Celebrating Virtuosity – Elliott Carter & Charles Wuorinen

Cello Variations III
Rhapsodic Musings
Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi
Duettone 2009 [World premiere]
Duettino 2008
Sonata for Violin and Cello

Rolf Schulte (violin) & Fred Sherry (cello)

Reviewed by: Gail Wein

Reviewed: 5 October, 2009
Venue: Guggenheim Museum, New York City

Elliott Carter (b. 11 Dec 1908)They say that age is just a number. But when one is pushing 101, like the composer Elliott Carter, that number is pretty significant. A new work for violin and cello by the centenarian was featured here at the Guggenheim Museum’’s Works and Process series. Yes, a new work; now that he has begun his second century of life, Carter seems to be more prolific than ever.

The cellist Fred Sherry was MC as well as the featured performer. In a stage-side chat after the performance, Carter explained that Duettone 2009 and Duettine 2008 are dedicated to Milton Babbitt (the 93-year-old composer was in the audience), and are written in the spirit of that composer’s duets. The two pieces, collectively titled Due Duetti for violin and cello, are meant to be played as a pair; the final notes of the Duettone are identical to the first notes of the Duettino. In Duettone 2009, Carter uses imitative technique in a traditional fashion, where long tones played by the violin are set opposite high pizzicato notes in the cello, and then the process is reversed, creating dialogue between the instruments.

Rolf Schulte performed a pair of Carter’s violin pieces: Rhapsodic Musings and Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi. Schulte holds his bow lightly, like a feather, which looks unusually graceful, and his beautiful sound matches this elegance.

The program began with Sherry’s performance of Charles Wuorinen’s Cello Variations III. The piece served to demonstrate the cellist’s virtuosity. Sherry executed the frenetic wide-interval leaps, tremolos and rapid plucked notes as easily as in a Bach Suite. In the discussion, Sherry talked about his 42-year collaboration with Wuorinen, which the composer said was a “great joy of my life”.

Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello put the 21st-century works on the program in context. How especially fresh it must have been when it was new, and it holds up well almost a century later. In his comments, Carter brought the evening full-circle as he recalled hearing Ravel speak at Harvard in the 1930s: “he advised all of us to use jazz.”

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