Associate professor of viola, Erika Eckert, from the University of Colorado at Boulder visited UNCG this past Saturday. She was invited to play a recital in the Organ Hall, and her hour-long program consisted of three sonatas for viola and piano, all composed by American women.
For Eckert, this program was an important initiative to provide greater visibility to American female composers as well as more awareness of their works. The majority of the traditional classical music canon is made up of pieces by European composers, most of whom are men. However, little-known but beautiful music is sitting untouched in our own backyard. Saturday’s recital offered a chance to showcase some of these works.
First up was Jennifer Higdon’s Sonata for Viola and Piano, composed in 1990. The piece is split into two movements, aptly and descriptively named “Calmly” and “Declamatory.” According to Higdon, the piece “explores the wonderful colors for the viola, and also allows for substantial dialogue with the piano.”
These characteristics were evident throughout the piece, offering many instances for Eckert to show off the rich and warm tone of her instrument.
Eckert has been playing with her pianist, Margaret McDonald, for thirteen years, in a collaboration dubbed the Eckert-McDonald Duo. Their knowledge and comfort in playing with each other was clear throughout the recital, as they musically conversed and worked together fluidly.
Next on the program was Libby Larsen’s Viola Sonata, broken into three movements. This piece was composed in 2001 for violist James Dunham. Larsen says she “adopted the formality of the sonata much in the same way an architect accepts the shell of the building and rehabilitates the interior.” The movements, entitled “Flow,” “Drift” and “Breathless,” respectively, are representative of their names and contrast one another in character.
According to Larsen, “this work is about viola and piano, nothing more, nothing less.”
Libby Larsen is a major modern American composer, with many great works and other musical contributions. She was the first woman to serve as a resident composer with a major orchestra, no small feat for any composer.
Eckert performed this sonata with virtuosity, her tone extremely clear and each note resonant. She played to the contrasts of each movement, making each one unique and recognizably different from the last.
The final piece on the program came after a brief pause: Margaret Brouwer’s Rhapsodic Sonata in three movements. Revised in 2015, this piece has yet to be recorded, but Eckert and McDonald will do so in the near future.
The Rhapsodic Sonata is a musical portrayal of a person who is on an internal journey. The first movement, entitled “Caritas,” begins with a questioning, angry tone in the viola. The chant “Ubi Caritas” appears throughout the movement, prominently near the end. The second movement, entitled “…fair as the moon, bright as the sun…” is, as Brouwer puts it, “simply a love song.” Finally, the closing movement “Blithesome Spirit” is playful and mysterious, exhibiting a mood that has come a long way from the piece’s angry introduction.
Again, Eckert and McDonald played together beautifully. Eckert clearly had a full understanding of the piece, with each note comfortably in her fingers. A strong finish made for a great conclusion to the recital program, and the small but complementary audience echoed the sentiment in appreciative applause.
Saturday afternoon’s program featured a mere few of many pieces composed by great American women composers. There is so much out there to be heard, and increasing visibility of their works is important, accomplished in part by recitals like this one.