Biava Violist Mary Persin on New Music, David Stock’s 8th Quartet… and the Super Bowl
Biava Quartet violist and Greensburg native Mary Persin took time to answer some questions via e-mail about the quartet’s approach to new music and what to expect from their performance for Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society’s Bridges Festival on Saturday night. You will enjoy every word from this thoughtful performer, so read on! You should also check out Andy Druckenbrod’s interview with Mary in yesterday’s PG
PNMN: The Biava Quartet has been very committed to performing new music. Is that an emphasis that the group had from its inception, or did it emerge gradually?
MP: The Biava Quartet has long had an interest in performing new music. From the earliest days, our quartet has enjoyed the challenge of tackling unknown works in an effort to challenge both the audience (and ourselves!) to deepen our exposure to and appreciation of all musical styles. Not only has this provided greater musical diversity to our programmming, but this has also given us the opportunity to present music that is relevant to our time. Working with living composers has also provided the chance to understand and embrace music on a deeper level. Through these experiences, we have all gained insight into the challenges that faced the composers of the past, all the while resulting in more vibrant interpretations of both those works as well as the music of today. As 21st century performers, we all believe firmly that we have a responsibility to commit ourselves to bringing about the next generation of masterworks. It was, after all, the influence of the great performer composers of the past, the majority of whom were writing music beyond the confines of their own epochs, which inspired all which we now consider canon.
PNMN: Besides the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society’s Bridges Festival, are you currently collaborating with any other composers?
MP: Yes, indeed! Before traveling to Pittsburgh, we have just returned from Moscow, Idaho where we performed the world premiere of String Quartet No. 3, “Gaia,” by young American composer, Stacy Garrop. This piece, written about Gaia, the mythical Greek goddess of the earth, describes the wide range of stories about Gaia’s creations, kindness as well as her anger and vengeance. It is structureded in a five movement arch form and runs about 30 minutes long, building to a dramatic climax in the 3rd movement. We received many very enthusiastic responses from audience members who were struck by the interesting form, as well as the sonorities created by using a good deal of dissonance as well as harmonics. Working with a living composer like Stacy is always an enjoyable experience since she is very appreciative and open to what we as musicians can contribute and express through her composition. A few other composers with whom we have worked in the past 4 months include Kenji Bunch, Kevin Puts and Dominic Dousa.
PNMN: As you’ve played contemporary repertoire and worked closely with composers, have you seen any trends emerging compositionally?
MP: Perhaps one of our greatest joys as a performers of 20th and 21st century music is the fact that, outside the always changing tastes of audiences, the only prevalent style is the absence of a prevalent style. There are as many unique compositional voices as there are composers and, with the dual influences of nationalism and multiculturalism, the range of music being written today is as broad as it was in the early years of the 20th century – a fortunate trend indeed!
PNMN: What can you tell us about David Stock’s new string quartet?
MP: David’s new quartet presents a musical voice of contemporary America– it is full of driving rhythms, jazz-flavored inflection, songful melody, and the rich variety that is so typical of the American musical and cultural landscape. It is a three movement work— the first movement providing a constant paradox of tension and resolution while often juxtaposing both concepts at the same time; the second movement has a distinct lyricism derived from a sucession of chant-like sustained pitches that ultimately arrive at a climax; and the third movement is rough and robust movement with a galloping motif that runs from start to finish, providing a wonderful conclusion. It is really quite a lot of fun to play — and we know that audiences will love it as well!
PNMN: Have you played any of David’s music before? How is the piece similar, different than some of his other works you’ve performed?
MP: I’ve not played any of David’s other music but, comparing it to a work I heard in Pittsburgh a few years ago (a Cuban concerto for violin, played by Andres Cardenes with the PSO Chamber Orchestra), it certainly seems as though David possesses a chameleon-like variety, though a few things can always be certain– wonderful style, something real to say, and something enjoyable and fun!
PNMN: In May the Biava comes back to premiere Albert Glinsky’s work. Have you had a chance to see his score yet?
