Movses Pogossian: Inspired By Bach


Movses Pogossian's follow up release to his Bach Sonatas and Partitas recording on New Focus explores three works for solo violin that are inspired by those iconic pieces. Featuring solo music by Kaija Saariaho, Gabriela Lena Frank, and Andrew McIntosh, Pogossian's powerful performances carry the spirit of this most intimate of instrumentations forward, connecting the listener with Bach and extending the legacy of the unaccompanied string works. 


Movses Pogossian’s “Inspired by Bach” documents three new works that follow in the inescapable shadow of Bach’s music for unaccompanied violin. Two of the works presented here (Saariaho and McIntosh), inspired as they are by Bach’s pieces, incorporate elements which enhance the solo violin while Gabriela Lena Frank’s preserves the unaccompanied format.

Saariaho’s Frises for violin and live electronics opens with a drone over which lyricism and instability alternate in free, improvisatory passages. Electronic sounds emerge periodically, splashing the texture with glistening timbres. Saariaho writes that the second section, “Frise de Fleurs”, is based on a ground bass — more active electronics establish a multi-dimensional texture. Delays define the electronic part in the third movement, processing more active and angular violin material. Saariaho writes that she aimed not to create symmetry in her development of this material, but instead constant metamorphosis. The final part, “Frise Grise”, is eerie and processional, as Saariaho develops a passacaglia in the accompanimental left hand pizzicati on three strings, while the haunting melody is played on the fourth string and doubled down the octave in the electronics.

Gabriela Lena Frank’s Suite Mestiza is inspired by the richness of the Andean culture in South America. Frank’s movements of the suite are programmatic and colorful, each painting a picture of a different scene or character from the diverse landscape of the Andes. The imploring voice of a street vendor can be heard in the insistent double stops and the descending scale passages in the second movement, “Vendedora Cholita”. The third movement evokes the high pitched plucked string instrument, the charango, humorously depicting it in the hands of a quirky elderly performer. Fleet fireflies ubiquitous in Peru are portrayed in the virtuosic final movement, “Luciérnagas”.

Andrew McIntosh’s seven movement Sheer for solo violin adds four assisting performers playing bowed wine glasses. The work opens with a vigorous fifteen second outburst that echoes the bariolage passagework in Bach’s solo violin works — perhaps the aggression heard in these phrases is indicative of McIntosh’s desire to break away from the master’s all pervasive shadow. The rest of the movement is a meditation on sustained tones, an about-face from the initial forceful gesture. We hear echoes of Bach’s implied counterpoint in the second and sixth movements as well, while the fourth movement is an exploration of intervals and their microtonal shadings, as if turning an object in one’s hand and looking at it from all possible angles. The fifth movement opens as the first did, with a short burst of energetic, violinistic activity followed by a meditation on one pitch. Later in the movement, the bowed wine glasses provide pedal harmonies, liberating the solo violinist to return to the intense physicality of the opening gesture. The piece closes with a movement similar to the fourth, a meditation on pitch with bowed wine glass accompaniment.

The three works on this recording touch on aesthetics new and old, from Saariaho’s incorporation of older formal techniques such as passacaglia within a context that integrates live electronics, Frank’s colorful depiction of Andean life, and McIntosh’s stark exploration of the essence of violin sound production, “Inspired by Bach” is a thoughtful and reflective look at contemporary approaches to composition for solo violin. Movses Pogossian’s performances are lyrical and deeply expressive, and he is the ideal ambassador for this repertoire that marries experimentation with tradition, and exploration with communication.

– D. Lippel

  • Executive Producer/Edit Producer: Movses Pogossian
  • Recording Session Producers: Benjamin Maas, Gabriela Lena Frank and Andrew McIntosh
  • Recording, Editing and Mastering Benjamin Maas/Fifth Circle Audio
  • Recorded on May 23, 2017 (Frises), and November 21-22, 2017 (Suite Mestiza/Sheer), at the Recording Studio of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music
  • Electronics Realization and Mixing (Frises): Jean-Baptiste Barrière
  • Logistical and Technical Support: Luis Henao
  • Graphic Design: Anneliese Varaldiev and Karin Elsener

