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Zenas Hsu, 12/16/20

I heard violinist Zenas Hsu in concert on 12/16/20, presented by Open Space Music. This was the last concert of the year. The series was created by my friends Greg Beaver and Hyeyung Yoon and it’s been so meaningful for me to have a live concert to look forward to every week or so. Plus, as someone with a full time job, it feels great to be supporting the arts in general and the artists in particular (97% of the ticket proceeds goes directly to the performing artists).

He opened with *Returning Souls* by contemporary composer Shih-Hui Chen. Chen was at the performance, it was a treat to see her smiling in her little Zoom screen. The piece was full of drama, inventive harmonies, and idiomatic writing for the violin, which Hsu played with skill, panache, and a sure sense of where it was headed. The piece was in four movements and had a thoughtful progression of moods. I’ve heard a lot of new-ish music for a solo string instrument on the Open Space series and I often wish there was another part (a piano or whatever) to go with the solo instrument, but this piece didn’t feel unresolved or naked at all, it felt fully formed.

He next played a few movements from *Interior Design* by Steve Mackey. The piece has five movements and Mackey wrote it to be performed by five different solo violinists, positioned at different spots in the concert space. Hsu played the first three movements and played it just standing in one spot. It was a well-chosen follow-up to the Chen, it was more intellectual, somewhat lighter in tone, and like the Chen, full of great writing for the violin. Hsu’s playing was graceful and snappy.

Hsu described Jessie Montgomery’s “Rhapsody #1” as being virtuosic but also logical, and a joy to play. There was quite a lot of playing on two strings in this piece, that’s always nice to hear in a solo piece. It really took off at one point, he was really cooking with gas.

Hsu and his wife, Janny Joo, played the first two movements of Jean-Marie Leclair’s sonata for two violins. Another clever programming choice, it was completely unlike anything else on the program. Of course the music had a different profile because it had two players rather than one, but even more striking, it was music from the French baroque. Every other piece on the program had been written since the 1950s. It was delightful, Hsu and Joo had a darling lilt.

Here's a video of Hsu and Joo playing a violin duo sonata by Eugène-Auguste Ysaÿe - - gorgeous:

He ended the program with the solo violin sonata No. 2 by Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz. Hsu described the piece of improvisatory and gestural. His playing was gutsy in a way he wasn’t required to play in the other pieces, that was an exciting way to end the program. He thought the ending section sounded like a motorcycle engine, and wow, did it ever. That engine was going FAST.

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