May 01, 2019 / Projects /
When I learned the first pieces that Antón García Abril composed for me — “Three Sighs”, two of them duo, one solo, for my commissioned-Encores project — I was struck by how naturally he writes for the violin. He understands the fluidity of the instrument as well as its ability to convey intuitive expression. His musical language is distinct, a combination of old-world gestures, Spanish folklore, grand statements, deep thoughtfulness, detailed intricacy, and impulsivity; you can hear all that in his voice, too, when he speaks. It’s rare for that combination of traits to be directed towards a single instrument, and I wanted him to further explore the extremes of his creativity within the confines of four strings. Every time I saw Antón, which back in 2012 and 2013 was every few months, I bugged him to write a set of six polyphonic works (à la Bach, Ysaÿe, or Ernst) for me. I couldn’t let it go; I’d never commissioned solo music or a set of works from a single composer, but I knew this music needed to be written. His particular style of expression simply didn’t exist yet in a set of works for solo violin. Every time I brought up the idea, though, Antón seemed to modestly decline and change the subject.
One day, in 2014, he surprised me with the complete score of his 6 Partitas. As it turned out, he’d been working on them secretly, steadily, for months on end, in deep immersion in the historic solo violin repertoire, my recordings, and his ideas. Every morning, according to his beloved wife Aurea, he would announce, “I am going to my studio to be with Hilary,” and spend all day studying and writing, emerging for meals and a daily siesta. In that intensely focused period, he produced this definitive body of work that I know beyond a doubt was written for me. It’s not physically easy music to play, but the techniques that are new to me feel like they were designed for me to learn. Every note somehow feels dedicated to me. The phrasings that I’ve never encountered before, that he imagined me playing, feel like they were meant for me to interpret. When I play them, I feel like they are significant. They’re beautiful, expressive, mercurial, colorful, abstract, detailed, dancing, impetuous and full of motion and emotion.
I premiered these works in 2016 and toured them worldwide; the commission was supported by Washington Performing Arts with sponsorship by the National Endowment for the Arts, Dr. Gary Mather and Ms. Tina Co Mather. At that time, it was clear to me that this set of Partitas is a significant body of work, both musically and historically. Once the premieres and touring had ended and nothing further was planned, I had a nagging urge to record the pieces; a recording can be heard and repeated and appreciated at any time, by anyone, which can be so helpful for new music. So, in the summer of 2017, I worked the Partitas up to performance level again, gathered my recording crew of one — co-producer Andreas Meyer — and spent a few days recording the complete set. I didn’t tell Antón about the recording until early 2019, when it was on its way to the printer; I surprised him with my finished work just as he’d surprised me with the initial score. When I was at his son Antón’s house for a visit with their family, I asked them to plug in some audio I’d brought as background music, and I continued talking with Antón Sr. while the music played. About a minute into it, the composer stopped mid-sentence, raised his index finger, and looked around the room. He said, “is it…? is it…? is that the Partitas?” I said, “yes!” He replied, “Is that a concert? When is that from?” I said, “It’s a recording!” Antón: “what?” Me: “I recorded them all. They’re coming out this spring!” He was overjoyed, and I was so happy to have been able to give something back to him after all of the work he had dedicated to me.
This project is very personal to me. I’ve dedicated a lot of time to learning these pieces, developing a personal understanding of them, premiering, touring and recording them. They are a part of me, but these Six Partitas will be new to many of their listeners, at least at first. I’ve given careful consideration to how to invite people into these works. I want listeners to feel connected from the start, as I did when Antón gave me the sheet music, so I’ve created some complementary content that introduces the music and the ideas behind it without dictating how to listen to it or what to think of it. Every week for six weeks, I’ll roll out a set of videos related to each partita: masterclasses, descriptions and interviews. For a few of those weeks prior to the official release on May 17, each week’s partita will be released as a single. Ultimately, the album will be available in two formats: digital and limited-edition vinyl. On vinyl, this first recording of these important works is available in a beautiful collector’s print. Through digital, these pieces embrace the accessible listening experience of the era in which they were created.
Thank you for reading, and thank you for listening!