FOR DAVID AND WU HAN
new duos

Pierre Jalbert
Sonata for cello and piano (2007)

Lera Auerbach
Sonata for violoncello and piano, op. 69 (2002)

Bruce Adolphe
Couple (1998)

George Tsontakis
Mirror Image (2008)

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NOTES ON THE MUSIC  

Pierre Jalbert (b. 1967)
Sonata for Cello and Piano (2007)
Commissioned by American Public Media with funding provided by Stuart and Linda Nelson.
Premiered by David Finckel and Wu Han, 25 June 2008, Aspen Music Festival, Aspen, CO.

Composer's Note:
Written for David Finckel and Wu Han, my Cello Sonata consists of four contrasting movements. The piece is anchored by the slow first movement, the longest and most substantial of the piece. The second, scherzo-like movement is a study in constant motion and shifting accents. The third movement features the cello as a solo instrument with the piano simply providing faint echoes of the cello’s music. This movement grows in intensity and eventually accelerates directly into the last movement, which features frenetic, syncopated, dance-like rhythms shared and passed between piano and cello.

Lera Auerbach (b. 1973)
Sonata for Violoncello and Piano, op. 69 (2002)
Co-commissioned by Hancher Auditorium/The University of Iowa
and the Music in the Park Series, St. Paul, MN.
Premiered by David Finckel and Wu Han, 19 February 2003,
Hancher Auditorium, Iowa City, IA

Composer's Note:
I began working on the sonata while reading Hermann Hesse’s novel Demian. Although there is no direct connection and this sonata is not programmatic, some of the imagery from Hesse’s novel may have infiltrated my writing, especially in the first movement— Allegro moderato—where I imagined a dance of Abraxas, a mysterious god who embodies both good and evil. In this work, the piano is an equal partner to the cello. The two instruments often play contrasting roles, like characters in a drama; at times their coexistence is a dialogue, at times a struggle or an attempt to solve inner conflicts. The sonata begins with a solo for each instrument: the piano has a dark, inescapable, terrifying statement, and the cello has a more human, desperate voice. The introduction leads to a dark and strange waltz in 5/4, as if from the depths of the past shadows have emerged. The second theme is both dreamy and passionate and leads to a fugal development with its dry angry twists. The juxtaposition of the instruments is also prominent in the Adagio of the second movement where the piano carries a columnar, steady, choral progression while the cello has a lamenting monologue, free and deeply human. The third movement— Allegro assai—is a toccata with fiery syncopations and an obsessive, inescapable energy. The last movement is deeply tragic. It starts on a high-voltage point, with the cello playing microtonal trills, resembling the sound of the most intense vibrato. I was thinking of that time in life when you are standing at the very edge of an abyss, when nothing is left of the past or of the future, and you are alone with your trembling soul. But then, through the darkness, an inner light emerges. At times, through pain one may find lost beauty and meaning, and a feeling of tragedy may release something in one’s soul that was aching to be freed. In the end, both instruments rise to the breathtaking heights of their registers, as if entering a different kind of existence. The sonata was completed while in residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts during the summer of 2002.

Bruce Adolphe (b. 1955)
Couple (1998)
Commissioned by James and Lois Lasry
for La Jolla SummerFest 1999.
Premiered by David Finckel and Wu Han,
summer of 1999,
La Jolla SummerFest, La Jolla, CA.

Composer's Note:
Couple was commissioned by James and Lois Lasry for David Finckel and Wu Han, who premiered the work at SummerFest La Jolla in 1999. I called the piece Couple because the word suggests an intensification of the more common musical word Duo, and since I wrote it for a married duo, well, you get the idea. Couple is in four movements with two very lyrical, introverted, dreamlike middle movements and two more narrative, dynamic outer movements. The first movement is restless and mercurial. The second is both dreamy and ecstatic, using some of the same material as the first movement. It is the third that is the most personal music—it might be more accurate to say private music. In this movement, I left the musical thoughts in their most fundamental and essential state, without much lighting or scenery. The final movement is a scherzo, which I thought of as a musical game with rules that you could possibly figure out if you listen to it enough times. It has been a pleasure to listen to David and Wu Han play the piece many times over many seasons.

George Tsontakis (b. 1951)
Mirror Image (2008)
Commissioned by the Weil Family Endowment for Eminence
in the Arts and Humanities, School of Liberal Arts, Auburn University
at Montgomery.
Premiered by David Finckel and Wu Han, 26 March 2009,
Auburn University at Montgomery, Montgomery, AL.

Composer's Note:
During my envisioning, composing, and entitling of Mirror Image, it was very hard not to focus on the personal relationship I have had with my two friends David Finckel and Wu Han, and, more immediately, the strong and natural bond between them, a bond that seems to be obvious to everyone who knows them. It brings to mind intensity, commitment, musical poetry, and lots of laughter. I am pleased and honored to have a chance to compose for them. If I were trying to avoid reflecting too much of their joined “persona” in the work, I have succeeded in only two of the four parts. Parts two and four, Scherzo and Sospeso, are essentially movements. On the other hand, I thought all the while of Pas de Deux and Mirror on the Wall as love songs, or love duos. Both are built upon mirrored phrases, question-answer, call-response, and poetic “cooperation” in order to complete. In both, I have tried to make the piano more like the cello, as the other way around would be tres difficile. While David does his cello with two hands, the two hands don’t both do the same thing. Pas de Deux begins with short, traded phrases creating a complete melodic line. The piano replies to the cello’s few-note singing phrases with melodic octaves (wishing to respond in-kind with the melodic richness of the cello). In Mirror on the Wall, the two match sonorous double stops in quick succession.

Thinking that two love songs were plenty enough (at least for this work), I allowed myself to explore other creative goals and compositional emotions in the other two sections. I think their contents are (as my attorney would write in a cover letter to an unintelligible, complicated, enclosed legal document) “self-explanatory.” I remain indebted to the Weil Family Endowment for Eminence in the Arts and Humanities for this opportunity. It will not come as a surprise to learn that Mirror on the Wall is dedicated to my friends Wu Han and David Finckel. May they play it in health!

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