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Jorja Fleezanis Premieres
Sonata by Nicholas Maw

January 12, 1998
by Vaughn Ormseth


Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin
March Burlesque


Click for audio Listen to Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin by Nicholas Maw
Click for audio Listen to violinist Jorja Fleezanis and composer Nicholas Maw on Saint Paul Sunday (full program)

Few experiences in classical music are as electric - or as rare - as the chance to hear the world premiere of new work by a major living composer. On January 18, listeners to Saint Paul Sunday will not only get to hear the first performance of a violin sonata by Nicholas Maw, a composer passionately admired in both the United States and Europe. They'll also get to hear from the composer and the performer themselves. That day, Bill McGlaughlin welcomes Mr. Maw into the Saint Paul Sunday studio, where violinist Jorja Fleezanis will premiere his Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin. Photo: Violinist Jorja Fleezanis.

Fleezanis - the virtuosic concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra - enjoys national stature for her acclaimed forays into chamber and contemporary music. "She's terrific," says Maw, in the same breath as he notes the sonata's linear and technical demands. "The work is both written for her and is dedicated to her."

It was Ms. Fleezanis who selected Nicholas Maw in an unusual commissioning process that originated with Public Radio International. Funded by Minneapolis' Oakleaf Foundation, PRI has sought to revive radio's once vital role as a composing partner: "This commission [the second of an ongoing series] really represents PRI's commitment to classical music and to contemporary creators of classical music," says Melinda Ward, PRI's senior vice-president of programming. "It harks back to the golden age of radio when networks had their own orchestras. We're thrilled that Saint Paul Sunday and American Public Media are in a unique position to carry it forward."

At each step, the process leading to the premiere maximized expertise. PRI partnered with Saint Paul Sunday because of the series' dedication to bringing new chamber music - and insight into the creative genesis behind it - to a nationwide audience. "It's critical that radio continue to make positive contributions, like these commissions, to our musical culture, as well as supporting and promoting it through broadcasts of classical music," says Saint Paul Sunday senior producer Mary Lee. The Maw sonata is the series' fourth commission and its second collaborative effort with PRI.

Lee's selection of Fleezanis gave the violinist, in turn, the artistic license to find the right composer for the project. Fleezanis's reasons for choosing Maw reflect an intricate appreciation of his idiom, one based in part on professional familiarity. "I was drawn to Nicholas Maw out of my experience performing his symphonic work Spring Music," she explains, "and after hearing several of his chamber works, which spoke to me as music with deeply drawn lyrical lines and sweeping forms that drove the dramatic tension with confidence and clarity."

The premiere further affirms Fleezanis's life-long passion for new music. "Since before college I've had this curiosity about for what has happened and is happening in the century we're living in - a taste for music that draws on the profound qualities of our own time. It's a world I'm very happy and comfortable walking in."

Evoking such a world afresh through the relatively spare means of a solo instrument challenged Maw, he contends. "It's actually very difficult to do. Though I've written a violin concerto, this is the first time I've written for a solo string instrument. By its very nature the piece has to be about playing the instrument - virtuosity is important. To make the violin self-sufficient is technically demanding. And linear preoccupations are extremely vital, too. Creating enough contrast was always at the forefront of my mind."

According to Fleezanis, Maw's renowned gift for integrating color and conception carries through in the new sonata. "Nicholas has written four highly individual movements here - dramatic scapes whose contrast of mood and character draw on a wide range of string techniques and sonic effects carefully imagined to create each movement's temperament."

In perhaps the most complimentary of the numerous accolades recently conferred on Maw, The Boston Globe wrote that "for generations people will be buying tickets to hear his music." Your ticket to the January 18th broadcast is a radio. Listen in to discover how a composer and an artist, each in fullest form, have joined forces to give the next chapter of this future music its first expression.