Program Notes:
“Sweet Scrapes and Sweet Strums”


Online, Sunday March 14, 2021 at 2 P.M.

Sophie Baird Daniel, harp

Maya Cohon, violin

Fantasie pour harpe et violon, Op. 124Camille Saint Saëns (1835–1921)

  • Poco Allegretto – Allegro – Vivo e grazioso – Largamente – Andante con moto – Poco Adagio

Spiegel im SpiegelArvo Pärt (b. 1935)

L’histoire du TangoAstor Piazzolla (1921-1992)

  • II. Café 1930
  • III. Night Club 1960

It is just over a year since our last concert at Lakewold Gardens, the last live concert given by the Second City Chamber Series. We thank all of you who attended for your enthusiasm for that wonderful event, which seems both vibrant (as it is the last concert I attended prior to the lockdown) and distant.

It had been our hope to offer this lovely afternoon of music for violin and harp bathed in the voluptuous acoustic of the Wagner Mansion, surrounded by the first hints of spring. Such was not to be, but through the miracle of the internet we offer you violinist Maya Cohon and harpist Sophie Baird-Daniel live in your living room instead. We are grateful to Dr. William Michael Rogers who kindly donated his exquisite office space for the filming of this event.

–Svend Rønning


Fantasie pour violin et harpe
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Camille Saint-Saëns may not enjoy the name recognition of the greatest classical composers of the past, even in his native France, but during his lifetime he was revered by composers as diverse as Hector Berlioz, Charles Gounod, who called him “the French Beethoven,” and Franz Liszt, who called Saint-Saëns “the greatest organist in the world.” It is probably fair to say that Saint-Saëns was among the most precociously gifted musicians in history, in the same league of natural talent as Korngold, Mendelssohn, and Mozart.

Saint-Saëns composed music effortlessly his entire life and he was blessed with a remarkably long life— long enough that he began to be seen as something of a musical dinosaur by the end of the nineteenth century. However, he was also long-lived enough to reinvent himself in his very old age, composing some of his most memorable music at the very end of his life. In what should have been his years of retirement, Saint-Saëns distinguished himself by writing the first music for cinema in the history of the genre (The Assassination of the Duke of Guise (1908)) and incorporating the sensuousness of his younger rival, Claude Debussy, into his late mature style.

Camille Saint-Saëns’ Fantasie pour harpe et violon comes from this late flowering of music, written in 1907 when the composer was 72 years of age. A passionate traveler his entire life, Saint-Saëns composed the work on holiday on the Italian Riviera, dedicating the work to the harp and violin sister duo Clara and Marianne Eissler. The work is a series of mostly unrelated episodes that still manages to employ the cyclic technique of bringing themes from the beginning back into the ending of the piece. Fascinatingly, Saint-Saëns also employs the ancient passacaglia technique in one episode of the work, repeating a bassline in ostinato as the violinist makes variations on top of the undulating pattern. As a testament to Saint-Saëns’ unique genius, the work seems to look back to the elegance of the romantic era, while at the same time looking forward to the emerging era of French modernism.

Spiegel im spiegel
Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)
Arvo Pärt is today the most performed of all living classical composers, hailing from the small country of Estonia, a country distinguished by the central role music (especially classical choral music) has played in its history. Much like its northern neighbor Finland, Estonia was been dominated by Sweden and later Russia. In 1869 it experienced the beginnings of a great national awakening resulting in the establishment of what is today known as the Estonian Song Festival. This tradition ultimately led to Estonia’s liberation from the Soviet Union in 1991, in what became known as the “singing revolution.”

For their part, the Soviets were also great patrons of the musical art, and it was in the aesthetic of Soviet “socialist realism” that Arvo Pärt was educated as a young man. As a young composer, Pärt first embraced the expected grandiose forms of Soviet composition in the style of Shostakovich and Prokoviev and in the 1960s began to experiment with the discouraged (at least by the Soviets) twelve-tone method of composition invented by Arnold Schoenberg. However, Pärt’s experiments in these aesthetics left him musically and spiritually unfulfilled. From 1968 until 1976, Pärt fell silent as a composer, choosing to immerse himself in medieval and Renaissance music while at the same time renouncing his inherited religion of Lutheranism (Pärt, like many Estonians was ethnically Swedish) to become Russian Orthodox.

