A ‘Grand Viola’ showcase among Yale Philharmonia treats
NEW HAVEN — Josip Kvetek’s family fled violence in its native Croatia in the 1990s, so he was born in Germany. The family returned to Croatia after the war and eventually Kvetek studied violin in the United States at the University of North Texas, before being accepted to the Yale School of Music.
He plays the viola now, the slightly larger cousin to the violin, and last year won the Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition by playing, he points out, a piece that was not a concerto.
And if you attend the Yale Philharmonia’s latest concert Jan. 26 in Woolsey Hall, you’ll get to hear that piece, Niccolo Paganini’s “Sonata per la Grand Viola, MS 70.” (Two other competition winners played with the Philharmonia in the fall.)
If you’re at all familiar with Paganini’s work, you know it will be a brisk treat. Kvetek says the intrigue starts with the title.
“Sonata per La Grand Viola, it’s in Italian ... for ‘big’ viola. I mean, it sounds silly. Viola is (already) bigger than violin. But there are multiple violas, different types,” said Kvetek in a phone chat. “And one of them is the grand viola, which has (an) extra string; it has five strings... an E string.”
Also, he notes, a sonata is usually a piece that is solo or with one or two instruments accompanying. But this one’s with an orchestra.
Yale Philharmonia, Woolsey Hall, 500 College St., New Haven. Jan. 26, 7:30 p.m. $10, Yale faculty/staff $8, students free.
“And it’s a one-movement sonata, and sonatas usually have three movements, so everything is backwards,” chuckles Kvetek. “But pretty much it’s just a showpiece. It doesn’t sound like a sonata; it doesn’t sound like a concerto. It just sounds like one of the showpieces typically written by someone like Paganini ... Chopin, just virtuosic. And incredibly operatic.”
The night features other treats, including the presence of guest conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn. If you think you know that name, it’s because he’s the son of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the critic of Soviet communism and its Gulag forced-labor camp who was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature “for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature.” Son Ignat is also a celebrated pianist.
Solzhenitsyn will lead Yale’s top musicians in performances of Igor Stravinsky’s spellbinding “Firebird Suite” (1919 version), Paganini’s showpiece (which premiered in 1834 London) and Cesar Franck’s longer, expansive “Symphony in D minor.”
As for the other music this night, Kvetek said, “It’s really an interesting program ... ‘Firebird’ is an exceptional piece; it’s like a fairy tale. And then Franck’s symphony is very, I wouldn’t say whimsical, but it’s quintessentially French. ... the focus on colors and expressions. So I think it ties it in really well with Paganini.
“Really it (Paganini’s sonata) is not a serious piece of music. ... It’s supposed to be fun. If I get a few laughs from the audience, that’s probably a good thing for this piece.”