Melia Watras | Schumann Resonances

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Schumann Resonances

by Melia Watras

Violist/composer Melia Watras’s new album, Schumann Resonances, uses Schumann’s Märchenbilder (Pictures from Fairyland), Op. 113 as a building block, traveling in new directions with world premiere recordings of compositions by Watras, Cuong Vu and Richard Karpen. The new works take the Schumann piece as a point of departure, through Märchenbilder itself, or inspired by fairy tales or other folklore (including folk songs). The program includes the Schumann (performed by Watras and pianist Winston Choi); three works by Watras: Schumann Resonances (Watras, Choi), Berceuse with a Singer in London (Watras, singer Galia Arad), Source (Watras, percussionist Matthew Kocmieroski, violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim); Porch Music by Vu (Watras, trumpeter Vu); and Karpen’s Tertium Quid (Lim, Watras, Choi).
Genre: Classical: Chamber Music
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Schumann Resonances
Melia Watras & Winston Choi
5:17 $0.99
2. Märchenbilder, Op. 113 (Pictures from Fairyland): I. Nicht schnell
Melia Watras & Winston Choi
3:05 $0.99
3. Märchenbilder, Op. 113 (Pictures from Fairyland): II. Lebhaft
Melia Watras & Winston Choi
3:32 $0.99
4. Märchenbilder, Op. 113 (Pictures from Fairyland): III. Rasch
Melia Watras & Winston Choi
2:34 $0.99
5. Märchenbilder, Op. 113 (Pictures from Fairyland): IV. Langsam, mit melancholisches Ausdruck
Melia Watras & Winston Choi
5:19 $0.99
6. Porch Music
Melia Watras & Cuong Vu
9:33 $0.99
7. Source: I. Creusa
Melia Watras & Matthew Kocmieroski
3:53 $0.99
8. Source: II. Grandmother Spider
Melia Watras & Matthew Kocmieroski
3:00 $0.99
9. Source: III. Lass. Variations on a Theme by John Jacob Niles
Melia Watras & Matthew Kocmieroski
8:20 $0.99
10. Source: IV. Grandmother Spider Returns
Melia Watras, Matthew Kocmieroski & Michael Jinsoo Lim
2:26 $0.99
11. Source: V. Rawiya
Melia Watras, Matthew Kocmieroski & Michael Jinsoo Lim
7:23 $0.99
12. Berceuse with a Singer in London
Melia Watras & Galia Arad
2:50 $0.99
13. Tertium Quid: I
Melia Watras, Michael Jinsoo Lim & Winston Choi
7:41 $0.99
14. Tertium Quid: II
Melia Watras, Michael Jinsoo Lim & Winston Choi
7:14 $0.99
15. Tertium Quid: III
Melia Watras, Michael Jinsoo Lim & Winston Choi
7:26 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Schumann Resonances

She searches...
Looking inside the boxes
That she loves.

She reaches...
Resonating electricity
In a long-awaited breath.

She (se)arches...
In time,
Lightning, glowing, radiating...

She (re)aches...
“Will you put on the Schumann and
Stay with me?”

—Michael Jinsoo Lim

Program Notes
Schumann’s Märchenbilder (Pictures from Fairyland), Op. 113 is one of the great pieces of the viola repertoire. I love these fantasies by Schumann, full of color, detail and life. I always enjoy returning to them, finding new magic from Schumann each time. For my album, Schumann Resonances, I wanted to use Märchenbilder as a building block, traveling in new directions with world premiere recordings of compositions by me and two of the most creative people I know, Cuong Vu and Richard Karpen. The only guideline for the new pieces was that the point of departure be this composition of Schumann: through Märchenbilder itself, or inspired by fairy tales or other folklore (including folk songs).

Thank you to the Adelaide D. Currie Cole Endowment, Richard Karpen and the University of Washington School of Music, David Sabee and SeattleMusic, and Doug Niemela.