Arvo Pärt’s emergence from this spiritual and artistic crisis occurred in 1977 with his first compositions in the tintinnabular style (“tintinnabulum” is the Medieval Latin word for “little bell”), an aesthetic he called the “new simplicity” that in some ways mirrors the rise of minimalism in the West. In this method of composition, a simple triadic harmony is heard in one voice, while another voice contains a melody that tends to move mostly in stepwise motion, much like Orthodox chant. Sections of these works are punctuated by “tintinnabuli” or “sounding of the bells” to delineate phrases and sections.

Spiegel im spiegel (Mirror in the Mirrors) may be Pärt’s best known work in this style. One hears a three note arpeggiated triad in the harp with the melody in the violin that then replies in mirror motion. Each ascending melody is followed by a descending minor melody. The first attempt at a melody consists of only two notes ascending followed by a melody of two notes descending. Each successive phrase is demarked by the sounding of the “tintinnabular” “bells” in that harp that are heard as punctuation between phrases. Each successive melody adds exactly one note, again repeated in mirror image before the next sounding of the “bells.”

Pärt’s embrace of this radical “new simplicity” in music (as well as his very public conversion to Russian Orthodoxy) made him an outsider to the Soviet establishment. Not long after the premier of this work by violinist Vladimir Spivakov and pianst Boris Bekhterev in Moscow, Pärt would defect to Germany where he continues to reside, composing almost exclusively vocal music in his aesthetic of “the new simplicity.”

Arvo Pärt’s music, and Spiegel im spiegel in particular, have gained enormous popularity. Pärt routinely ranks as the most performed living classical composer around the world today and his “work of mirrors” has been adapted for countless uses, including ballet and deployment in over twenty feature films, perhaps most famously in the United States in the 2012 film Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock.

L’histoire du tango
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)
Astor Piazzolla grew up playing the bandoneón (an accordion-like instrument popular in Argentina and Uruguay) in the clubs of Buenos Aires and New York, later traveling to Paris to study classical composition with the great pedagogue Nadia Boulanger, before returning to make his living as a performer and composer in the tango clubs of Buenos Aires, eventually becoming the global “high priest” of the genre. When Piazzolla was born, tango had already transitioned from being the music of the brothel to the music of café culture in Argentina (much like jazz in North America), and Piazzolla himself would be instrumental in developing the genre yet further, combining it with Brazilian bossa nova and American jazz in the 1960s and later still incorporating the most advanced forms of French modernism from the classical tradition (that he learned from Boulanger in Paris) as tango transitioned from the music the club to the music of the concert hall.

In L’histoire du tango Piazzolla creates a musical biography for his chosen art form, which can in some ways be said to be a musical autobiography as well. Piazzolla wrote the work close to the end of his life, in 1986, but chose the most traditional instrumentation for the work, flute and guitar, which were the first instruments to be used when the genre first appeared in the bordellos of Buenos Aires in the 1880s. The work has, of course, been transcribed for many instrumental combinations since then, with today’s combination of violin and harp not far from the original artistic intent. While we will hear only the second and third movements today of what is a four-movement work, it may be instructive for context to understand the form of all four movements.

“Bordel 1900” is composed to reminisce about the birth of the tango. Piazzolla writes, “The tango originated in Buenos Aires in 1882. . . . This music is full of grace and liveliness. It paints a picture of the good-natured chatter of the French, Italian, and Spanish women who peopled those bordellos as they teased the policemen, thieves, sailors, and riffraff who came to see them. This is a high-spirited tango.”

