At 8 p.m. on Sunday, April 19, Harper Hall was filled with violin students, music-lovers and community members alike to hear the guest recital of Katie Lansdale, award-winning musician and faculty member at the Hartt School in Hartford, Conn. After Lansdale took the stage and the applause died down, Lansdale immediately began to play the Gigue from Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Partita No. 3 in E Major.”
To perform Bach unaccompanied is, to put it lightly, a major feat. The intricacies of the chords, the demand of intonation and the kaleidoscope of colors that emerge as Bach’s solo works come alive require much attention to detail. As the pieces progress, the player has to be particularly sensitive to subtleties in dynamic shifts and emphasis on certain notes.
In other words, to play Bach well is a challenge. To play Bach as exquisitely as Lansdale did was a true delight for the audience and an example of the breadth and depth of artistic nuance. After the opening Gigue, Lansdale announced that she would be taking requests from audience members and would perform any selection from Bach’s “Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin.”
Lansdale explained one of the reasons why she enjoys Bach—a composer whose complex works can drive certain musicians to a state of frustration or bliss—so much. For her, the vast spectrum of pitch and color that Bach’s compositions travel invites her ears to open up and hear more, which allows for a deeper listening experience. This explanation encouraged me to strive to listen more consciously, which afforded me an even fuller recital experience.
Lansdale also provided a brief, but informative explanation of the differences between baroque bows and modern bows. The baroque bow—with its more delicate structure and shorter length—might lack the “punch” that today’s bows produce, but it makes up for it with a darker sound. To demonstrate this change in timbre, Lansdale played the entirety of “Sonata No. 1 in G minor” on the baroque bow.
The first movement was characterized by what Lansdale referred to as a “heartbeat” that calmly centered the Adagio, layered beginning of this sonata, no matter where the melody went. The first movement made a transition into the Fugue, which was followed by the Siciliano movement, a jaunty dance. The final Presto movement contained a “waterfall” of flashy notes and the musical ornamentation that embodied the Rococo flourishes of the Baroque period.
After taking a break from the Bach, Lansdale took the stage again to perform Edward Elgar’s “Études Caractéristiques, Op. 24.” Elgar is known for his grand, heartbreaking works, such as his “Enigma” variations, or his inimitable cello concerto. This work, however, is more a study in character; Lansdale referred to it as a “salon” piece.
She also shared an anecdote about how after recently performing the “Études” for a group of children, they characterized each of the four unnamed movements with slithering, jumping or stinging bugs—and, indeed, this imaginative foray into entomology for the purposes of musical classification provided rather vivid pictures for each section of the work.
After an intermission, Lansdale returned to play “Cleopatra, Op. 34” by Fazil Say. Her student and Lawrence alumna Angela Lamb ‘12 introduced her to this relatively new piece. Lansdale described Say’s piece as having adopted many unique, contrasting elements of Turkish folk music to form an ethos of the region.
Percussive moments of pizzicato dotted sumptuous melodic lines and created a lush, hypnotic ambiance. After applause from the dazzled audience, Lansdale returned to the stage to play one more piece: Bach’s “Sonata No. 3 in C Major.” In keeping with her poise throughout the entirety of the recital, this final Bach rendition was just as thoughtful and poignant as the ones that came before it.
From her stance to her absolutely eloquent manner of speaking, Lansdale’s entire performance was marked with utter confidence. She possessed a wealth of knowledge about each of the pieces and the cultures that surrounded their composition, which led to a vibrant, educational and engaging recital.