The centerpiece of violinist Movses Pogossian's Hommage à Kurtág is his recording of Kurtág's Signs, Games, and Messages for violin (there are others in the series for different instruments). Pogossian has developed a close working relationship with Kurtág, and his interpretations reflect his reverent stance towards the eminent composer as well as the input received from him. Echoing the importance of the concept of homage within Signs, Games, and Messages, Pogossian commissioned several composers to write works in honor of Kurtág — Aida Shirazi, Gabriela Lena Frank, Kay Rhie, and Jungyoon Wie contribute new works to the project, alongside “Melodia” from Bartók's Sonata for Solo Violin and Kodály’s famous Duo for Violin and Cello (an archival live recording heard only on the digital version), providing repertoire context.
Signs, Games, and MessagesGyörgy Kurtág
|Movses Pogossian, violin|
|06||Hommage à J.S.B.|
Hommage à J.S.B.
|07||Hommage à John Cage|
Hommage à John Cage
|08||The Carenza Jig|
The Carenza Jig
|09||Mensáros László emlékére|
Mensáros László emlékére
|10||In memoriam Blum Tamás|
In memoriam Blum Tamás
|12||...für den, der heimlich lauschet...|
...für den, der heimlich lauschet...
|13||Népdalféle – Im Volkston|
Népdalféle – Im Volkston
|Movses Pogossian, violin||2:28|
|Movses Pogossian, violin||1:35|
|Movses Pogossian, violin||2:12|
|19||Melodia para Movses|
Melodia para Movses
|Movses Pogossian, violin||2:03|
|20||Melodia, from Sonata for Solo Violin, Sz 117|
Melodia, from Sonata for Solo Violin, Sz 117
|Movses Pogossian, violin||7:16|
|21||Signs, Games and Messages: In Nomine – all’ongharese|
Signs, Games and Messages: In Nomine – all’ongharese
|Movses Pogossian, violin||4:48|
Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7Zoltán Kodály
|Movses Pogossian, violin, Rohan de Saram, cello|
|22||I. Allegro serioso, non troppo|
I. Allegro serioso, non troppo
|23||II. Adagio - Andante - Tempo I|
II. Adagio - Andante - Tempo I
|24||III. Maestoso e largamente, ma non troppo lento - Presto|
III. Maestoso e largamente, ma non troppo lento - Presto
Movses Pogossian’s Hommage à Kurtág honors the special place that the eminent composer holds in Pogossian’s musical life. As a coach, mentor, and spiritual guru through music, Kurtág has had a profound impact on so many musicians that he has interacted with. This album features Kurtág’s Signs, Games, and Messages for Solo Violin, a sixteen movement masterpiece of subtlety, brevity, and densely packed expressive meaning. Pogossian extends his homage by commissioning four new response works to Signs, Games, and Messages by Aida Shirazi, Kay Rhie, Jungyoon Wie, and Gabriela Lena Frank. To close the circle of Hungarian lineage, the “Melodia” from Bartok’s solo Sonata is included, as well as Kodály’s well known Duo for Violin and Cello, op. 7 on the digital only version of the recording, in an archival live performance with eminent cellist Rohan de Saram.
