of sounds I wouldn’t expect to hear from a piano. There was one section toward the end where I heard water droplets in both instruments and then new motivic ideas that overlapped then evolved – almost fugue-like until all of a sudden everything started to fade, like a dream when you start to wake up and keep grasping at sleep so the dream won’t end. This was my favorite piece on the concert and I was almost sad when it ended.
The afternoon ended with “Dikhthas for violin and piano” by Iannis Xenakis. Dikhthas means “a dual entity made up of two natures”, and this couldn’t be more telling. I almost thought that the two parts could have been composed independently of each other, with the same mathematical elements and notes. After letting my initial thought of “that’s a lot of notes” sink in I heard elements of Penderecki and Reich. This felt to me like a pedagogical exercise mixed with a swarm of bees and a plane engine. Xenakis incorporated extended techniques on the violin, creating a radio static kind of sound. The music seems to be built on only a few pitches that are repeated over and over but in different registers and the separation versus unification of textures.