Thursday, September 17, 2009

Conclusion of Interview on Eliesha Nelson's CD 'Quincy Porter: Complete Viola Works'

[“Quincy Porter: Complete Viola Works”; Eliesha Nelson, viola; John McLaughlin Williams, violin, piano, harpsichord; Douglas Roth, harp; Northwest Sinfonia, John McLaughlin Williams, conductor; Dorian Recordings DSL-90911 (73:47) (2009) (Reverse side of CD cover)]

Yesterday AfriClassical posted Part I of our inte
rview with the African American violist Eliesha Nelson on the occasion of the release of her debut CD, “Quincy Porter: Complete Viola Works”; Dorian Recordings DSL-90911 (73:47). Part I chronicled the life and career of Eliesha Nelson from her birth on Eielson Air Force Base, which is 25 miles Southeast of Fairbanks, to the photo shoot for the CD cover art. The front cover shows her standing in Lake Erie, in a long flowing dress which is billowing with the movement of the waves on the lake. The art on the reverse side is a picture of Eliesha Nelson from behind.
How did you become associated with such a high-ranking studio as Skywalker?
Well, anyone can rent the space. I was really lucky with the producers that I ended up booking with. I basically didn't know anyone in the industry outside of John when it came to recordings.
Does anything else come to mind that you'd like to say about the Concerto?
Outside of it being a really fantastic piece, hopefully that more violists will start to play it and people will find it beautiful and wonderful and interesting, which I definitely think it is!
So you'd like to raise the profile of this piece then?
Yes, that's kind of the point of the recording too, the reason why I chose Quincy Porter and not Hindemith or the Brahms Sonatas or something like that. So the point was also to say, “This is also really wonderful music too and worth listening to.”
The next work on the CD I believe is “Speed Etude”?
And on that one, John is playing the piano?
Right. “Speed Etude” and “Poem” - they were written around the same time and that was when Porter had received a commission from the Juilliard Musical Foundation...
The CD cover says they were both written in 1948.
Right. He was commissioned by Juilliard to compose five pieces, one quintet and four sort-of solo pieces. “The Poem” was actually originally written for cello and he obviously transcribed it for viola, and “Speed Etude” written definitely just for viola and they wanted pieces that would be good learning pieces for students. So “Speed Etude” is a great, really fun, fast, clearly fast, perpetual motion basically for viola.
It's less than two and a half minutes long, right?
Which might be appropriate for something that fast?
Exactly, it's like a firecracker! It just sort of explodes and then it's over.
Then the next work is “Duo for Viola and Harp”?
Yes. I think that's my favorite piece, one of my favorite pieces.
What do you like about it?
I think it's just beautiful! It's just so gorgeous! Porter, like myself, had a love for early music. I think that's why he's so wonderful with how he crafts music, because he really has a wonderful understanding of it. And especially with Early Music, it's a vocal, it's long lines it's very stepwise motions and to me very beautiful and touching. And I think you hear a lot of that influence and that appreciation in this piece. It's sort of written ABAB form, so the first part is a slow with that very singing long melodies, and then the B part is twice as fast. It has a lot of jazzy rhythms; he does a lot of interesting combinations with really interesting rhythms, rhythmic passages juxtaposed to those with long lines. So that's something you really hear quite distinctly in the “Duo for Viola and Harp.”
How did you happen to obtain the services of Douglas Roth as the harpist?
I just asked him! I didn't really know him. It's funny too, he studied at C.I.M. with Alice Chalifoux, very renowned harpist at the Cleveland Orchestra way back when and yes, it's funny it's like everything about this CD has a Cleveland connection! It worked out great! It was nice to work with him.
Following that you have “Suite for Viola Alone”, 1930?
Yes, this is a piece that Porter performed a lot by himself. Good thing about being able to play the instrument for the music that you write!
The next one, listed as number 11, is “Blues Lointains for Viola and Piano”?
Yes, actually I think this is the earliest one. Yes, this was written in '28. He was in Paris when he wrote this, and this piece actually was part of a program he gave at one of the really big sort of programs that they would do for composers. It was a really important concert that he had this piece on, and Nadia Boulanger was there with some other fairly well-known composers and she actually wrote him saying “I really enjoyed your music, I enjoyed listening to the concert, and the preparation of everything was really good.”
Now “lointains” I believe means “in the background” or “in the distance”?
Exactly, distance, yes. It's very subtle.
So the “Blues” may involve something generalized or vague or not specific?
Yes, I think it's meant to be subtle. I think a lot of his music, especially the slower, the more rhapsodic and singing music tends to be more quizzical. It's not like a definite kind of statement. I think there's a big searching quality in how he composes.
Well I can see how that would be attractive to the performer!
Yes, that means that the options never end!
The following work is the “Poem for Viola and Piano” that you mentioned earlier?
Yes, yes.
After that is the “Duo for Viola and Harpsichord”?
Right, and that's basically the same piece as the “Duo for Viola and Harp.” He wrote it for both harp and harpsichord, so on the recording we just decided to have both versions. And I think it's kind of interesting to hear both of them, especially if you went from one to the next, because the harp version I think is just so much more soothing and more laid back, but because of the nature of the harpsichord as an instrument, to me the sound changes quite a bit, to be more percussive and a bit more driving.
I see, and then you wrap it up with a “Duo for Violin and Viola”?
From 1954 – that would have been one of the later works?
Exactly. Yes, most of the works do come later. Porter was a big educator. He at one point was the Dean of New England Conservatory, he worked at Vassar. He had a lot of these professorial and actually administrative positions in these music colleges.
Didn't he found a couple of music organizations for composers?
Yes, he did a lot with Yaddo. It wasn't until he went back to Yale, his last 19 years of his life basically, where he actually had time to do more writing. I think if he hadn't been a major educator and wasn't so interested in supporting other composers and musicians, he may have written more. So you kind of have this gap – you have the piece from 1928 and '30 and then you have like '48, the late Forties and Fifties.
If I can ask, will there be a CD announcement party?
Well, that would be wonderful, but I'm eight months pregnant, so the CD is being released less than a week before my due date.
The CD date, is it the 29th?
Yes, the 29th and this baby is due on October 3rd.
Is that your first child?
Yes, it is.
Thank you!
You don't have to buy “Mozart for Genius Babies”; you've already provided the music yourself!
Yes, that's right! It has no option but to hear lots and lots of music!
I'm sure the influence will be very powerful. Is there anything else before we finish up?
I don't think so, I think we covered quite a bit! You asked lots of good questions.
I appreciate that! I think you were very prepared, in spite of your feeling that you hadn't looked at the material in a while.
Well, thank you!

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