In “Café 1930” (heard today) Piazzolla explains, “people stopped dancing it as they did in 1900, preferring instead simply to listen to it. It became more musical, and more romantic. This tango has undergone total transformation: the movements are slower, with new and often melancholy harmonies.” The movement begins with a contemplative introduction in the harp followed by a rich soulful melody in the minor mode on the violin. A sweetly major contrasting (or “B”) section is heard before returning to the original minor melody at the end of the movement.

Also performed today, “Night Club 1960” grafts tango to bossa nova style of the 1950s—it is this fusion that initially brough Piazzolla to international fame. Says the composer: “This is a time of rapidly expanding international exchange, and the tango evolves again as Brazil and Argentina come together in Buenos Aires. The bossa nova and the new tango [Piazzolla’s innovation in the genre] are moving to the same beat. Audiences rush to the night clubs to listen earnestly to the new tango. This marks a revolution and a profound alteration in some of the original tango forms.” Piazzolla’s gift for rhythmic drive and deep heartfelt melodies are on full display in this movement.

In the final “Concert d’aujourd’hui” (Concert of Today), Piazzolla puts on display a concert tango, a genre that he had nearly single-handedly created, and which had begun to circulate in international concert halls at the end of his life. “Certain concepts in tango music become intertwined with modern music… Bartók, Stravinsky, and other composers reminisce to the tune of tango music. This [is] today’s tango, and the tango of the future as well.”


Violinist MAYA COHON is an avid chamber and orchestral musician. She has been a member of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra since 2017, and also performs with the San Francisco Symphony, Seattle Symphony, San Francisco Ballet, and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Growing up in a family of musicians, Maya cultivated her love for chamber music reading string trios, quartets and quintets with her cousins, aunts, and uncles. Today, she performs chamber music that spans a range of musical and narrative styles, which includes the world premiere of The Wind Will Blow Us Away by San Francisco composer Sahba Aminikia, and George Crumb’s Black Angels.

Maya earned a Bachelor of Music degree from Northwestern University, where she had the privilege of studying with Almita Vamos. In Chicago she was a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, going on to join the New World Symphony in Miami, under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas. She has attended music festivals including Tanglewood Music Festival, Music Academy of the West, and Pacific Music Festival, which has given her the opportunity to collaborate with musicians from all over the world and perform in venues all nationally and internationally, from Carnegie Hall in New York City, to Suntory Hall in Tokyo. Today marks her first appearance on the Second City Chamber Series.

Praised for her “technicolor” sound (Gramophone), harpist SOPHIE BAIRD-DANIEL is in high demand as a soloist and collaborator. She has been featured at numerous series and festivals, including Tanglewood Music Center, Seattle Symphony, Aspen Music Festival, Bellingham Music Festival, Seattle Modern Orchestra, and North Corner Chamber Orchestra. As an orchestral musician, Sophie performs with the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera, San Francisco Ballet, and Orquestra Filarmonica de Jalisco.

A champion of new music, she has given premiers of works by Freya Waley-Cohen, George Benjamin, Megan Bledsoe-Ward, Marc-André Dalbavie, and Ha-Yang Kim. Sophie was a participant in the prestigious 2018 International Harp Contest in Israel, a quarter finalist in the 2016 International Dutch Harp Competition, and the silver medal at the 2017 Vancouver international Music Competition. She was the 2015 winner of the Frances Walton Competition, which culminated in an outreach tour of rural Eastern Washington reaching thousands of school-aged children. The experience has continued to inspire her work in outreach and education.

Alongside her performing career, Sophie is the artistic director of Archipelago Collective, a dynamic and forward-thinking chamber music festival on San Juan Island, Washington.

Sophie has been mentored by some of the world’s leading harp pedagogues including Isabelle Perrin, Nancy Allen, Elizabeth Fontan- Binoche, Mariko Anraku, Valerie Muzzolini, and Jessica Zhou. She completed her Artist and Performance Diplomas at the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music under the tutelage of world-renowned harpist Judy Loman. Today marks Sophie Baird-Daniel’s debut on the Second City Chamber Series.

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