Movses Pogossian

Armenian-born violinist Movses Pogossian made his American debut with the Boston Pops 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 ery, centered, and highly musical performance.” He was a prizewinner at the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Competition, and the youngest ever first-prize winner of the 1985 USSR National Violin Competition, whose previous winners included David Oistrakh and Gidon Kremer. He has performed extensively as a soloist and recitalist in Europe, North America and Asia, and was artist-in-residence of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra during their 2016/17 season. An avid chamber musician, Pogossian has collaborated with such artists as Jeremy Denk, Kim Kashkashian and Alexei Lubimov, and with members of the Tokyo, Kronos and Brentano String Quartets. A committed champion of new music, he has premiered over seventy works, many of them written for him. He has worked closely with composers such as György Kurtág, Tigran Mansurian, John Harbison and Augusta Read Thomas. At Kurtág’s invitation, Pogossian made his Darmstadt Festival debut in 2008, performing Kafka Fragments to critical acclaim. In Los Angeles, Pogossian is the Artistic Director of the Dilijan Chamber Music series, now in its fourteenth season, and frequently performs with the acclaimed series Monday Evening Concerts. He was a recipient of the 2011 Forte Award, given by the new-music organization Jacaranda for his outstanding contributions in this eld. Movses Pogossian’s discography includes several CDs for solo violin, including the recently released recording of the Complete Sonatas and Partitas by J.S. Bach, Blooming Sounds, and In Nomine, as well as György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments, with soprano Tony Arnold.

In his review of Kafka Fragments, Paul Grif ths 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.” In 2015, Pogossian’s recording of composer Stefan Wolpe’s Complete Works for Violin (Bridge Records) was included in the Top Ten list of the Sunday Times (UK), and in 2018, the Bridge label will release a lmed performance on DVD of chamber music by Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern. The centerpiece of this presentation is one of Schoenberg’s most important works—his String Trio, Op. 45, performed by Pogossian, violist Kim Kashkashian and cellist Rohan de Saram—which was recorded for this DVD in Schoenberg’s Brentwood home, in the very room in which it was composed. Pogossian’s upcoming CD releases include another collaboration with Kim Kashkashian: a compilation of chamber works by Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian. Since earning advanced degrees in music from the Komitas Conservatory in Armenia and the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, Pogossian has held teaching positions at a number of universities in the US, and is currently Professor of Violin Studies at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. Deeply committed to both music education and community involvement, Pogossian proudly participates in the Music for Food Project, which raises awareness of world hunger, allowing performers and listeners alike to experience the powerful role which music can play as a catalyst for change.



I Care If You Listen

Movses Pogossian is an Armenian-born violinist and champion of new music. He has premiered over 70 pieces, has worked closely with György Kurtág, Tigran Mansurian, John Harbison and Augusta Read Thomas, and has collaborated with Music for Food, a non-profit organization that raises awareness about world hunger. His new album, titled Inspired by Bach, has been released on New Focus Recordings and includes works by Kaija Saariaho, Gabriela Lena Frank, and Andrew McIntosh.

Inspired by Bach is Pogossian’s artistic response to his previous album, J.S. Bach: Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (New Focus Recordings). There is great value to the fact that Pogossian has decided to follow such a massive recording project with the commissioning of new works that could easily become canon for the contemporary violin repertoire.

Inspired by Bach opens with Kaija Saariaho’s Frises (2011) for violin and electronics, written in four movements. It was originally composed for and dedicated to violinist Richard Schmoucler, and commissioned by the Borusan Art Centre, Istanbul. The first movement opens with a pure tone low D that is gradually transformed by electronics, trills, and over-pressure of the bow. It is a meditative and intimate experience that gives the listener an opportunity to solely focus on the music, helping to clear your thoughts so you can hear the piece with a clean mind. The second movement features a bass line that grounds the melodic material, emulating Bach’s use of bass lines in his solo violin works. The third movement is a groovy conversation between the violin and the electronics that is interrupted by a stunning violin monologue. It’s a dance-like movement that lifts the listener from the comforting ground in which the previous movement was rooted. The fourth movement comes back down to Earth with beautiful electronics that are in lower octaves with the violin.

The album continues with Suite Mestiza (2017) for solo violin by Gabriela Lena Frank, composed for Pogossian and commissioned through New Music USA’s New Music Connect program. This piece is a colorful exploration of Andean culture written in seven movements. Suite Mestiza opens with a beautiful and intimate movement titled “Haillí” (Prayer). Frank’s writing and the intention in Pogossian’s playing make the very beginning of the movement sound like a boldly-spoken prayer being said in isolation in the Andean mountains. The third movement, “Charanguista Viejo” (Old Charango Player) showcases a very dry pizzicato that evokes the pointed and sharp sound of a charango (a small Andean string instrument, from the lute family). The last movement, “Luciérnagas (Fireflies), is bright and fast, like fireflies giving small glimpses of light in the night.

