Nicola Benedetti to perform Wynton Marsalis’s violin concerto in Aspen
IF YOU GO …
What: Wynton Marsalis’ Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra
Who: Violinist Nicola Benedetti and the Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra
Where: Benedict Music Tent
When: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 6 p.m.
How much: $25
Tickets: Aspen Music Festival box offices; aspenmusicfestival.com
Violinist Nicola Benedetti has known the legendary trumpet player and composer Wynton Marsalis since she was a teenager at the outset of her vaunted career. The Scottish musican spent years urging the American jazz legend to write a piece for violin.
The result, Marsalis’ Concerto in D for Violin in Orchestra, written for Benedetti, comes to the stage of the Benedict Music Tent on Wednesday.
Benedetti, 32, is among the most accomplished violinists of her generation, and has played with seemingly every major symphony in the world. Wednesday marks her Aspen debut.
In a recent phone interview from London, Benedetti recalled seeing the London Philharmonic perform Marsalis’ titanic “Swing Symphony,” written for a full symphony orchestra and a full jazz orchestra. Hearing it convinced her that Marsalis could create transformative work for the violin.
“It’s an enormous sound on-stage,” she recalled. “I remember the feeling in the room being something I hadn’t experienced in a concert hall before and thinking that this sensation is giving us all so much depth and profundity, yet it’s so jubilant and uplifting. I though it could marry extremely well with the genre of the violin concerto.”
So she got to work on convincing the jazz legend to write for violin. Marsalis had written a string quartet and some violin parts in his career, and was fond of the instrument. He agreed at first to write a solo violin piece for Benedetti. But as they talked more about the possibilities of working together, he eventually got on board to write a full violin concerto.
When Marsalis came around, the pair worked collaboratively. (“Though I have long loved the violin, she schooled me in its august history, in its tremendous expressive capabilities, and in a compendium of old and new techniques,” Marsalis said earlier this year when Decca Classics released a recording of the concerto.)
Their early conversations about the piece focused on the structure and their shared concern about the audience’s experience with the piece, Benedetti recalled.
“We both prioritize that,” she said. “So it was a lot of conversations about what journey we wanted to take people on, what sound world and styles we wanted.”
They studied violin concertos together, focusing on the structures of pieces they’d found most electrified listeners, looking, for example, at the back-and-forth between the orchestra and the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto.
The result is an indeed stirring work that, as one might expect from Marsalis, incorporates the sounds of jazz and of New Orleans along with American blues and fiddle music. Across four movements, the concerto takes audiences on a ride through the Celtic and American folk idioms.
Marsalis notated the second movement as “New Orleans jazz, calliope, circus clown, African gumbo, Mardi Gras party in odd meters.” The final movement is a “Hootenanny,” which Marsalis dubbed “a raucous, stomping and whimsical barnyard throwdown.”
The piece gave Benedetti new challenges, for example, in perfecting techniques for the effects in the circus-like sounds in its second movement. She looked to jazz musicians, like saxophonist Johnny Hodges, for examples of how to parody and impersonate sounds with her instrument, she recalled.
Benedetti premiered Marsalis’s concerto in 2015 with the London Symphony Orchestra, and she has joined orchestras across the U.S. and Europe to perform it in the years since. The Decca release features her with the Philadelphia Orchestra. And it has a long life ahead of it on concert stages, Benedetti believes.
“I feel like it has only really truly relaxed and blossomed in the last six months or so,” she said. “I have many more performances of it to come in the next two years. I think this is so genuinely strong and good that it has the capacity for longevity and to grow and deepen in interpretation.”
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The Virtual Aspen Music Festival’s Sunday concerts have been going from strength to strength in a year without audiences in the seats.