Kurtág’s economy of material can be seen in a post-Webern context — we hear epic novels of meaning in pieces that last no longer than two minutes. Yet, Kurtág’s attention is focused less on a systematic approach to pitch (which is not to say the pitch choices are any less rigorous), and more on zeroing in on the perfect compositional choices that serve a finely specific expression. There is never a sense in his music that any note could have been different — each one had to be as it is. And so we hear the somber descending minor second sighs in “Doloroso” that perfectly encapsulate an inward melancholy, or the folksong inflected “Népdalféle – Im Volkston.” Homage plays an important and central role in Signs, Games, and Messages, and in fact in many of Kurtág’s works. In “Hommage à J.S. Bach” we hear implied counterpoint that evokes that core component of Bach’s solo string works. His “Hommage à John Cage” comes with an inscription in the score, “faltering words” — we hear awkward pauses and hesitation in the truncated phrases. “In Memoriam Blum Tamas,” written for Kurtág’s close conductor friend, features closely spaced dyads which eventually sear with quarter-tone intensity. The work has its light moments as well, like the the foot stomping impetuosity of a child in “Kromatikus feleselős,” or the off-kilter dance of a little girl in “Anziksz Kellerannának.” The longest piece in the set, “In Nomine – all’ongharese,” is presented later in the album program, and shares a poignant quality of pathos and vibrato laden expressivity with the Bartók movement that it immediately follows in the program.Read More
Aida Shirazi’s brief Sign takes the slippery microtones in the third piece of Kurtág’s set, ”Panaszos notá,” as a point of departure. A fragile sustained high E string is subtly doubled with adjusted unisons that push against slight pitch discrepancies. Kay Rhie’s Game addresses Kurtág’s use of irony. A forceful descending two note motive is immediately answered by a distant sustained tone. The conversation between the two ideas frames the short piece, as jocular glissandi figures provide sardonic commentary. Eventually the game between opposing forces dissolves into languorous double stops in the lower register, and finally a short, conciliatory final high harmonic surrenders. Jungyoon Wie’s Message examines the ambiguity inherent in communication. A message is sent and the recipient receives it and interprets it from their individual vantage point. It is so with a piece of music too, conceived with intention and then traveling to the listener as a constellation of possibilities. Wie embeds this ambiguity into the expressive quality of the score, relying heavily on vibrato which obscures the center of the pitch, and slithering lines that lend the work a sense of elusive mystery. Gabriela Lena Frank’s Melodia responds to the iconic Bartók sonata movement. Tremolos ornament the connective tissue of long lines that subtly merge echoes of Frank’s Peruvian background with nods to the styles of Bartók and Kurtág. Taken together, these four response pieces form a shadow suite to the Kurtág and Bartók works that frame them, an opportunity for contemporary composers to pull on a short thread that is prompted by consideration of the precedent laid out before them.
Pogossian’s decision to include the movement from Bartók’s solo sonata and Kodály’s well known duo place the newer works on the program in a context of a lineage of repertoire from Hungary. Written for Yehudi Menuhin while Bartók was undergoing treatment for leukemia in the healing mountain air of Asheville, North Carolina, the solo sonata is a landmark work in the unaccompanied solo violin repertoire, connecting Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas and Eugène Ysaÿe’s sonatas to later iconic works by Berio and Sciarrino. The “Melodia” movement is mournfully lyrical, and this interpretation showcases Pogossian’s deeply felt and thoughtful phrasing. Like Bartók, Zoltan Kodály devoted much of his creative energy to crafting concert music that grew out of the folk music of Hungary. His Duo for Violin and Cello, op. 7 (included only on the digital version of this release) reflects this in the galloping rhythms, influence of folkloric dance styles, and unbridled energy heard through the piece’s three iconic movements.
