Yankee Doodle, Špaček & Sekera

Opus Osm

"The Birth of Old Glory" (nickname for the American flag) by Edward Percy Moran, c 1917, recalls the "Yankee Doodle" era in American history.

Henri Vieuxtemps’ Souvenirs d’Amérique Op 17 (Variations on Yankee Doodle) seems appropriate for today, the American Independence Day.

The original Yankee Doodle is a traditional folk song, with origins probably around the time of the American Revolution.

It was performed in all of Vieuxtemps’ incredibly challenging variations and tempos by young Czech violinist Josef Špaček, accompanied on piano by the talented Miroslav Sekera.

This opus and several others were part of a Prague Spring International Music Festival concert May 15; and rarely has The Rudolfinum hosted a concert evening of such variation and intricacies, followed by such warm, enthusiastic applause, so many encores (five), and so many standing ovations (three).

The evening’s program also included works by Bach, Mozart, and Prokofiev, but two stand-outs were American Chris Rogerson’s Lullaby: No Bad Dreams, for Violin and Piano, and Camille Saint-Saëns’ Sonata for Violin and Piano No 1 in D Minor, Op 75.

Opus Osm

Chris Rogerson

Chris Rogerson’s (b. 1988) Lullaby is a contemporary piece, evocative of all our dreams and the trippy voyage between dreaming, awareness of dreaming, and waking from a dream.

It starts out as a soothing lullaby, proceeds into the darkness of troubled dreams, and comes through once again with a soothing conclusion, as when you remember just the shreds of that night’s dreams before they evaporate with your full consciousness.

The demanding Sonata brings out the virtuosic abilities of both performers, making full use of all the color and emotions locked in the wood and strings of the violin and piano, just waiting to be released by their two masters. The beginning of the piece gives equal weight to both instruments, but as the work progresses, delving deeper and deeper into emotion, the lead is taken by first one and then the other, resolving with both coming together at the end.

Fortunately, you can watch Mr Špaček and Mr Sekera’s performance of the Sonata (and the entire concert) on the Prague Spring website (www.festival.cz, Czech version, May 15). By the end of this piece, your heart will ache, and so will your fingers, just from watching both musicians.

‘Here, You Try It’

Aside from the gorgeous music, another highlight of the evening came with the musicians’ self-conscious showmanship, but only in the fourth encore when violinist Špaček sat down at the piano and pianist Sekera picked up the violin to play François Gossec’s Gavotte. The title may be unfamiliar, but most Americans know the tune — not from the Suzuki violin course book I, but because it was sometimes used in old Warner Brothers’ cartoons.

But you don’t have to be an American to appreciate the playfulness of the melody, the musicians’ small shrugs and smirks at their minor fluffs during its performance, and the audience’s final burst of applause and cheers.

Both Mr Špaček and Mr Sekera began studying their respective instruments when still very young; attended some of the finest music academies; and have earned international recognition and rewards. What sets them apart from many others is their ability to draw deep on their serious talents, but not take themselves too seriously to let the audience in on a little fun.

This audience came primed to love the performance and the performers, and their expectations were completely fulfilled. — oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Top: Wikipedia; Bottom: Chris Rogerson website

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