MP: While we have not yet seen the score to the Glinsky quartet, we’ve heard rumors that it should be arriving in our Juilliard mailbox soon! We have been fortunate enough to have a few conversations with Albert Glinksy by phone at which times he has given us a bit of a verbal “sneak-peak” at the quartet—- and remain quite excited to soon have the chance to explore his quartet and of course present it in Pittsburgh this May.
PNMN: You have a heavy touring schedule, including a lot of master classes. Do you find that the students you work with are also receptive to performing new music?
MP: It is always quite exciting to see that students are very open-minded to new music that perhaps many more seasoned concert goers might find difficult to embrace. Often we find the students to have an enthusiasm and willingness to experiment and try all new techniques creating an energy which is required in many of these compositions. Even younger students being exposed for the first time to classical music enjoy hearing new and creative sounds that are greatly a part of the language of many of these wonderful compositions.
PNMN: Have you seen any change in performers’ attitudes towards new music performance over the course of your touring?
MP: For us as a string quartet, it is exciting to see that many of the conservatories and universities that we visit have become more open to contemporary music. Unfortunately, in the not so distant past, these institutions of higher learning were progressive in many areas of instruction with the exception being new music. As senior professors begin to encourage their students to explore this music, it has certainly inspired more creative programming that has also influenced many to venture out and begin a life in composition. That being said, while there are still musics which the majority of performers are reluctant to approach, it seems as though the music of today, alive and most of all, new, is definitely being consumed by a far wider cross section of performers. And it is of course this occurrence which helps to bring new works into the canon – the dissemination of new art is, after all, the responsibility of living performers, since only we can advocate for it.
PNMN: What else can you tell us about your concert for Saturday night?
MP: In addition to David Stock’s new work, we are excited to present two of the cornerstones of the quartet literature – Shostakovich’s monumental and harrowing Eighth Quartet, as personal a work as has ever been written, and one which is truly a codex to his life and oeuvre; as well as, in this bicentennial year of his birth, Mendelssohn’s last work, the Quartet in F-minor, op. 80, which, in common with the Shostakovich, gave voice to the composer’s most heartfelt feelings upon learning of the sudden death of his beloved sister, Fanny. It will certainly be a concert to remember!
PNMN: What are things you look forward to most when you come back to perform in Pittsburgh?
MP: It is always a real thrill to be able to return to Pittsburgh with my wonderful quartet colleagues and take the stage. I have many memories from my childhood in Pittsburgh of so many fantastic concerts that I was priveleged to witness— and so it is a true honor to now be invited to some of those very same stages to now perform with my group. In many ways, it is a feeling of having come “full circle”— and I am reminded of the many wonderful teachers and inspirations that I was so fortunate to have early on, which helped shape me into the musician and artist that I am today. Other things that I look forward to most when performing in Pittsburgh are having my family and friends in the audience and visiting some of my favorite Pittsburgh hotspots including the Pretzel Shop on the South Side, the restaurants Dish and Monterey Bay Fish, and Pamela’s Pancakes!
PNMN: Did you get to watch the Super Bowl?
Austin Hartman: Absolutely glad I didn’t miss one of the all time great Super Bowl Championship games in history.
Mary Persin: Yes, of course! While I am not typically one to follow specific sports games and teams, I was thrilled to see Pittsburgh have the opportunity to compete in the Superbowl and attempt to make history winning a Superbowl ring for the OTHER THUMB! Congratulations Steelers!
Hyunsu Ko: To show my loyalty to my colleague and dear friend Mary, I had to watch the super bowl to root for the Steelers. I was on the phone with Mary during the last 5 minutes of the game when the Steelers suddenly were losing by 3 points. However, when the Steelers made their dramatic come-back at the end, Mary and I were screaming and cheering for joy!!
Jason Callowy: Yes I did – and while, as a Philadelphia native, I only rooted for Pittsburgh out of spite for Arizona’s having beaten the Eagles, it was great to watch such a photo finish of a game!
February 6, 2009 at 9:12 am