– Dan Lippel
Producers: Andrew McIntosh and Movses Pogossian
Recording and Mastering: Sergey Parfenov
Recorded at Ostin Music Center, UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music January 8-9, 2022 and May 1, 2022
Tracks 22-24 (Kodály)
Benjamin Maas, recording engineer
Images: Elizabeth and Justus Schlichting
Design: Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com
Armenian-born violinist Movses Pogossian made his American debut performing the Tchaikovsky Concerto with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall in 1990, about which Richard Dyer of the Boston Globe wrote: “There is freedom in his playing, but also taste and discipline. It was a fiery, centered, and highly musical performance…” Movses Pogossian has since performed with orchestras such as the Brandenburger Symphoniker and the Halle Philharmonic in Germany, the Sudety Philharmonic in Poland, the Tucson Symphony, the El Paso Symphony, the Scandinavian Chamber Orchestra of New York, and the Toronto Sinfonia. His recent and upcoming performances include recitals in New York, Boston, Ann Arbor, and concerts in Korea, Japan, Germany, Canada, and Armenia. Pogossian was one of the 2016/17 Artist-in-Residence of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, performing the Mansurian Concerto No. 2 at their season-opening concerts, conducted by Jeffrey Kahane. He is a Prizewinner of the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Competition, and the youngest-ever First Prize winner of the 1985 USSR National Violin Competition, previous winners of which included David Oistrakh and Gidon Kremer. A devoted chamber musician, Pogossian has performed with members of the Tokyo, Kronos, and Brentano string quartets, and with such artists as Kim Kashkashian, Jeremy Denk, Lynn Harrell, Ani and Ida Kavafian, and Rohan de Saram. He frequently collaborates with the Apple Hill Chamber Players, teaching annually at their summer music festival in New Hampshire. Movses Pogossian is the Artistic Director of the critically acclaimed Dilijan Chamber Music Series since 2005. A committed champion of new music, Pogossian has premiered over 100 works, and works closely with composers such as G. Kurtág, K. Saariaho, T. Mansurian, A. R. Thomas, P. Chihara, and Gabriela Lena Frank. His recently formed Duo with remarkable Japanese percussionist Kuniko Kato has commissioned several works for this unusual medium. In Los Angeles, Pogossian frequently performs on Monday Evening Concerts, and is the recipient of the 2011 Forte Award from Jacaranda, given for outstanding contributions to the promotion of new music and modern music. Pogossian's discography includes the Complete Sonatas and Partitas by J. S. Bach, solo violin CDs "Inspired by Bach", "Blooming Sounds", "In Nomine”, and, most recently, “Hommage à Kurtág” (2022). The Bridge Records CD of Complete Violin Works of Stefan Wolpe made the 2015 Top Ten list in Sunday Times (UK), and the 2020 releases of Armenian contemporary music: “Modulation Necklace” (New Focus Recordings) and “Con Anima” (ECM) have garnered critical acclaim. Upcoming releases include a Schoenberg/Webern DVD, recorded at Arnold Schoenberg’s Brentwood home (with Kim Kashkashian, Rohan de Saram, and Judith Gordon), and a sequel to “Modulation Necklace”. In his review of Kurtág's "Kafka Fragments" (with soprano Tony Arnold) Paul Griffiths writes: "…remarkable is Pogossian's contribution, which is always beautiful, across a great range of colors and gestures, and always seems on the edge of speaking—or beyond." Since earning his advanced degrees from the Komitas Conservatory in Armenia and the Tchaikovsky Conservatory of Music in Moscow, Pogossian has held teaching positions at Bowling Green, Wayne State, SUNY Buffalo Universities, and is currently Professor of Violin at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and also Founding Director of the UCLA Armenian Music Program (schoolofmusic.ucla.edu/resources/armenian-music-program). His principal teachers were L. Zorian, V. Mokatsian, V. Klimov, and the legendary Louis Krasner. As Head of the Los Angeles Chapter, he actively participates in the Music for Food project (musicforfood.net) which raises awareness of the hunger problem and gives the opportunity to experience the powerful role music can play as a catalyst for change.https://schoolofmusic.ucla.edu/people/movses-pogossian/
It was 2004 and Movses Pogossian was preparing the legendary Hungarian composer György Kurtág’s famously intricate Kafka Fragments with soprano Tony Arnold. On a whim, they contacted the composer to see if he might consider rehearsing with them. To their surprise, Kurtág invited them to Budapest to participate in a four-day masterclass.
“We knew he had a reputation for being exacting and demanding,” said Arnold. “So we prepared ourselves to be as flexible as possible. But we were still anxious.” Kurtág lived up to his reputation, at times exasperating the two musicians and even driving one of them to tears. (More on that later.) But their time with the famous composer was rapturous.