Notes for the piece, Schumann Resonances for viola and piano, exist as the poem above.
—Melia Watras

Vu: Porch Music for viola and trumpet (2015)
For a few months leading up to writing this duo piece for Melia, I had spent a significant amount of time anxiously contemplating the challenges of coming up with a piece that would live up to the expectations of being commissioned by my friend, colleague and virtuosic violist that she is. My intention was that the piece would not only feature the coalescing characteristics of our instruments that resonate with me, but more so our musical personalities and overlapping musical experiences and what that could encompass. We had done some work together in Melia’s project with two other amazing artists, violinist Michael Lim and drummer Ted Poor, in a context rooted in free improvisation. The advantage of integrating improvisation into the piece and using the musical data that we accumulated and internalized in that experience became a necessity and impetus.

While this realization provided momentary relief, the challenge of writing the piece continued to be perplexing due to the litany of things that I didn’t want the piece to be nor how it would be referenced by the listener. Shoot me if the listener would think of it as a classical piece, a jazz piece or an avant-garde piece. I just want it to simply be heard as a Melia piece written by Cuong.

I decided to write my own version of a folk song that would be the generative germ for the piece. My “song” drew from the kinds of folk songs that one might find Charles Ives referencing in his incredible body of works. Songs such as Oh Shenandoah or folk songs that were influenced by Amazing Grace along with the general characteristics of American folk songs from the 1950’s such as 500 Miles and Blowin’ in the Wind have permeated our collective consciousness whether we’re fans of that music or not. Melodically and harmonically, this seemed a perfect overlapping starting point for me to use in bringing our different vocabularies together for Melia and me, since we are after all, a part of that collective consciousness.

Having this folky, “fiddle music” type of sound in my ear as I wrote the song, it generated harmonies built on the interval of the 5th with suspended 2nds or 4ths (inversions of each other). The song’s inherent harmonies further generated a sequence of chords that provided a harmonic opening that helped me to obscure the two initial presentations of its melodic theme, which then set up the environment for the first improvisation featuring Melia. These chords then serve as a transition into a second improvisation, featuring myself over Melia’s accompanimental approach and interjections/declarations. This second improvisation then transitions into the simply stated song for the ending.

The name of the piece comes from my description of two musical approaches. The first is in playing with intonation to create a slightly unstable, “warble-y” feeling and character for the overall piece. The second is for the disjunctive feeling for the second improvisation. My description to Melia was to play in a way that would conjure up images of two old timers sitting on their back porch on the prairie, back in the day, reminiscing about their past while throwing back a heavy dose of whiskey.

I’m relieved to know that Melia really likes the piece!
—Cuong Vu

Watras: Source for viola, percussion and violin (2015)
Using Schumann’s Märchenbilder as a starting point, I happily set to looking for fairy tales to write about. I read and researched and as I began to compose, I realized that I was not including a single fairy tale. Instead it was folk material, sculpture, legends and an epic poem that captured me. I was specifically drawn to women characters.

Source consists of five movements. The motivation for the first, Creusa, is from Vergil’s The Aeneid and is named for the first wife of Aeneas. I wanted to echo Creusa telling the future to her husband. So, in that effort, the scalar figures in Creusa reflect the pitch centers used in each of the successive movements, outlining them as follows: movement I: pitch center C; II: B; III: A; IV: F; V: E-flat and C.

At the movement’s close, one of the performers speaks, in Latin, a few lines from The Aeneid. I first read these words while on a plane to Copenhagen. They were so impactful, it felt like a hand reached in, grabbed my heart and squeezed (not exactly what one wants to feel at 10,000 feet). Later discussions with Catherine M. Connors, Professor of Classics at the University of Washington, increased the depth of my understanding as well as my love of Vergil.

