Saturday, February 10
Kleinhans Music Hall, 8:00 pm
JoAnn Falletta is on the podium for one of her personal favorite pieces: Scheherazade. Finnish violinist Elina Vähälä returns to Buffalo to perform Sibelius’ Violin Concerto. A fifteen-minute symphony by Chinese-American composer Wang Jie, which she describes as “a journey from yearning and tempest to peace,” completes this dynamic program.
Come at 7:00 for your chance to hear directly from the artists in “Musically Speaking,” sponsored by Uniland Development.
JoAnn Falletta, conductor
Elina Vähälä, violin
WANG JIE Symphony No. 1
SIBELIUS Violin Concerto
About Elina Vähälä
Born in the US and raised in Finland, Elina Vähälä made her orchestral debut with Sinfonia Lahti at the age of 12 and was later chosen by Osmo Vänskä as the orchestra’s ‘young master soloist’. Since then, her career continues to expand on the international stage, winning praise from audiences and musicians alike as ‘a fluent, stylish and gifted musician whose brilliant technique is matched by an abundant spirit, sensitivity and imagination’ (Chicago Tribune).
Elina Vähälä has appeared with orchestras including Helsinki Philharmonic, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonia Lahti, Turku Philharmonic as well as Oregon Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra and Nashville Symphony Orchestra. She has worked with conductors Leonard Slatkin, Carlos Kalmar, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Okko Kamu, Jakub Hrůša, Thierry Fischer, Jeffrey Tate, Sakari Oramo and Leif Sergerstam and toured throughout the UK, Finland, Germany, China, Korea and South America; in 2008 she was chosen to perform at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony which was televised to a worldwide audience.
Season highlights for 2016/17 include her debut with RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and performances with Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, NorrlandsOperan Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Houston Symphony Orchestra and Virginia Symphony Orchestra.
Recent highlights include highly successful debuts with Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra and Gävle Symphony Orchestra, performances with Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic and Colorado Symphony Orchestras, as well as a tour of the US with the Festival Pablo Casals Prades Collective.
With a repertoire that ranges from baroque to contemporary, Vähälä has given world premieres of Aulis Sallinen’s Chamber Concerto and Curtis-Smith’s Double Concerto, both written for her and pianist-conductor Ralf Gothóni. In addition, Vähälä gave the first Nordic performance of John Corigliano’s Violin Concerto ‘The Red Violin’ and commissioned a new violin concerto from composer Jaakko Kuusisto. Both the Corgiliano and Kuusisto concertos were recorded for BIS in 2013.
Educational activities play an important role in her commitment to music; In 2009, Vähälä launched the Violin Academy; funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation, the academy is a master class based educational project for selected, highly talented young Finnish violinists.
As a devoted chamber musician Elina Vähälä performs with Andras Adorjan, Yuri Bashmet, Ana Chumachenco, Chee-Yun, Peter Csaba, Itamar Golan, Ralf Gothóni, Ivry Gitlis, Bruno Giuranna, Gary Hoffman, Steven Isserlis, Frans Helmerson, Cho-Liang Lin, Adam Neiman, Arto Noras, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Alisa Weilerstein.
About Wang Jie
Part cartoon character, part virtuoso, musical whiz kid Wang Jie has been nudging serious music and its concert audiences into spectacular frontiers over the past few seasons. Her “FROM NEW YORK, WITH LOVE” transformed a classic percussionist into a dervish-like rock star. Her chamber opera “FLOWN” dramatized the end of a rocky love affair by having the two pianists attack each other and their shared instrument. Despite having the worst title in the history of music, “OBOE CONCERTO FOR THE GENUINE HEART OF SADNESS” channeled the power of the League of Composers Orchestra into an orgiastic whirlwind. An unexpected collaboration with comedy writer Paul Simms inspired a song cycle about dying funny that coaxed belly laughs from an otherwise sedate Opera America audience. Not one to let herself off the hook at her Carnegie Hall debut, she shape-shifted into a monkey god while leading performances of her concert opera “FROM THE OTHER SKY”. There’s a touch of glorious madness to Jie’s work, but her colleagues and mentors at the Curtis Institute of Music, the Manhattan School of Music and the NYU PhD program have been long aware of the skill, theatricality and method behind it.
Born across the globe in a metropolis dubbed the Eastern Paris, Jie was a January baby associated with the departing zodiac Sheep, high hope for the arriving Spring and the first year of the Single Child Policy. Wang Jie is not the easiest name to sing, and her face? Depending on the time of day, it’s Buddha sipping a fine whisky or your Chinese Takeout cashier girl next door. However, once you’ve sat in the audience when one of her composition is performed, you’ll be tempted to memorize the music of her name. Once her face animates a bubbly conversation, you’ll at least sneak a second look to see what she may do next.
After a successful escape from a military-run kindergarten, Jie’s parents decided that a dose of discipline was necessary to manage the 4-year-old’s oversized frontal lobe. They plopped their shrimpy child in front of renowned composer/pianist Yang Liqin. Jie was instantly drawn to this monstrous instrument. Eighteen months later, she climbed onto the piano bench and performed both volumes of J.S. Bach’s Inventions at her kindergarten graduation. “We sure tamed this kid, didn’t we?” approved by the Air Force General after the recital. Jie couldn’t read or write Chinese yet: music was her first language and first love.
As it happens, post-Cultural Revolution pre-schoolers who could perform Bach were a penny a bucket. Jie’s small hands soon put her at a disadvantage: unable to stretch an octave on the piano, she ran out of repertoire to play and was stuck revisiting music she’d already mastered. Then came the news that she was ineligible to audition as a pianist at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. Thinking ahead, mom and dad added an advanced academic curriculum to their imp’s 4-hours-a-day piano practice. This otherwise detrimental blow served to prepare Jie for the kind of intellectual fast track and in-depth music thinking that has enabled her to let pencils and manuscript papers slowly overtake the piano.
After six years of hard study, the new teen crashed again at an audition for the Shanghai Conservatory: the school didn’t know quite what to do with this “not so orthodox” composer. Violent parental discussions about who was to blame for this weird kid got Jie shipped to a highly esteemed boarding school/prison for youngsters showing high promise in science. En route to incarceration, Jie sneaked three cassette tapes into her suitcase: Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Considering Jie’s beginner’s luck of previous military escapes, the rest of the story pretty much tells itself. When you catch her saying “music is the difference between life and death”, believe her!
The delinquent science student was repeatedly caught skipping College Physics courses for a few hours with the piano or hiding a Mozart biography inside an Advanced Calculus book jacket. Even so, Jie flabbergasted her teachers by winning a national science fair award with her “irrigation system for the arid lands of China.” A major university offered her early admission at its Physics department. “When it comes to a choice between life and death, the composer must always choose life!” said the reckless high school senior in front of the university officials.
Having burned her bridges at the boarding school and the university, Jie reached a point of no return as she launched an underground solo operation to attempt a third audition for the Shanghai Conservatory. Boy, was she in for a surprise! Now that you know all the mischief that seasoned Jie for a tour of America’s top music schools, you might begin to understand where her mantra “Engage Explore Play” comes from.
Seventeen years and several world-class mentors later, it turns out that Jie’s irrigation system project is still with her. A battery of insistent muses regularly flood her with musical ideas and command that she channel them into symphonies, operas, or any form of composition to enrich mankind’s aesthetic life. The messages from beyond can be daunting, but Jie figures: “If you find yourself elated by my music, the credit goes to the muses. If you hate it, well, it’s only 15 minutes long.