Inspired by Bach closes with a work by Andrew McIntosh titled Sheer (2017) for solo violin and eight wine glasses. This work was also been composed for Pogossian and commissioned through New Music USA’s New Music Connect program. The seven-movement piece requires the assistance of four performers playing bowed wine glasses. The first movement of Sheer opens with a virtuosic yet brief bariolage passage (alternation of notes on neighboring strings) followed by long tones. The fourth movement is an exploration of microtonal relationships within standard musical intervals. The last movement of the piece is a study of harmonics and the different timbres they can create, while the eight wine glasses accompany the violin in the background.

Movses Pogossian offers a beautiful and honest performance of very different pieces. It is clear that he is a master of his craft, and that every work was treated with immense love and care, but what stands out the most is that Inspired by Bach presents a bold claim for violin repertoire. In a world where violinists continue to attempt to find “revolutionary ways” to perform Bach, the creation and recording of new works that integrate new techniques, electronics and even wine glasses, is a breath of fresh air. Inspired by Bach gives ample space for violinists to embrace the new, without forgetting the old, and sets an ideal example of what the process and result of commissioning new works should be like.

-Natalie Calma, 6.4.19, I Care If You Listen


The WholeNote

Links between past and present are central to another solo recital, as violinist Movses Pogossian follows up his 2017 release of the Bach Solo Sonatas and Partitas with Inspired by Bach, a CD that features three new works that he feels “follow in the inescapable shadow of Bach’s music for unaccompanied violin… connecting the listener with Bach and extending the legacy of the unaccompanied string works.” The connection with Bach may be a bit tenuous at times, but they certainly do fulfill the latter aim.

Kaija Saariaho’s four-movement Frises starts with the final D of the Bach D-Minor Chaconne, and each of the movements is focused on one historical ostinato-variation form – passacaglia or chaconne, for instance. In a concert setting, prepared sound materials are triggered by the soloist during the performance, together with real-time processing of the violin sound. Not here, though: Pogossian recorded the violin part alone, with Jean-Baptiste Barrière adding the electronics afterwards. It’s a tough listen at times, but always engrossing.

The American composer and pianist Gabriela Lena Frank’s Suite Mestiza was inspired by South American Andean culture, in particular sights and sounds remembered from trips to Peru with her mother. Described as programmatic and colourful, the seven movements depict scenes and characters from the Andes region. It’s imaginative and wide-ranging writing that draws quite remarkable playing from Pogossian. You can watch his performance on YouTube.

The American composer and violinist Andrew McIntosh says that his seven-movement work was partly inspired by the idea of juxtaposing different, clearly defined but unconnected shapes and colours. Certainly his Shasta starts that way, a fast and bustling opening that recalls the bariolage passages in the Bach works, followed by a still, long-held single note. An unexpected addition is the scoring for eight wine glasses bowed by four performers; they make their most noticeable contribution in the final movement, giving the work a peaceful ending that sounds like gentle breathing.

Whatever the technical or musical challenges, nothing seems to create problems for Pogossian, who is quite superb throughout a terrific CD.

-Terry Robbins, 2.27.19, The WholeNote


Vital Weekly

Armenian-born violinist Movses Pogossian released for New Focus Recordings in 2017 ‘Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin’. With the follow up, ‘Inspired by Bach’, he presents three compositions from three composers: Frises (2011) by Kaija Saariaho, Suite Mestiza (2017) by Gabriela Lena Frank, and Sheer (2017) by Andrew McIntosh. The points out that Bach was a point of departure – in whatever way – for the composers involved here. Frises consists of four contrasting sections for violin and electronics. Suite Mestiza takes inspiration from the mixed-race cultures of Peru. Sheer is a suite of also seven small pieces for solo violin and eight wine glasses played by four musicians. All three are interesting and absolutely worthwhile compositions that are performed superbly by the playing and interpretation by Pogossian. He gives a very warm, expressive and moving performance. Pure beauty!

-Dolf Mulder, 12.3.18, Vital Weekly

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