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Alumni Monday

A Winter's Salute to Sibelius
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Composer Antonio Bazzini

Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, pictured at his writing desk in 1915. “For financial expediency, Sibelius composed many short pieces for the violin during the First World War (orchestras struggled, as musicians were called to the front). However, these inventive miniatures are sadly neglected nowadays.  – Brendan Carroll, Hyperion

As the first snows of the season swirl about our Heifetz home in Staunton, it’s a good time to offer a birthday salute of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, born 155 years ago on Dec. 8, 1865.  As befits his December birth, when the composer’s name appears on a Heifetz program, it’s invariably in connection with his totemic Violin Concerto, one of the great concertos of the early 20th-century, and required rehearsing for every aspiring violinist.  (See below or click here to view a magnificent performance by Heifetz alum Ji-Won Song!)

But there’s a lot more fiddle music in this Finn’s portfolio: Sibelius dreamed of being a concert violinist, and never lost his love for the instrument nor its remarkable capacity for creating an infinite amount of musical colors. To be sure, his 1905 Violin Concerto is a wintry epic on a grand symphonic scale,  But a decade later, as World War I raged across Europe, Sibelius explored a more intimate, salon style for the instrument, producing a series of charming miniatures that are rarely heard in the concert hall.

Including this pensive “Souvenir” brought to life by #VirtualHeifetz 2020 student Kitty Amaral. From her perch in Elk Creek, VA, Kitty introduces and then performs the pensive Souvenir, Op. 79, No. 1. Joining her to collaborate virtual-Heifetz style is New York-based faculty pianist Esther Lim.

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Leave it to the encyclopedic knowledge of Heifetz faculty member Shmuel Ashkenasi (co-director of the Institute’s renowned Ashkenasi / Kirshbaum Chamber Music Seminar) to give some air to these Sibelius rarities, at a sold-out Celebrity Series concert at the Institute’s main stage of Francis Auditorium on the Mary Baldwin University campus. He’s joined by Heifetz faculty pianist Dina Vainshtein.

2015 Heifetz Institute Artist-In-Residence Ji-Won Song performs a stunning rendition of the Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 by Jean Sibelius, in a piano reduction featuring Heifetz faculty collaborative pianist Carlos Avila. Performed at a “Heifetz Sunday Matinee” concert at the 2015 Heifetz International Music Institute.

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