The bond formed between the musicians and composer was lasting. Pogossian’s most recent recording, Hommage à Kurtág, will be released with New Focus Recordings on October 21, 2022. On Monday, October 24 at 7:30 p.m. in Schoenberg Hall, Pogossian will perform a recital featuring music from the new CD, including what promises to be the definitive recording of Kurtag’s Signs, Games and Messages for violin.
Kurtág is considered by many to be the world’s foremost living composer, if such a title could be claimed. His music is notoriously difficult to pin down. He writes in a short, gestural style. Whole compositions might only be a few minutes long. But brevity is no bar to complexity, and Kurtág packs more expression into fewer notes than any other working composer. New Yorker music critic Alex Ross may have put it best when he said of Kurtág’s music that it is “compressed but not dense, lyrical but not sweet, dark but not dismal, quiet but not calm.”
Kurtág’s balance of opposing forces carries special resonance for Pogossian, who remarked “there is never a sense in his music that any note could have been different.” Kurtág’s laser precision, however, is anything but chilly. “His music is deeply of the heart,” explained Pogossian. “There is real warmth in his music. He is not obscure or distant.”
Pogossian’s CD and recital include four new works for solo violin, commissioned by Pogossian as response pieces to Kurtág. The composers—Aida Shirazi, Kay Rhie, Jungyoon Wie, Gabriela Lena Frank, female composers all—discuss their pieces in the CD’s liner notes.
The recital will also include a Kodaly Duo for cello and violin, featuring celebrated Scottish cellist Niall Brown. A selection of Bela Bartók’s duos also graces the program, featuring music education violin students Kayla Phan, Yidan Sun, Yoosung Lee, Emily Taylor, Raina Markham, Kayla Lee, and alumnus Sam Lorenzini.
“Bartók, Kodaly, and Kurtág all wrote music for children, music for pedagogical purposes,” said Pogossian. “They understood that music was for everyone. They didn’t draw false distinctions between highbrow and lowbrow music, and I want to pay homage to that too. It is a real pleasure to bring our very fine music education students up on stage to perform this wonderful music.” It is also noteworthy that Pogossian will donate all proceeds from the concert and CD sales to a cause that he—and his students—work for and hold dear: Music for Food. A musician-led initiative, Music for Food has helped provide close to 2 million meals for people in America who suffer from food insecurity.
The recital’s ambitious program—new commissions, challenging solo violin work, and multiple performers—is held together conceptually by the figure of György Kurtág, who idolized Bartók and Kodaly and has inspired so many young composers and musicians.
It takes Pogossian back to that defining moment in 2004, when he and Arnold worked for four days with Kurtág on his Kafka Fragments.
“You are really like Sherlock Holmes when you begin playing his music,” Pogossian explained. “First you have to understand the notes, you have to see it with your eyes and understand it. But then you have to develop your approach. You internalize it. It becomes you, you become it. After working intensively with him and realizing how much importance he gives to a single moment of his music, it is thrilling. And exhausting.”
Certainly it was. Arnold spent one hour during that masterclass with Kurtág working on a single bar of music. After it had finally been performed to Kurtág’s satisfaction, he applauded joyfully and said “very good.”
As Kurtág turned his attention to Pogossian, Arnold settled into a chair on the stage, relieved for the break. Within a few seconds, the relief turned into a flood of emotion and tears. Marta Kurtág, György’s wife, spotted it from the audience and alerted her husband. He sprang into action. Still agile at 78, he leapt onto the stage, took Arnold by the shoulders, and kissed each of her cheeks twice.
“You must know,” Kurtág told the musicians, “you are like my larger family.” Then he struggled for words, English being one of a half dozen languages that he speaks. “It is… it is for better, it is good.”
“Kurtág is not just a great composer, he is a great human being,” said Pogossian, recalling the event. “His humanity inflects his music. It was humbling to embark on this recording, and to be able to plan this recital with my students, especially since the concert will benefit another cause I am passionate about, Music for Food.”