Upon hearing Ms. Connors recite this excerpt, I thought I should use a recorded voice of an expert Latin speaker, such as herself. I would like to thank Ms. Connors not only for her very generous guidance, but for giving me the courage, and instruction, to speak these words myself:

ter conatus ibi collo dare bracchia circum;
ter frustra comprensa manus effugit imago,
par levibus ventis volucrique simillima somno.*

*from The Aeneid, by Vergil. (ed. R.A.B. Mynors, Oxford University Press, 1969),

English translation:
Three times I tried to fling my arms around her neck,
three times I embraced—nothing…her phantom
sifting through my fingers,
light as wind, quick as a dream in flight.
— Robert Fagles, Viking, 2.983-6

Like many dreams and images we have in our heads, Movements II and IV are based on the connection of multiple sources; Louise Bourgeois's spider sculptures, the Cherokee legend Grandmother Spider Steals the Sun, from a tale reported by James Mooney in the 1890’s, and my own grandmother, who is a hero in my life. (Also, Seattle is full of spiders! …but I digress.) All of the pitch material for both movements is generated from a short progression I created.

The third movement, Lass: Variations on a Theme by John Jacob Niles, takes its cue from John Jacob Niles’s Lass from the Low Countree. Niles’s rendition is an adaptation of the text of a traditional folk song, with an original melody by Niles.

Source’s fifth and final movement is titled Rawiya, which is an Arabic name meaning “she who tells stories.” While not a reference to an existing tale (or specific geographical location), the movement is a culmination of the piece, with elements from the previous movements appearing in the finale.

I am grateful to the terrific percussionist Matthew Kocmieroski, who graciously shared his vast knowledge and gave me a better understanding of how best for me to express myself through percussion.
—Melia Watras

Watras: Berceuse with a Singer in London for voice and viola (2015)
The “Singer in London” in the title is the fantastic folk singer Galia Arad, to whom this piece is dedicated. I’ve always been taken with Galia’s beautiful voice and innate music making. Galia and I share a number of connections, including spending formative years in Bloomington, Indiana, where Galia grew up, and where I moved to for college, studying viola with Galia’s father, the distinguished violist and composer Atar Arad.

Berceuse took shape while I was practicing the exquisite fourth movement lullaby of Schumann’s Märchenbilder. My intent was to write a piece in a folk song style, with Galia very much in my mind as I composed. The text for Berceuse with a Singer in London was written by violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim, my frequent instrumental collaborator, who this time shared with me his words:

Take me where you go.
With shared footsteps,
We will walk, light with stars.

When time stops,
And now becomes then,
We will walk, light with stars.

We float,
Blind, like brightly lit secrets,
Better killed than kept.

—Melia Watras

Karpen: Tertium Quid for violin, viola and piano (2015)
Tertium Quid is the third work that I’ve composed for violist, Melia Watras. This new work is dedicated to her with friendship and admiration for her artistry and her ever-adventurous spirit!

The three works that Melia has commissioned from me have turned out to be a solo, a duo, and a trio, composed in that order. This was an unplanned for progression but, it added some incentive for me to make this new work a trio! This series of three works began with a piece for solo viola and electronics, Aperture in 2006; next was Bicinium, for viola and violin in 2013 for Melia and the magnificent Michael Lim; and now Tertium Quid, a trio for viola, violin, and piano, again for Melia and Mike, with the addition of piano (pianist, Winston Choi). The piano part in Tertium Quid seems to have evolved into a kind of proxy for adding myself into the mix: the author appearing as a character in his own fiction!

Tertium Quid: a simple translation could be “a third thing”, and that fits neatly for a third piece in a series. For this work though, one in which “three-ness” is woven into so many aspects, an idiomatic usage of the phrase Tertium Quid that resonated with me in particular can be translated roughly as, “an indefinite third thing that is related to two other more definite things.”

I didn’t at first plan for a three movement work when I started composing Tertium Quid. Robert Schumann’s Märchenbilder (Pictures from Fairyland) from which it is derived, has four movements. I also did not expect that the moods of each of the three movements would be so similar (urgent; foreboding) to one another, as are also the timings and the structures. Each movement of Tertium Quid is perhaps a version of an archetypal dream. Things like this are up to listeners’ imaginations in any case.
—Richard Karpen



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