I heard violinist Robyn Bollinger in a concert online, sponsored by Open Space Music and A Far Cry. She was being filmed from A Far Cry’s storefront rehearsal space in Boston, it was fun watching people walk by on the sidewalk outside.
She opened with the prelude from the Bach E major partita. I’d heard a lot of solo Bach pieces in the online concerts this spring and summer and this was the best performance I’d heard. Her playing was shapely, full of excitement, and best of all, I felt she was doing something distinctive with the piece - - her slight changes in pacing and dynamics made the piece feel fresh and vital. It was a great and inspiring way to open a concert. Here's a recent video of her playing three movements of the Bach:
She spoke quite a lot in between pieces, which was a treat because she was very engaging. She described the Bach as being “the pinnacle of E major.”
The next piece was the Loure from the same Bach partita. It was lyrical, lovely, with lots of two-voiced writing for the violin, always a treat to hear when it’s done well. Each half of the piece was repeated, and it was a treat to hear it the second time. Bollinger seemed to express something slightly different on the repeat.
Bollinger structured the program as a combination of violin playing, commentary by her and others, and readings. The first reading was the opening sentences of “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka. This went right into Ysäye’s Allemanda from sonata #4. Bollinger played it with a captivating other-worldly quality and coursing with drama at the end.
The first poem Bollinger read was “Harlem: What Happens To a Dream Deferred?” by Langston Hughes. She said that she’d been reading a lot of Hughes as an element in her effort to become more aware of her own racism. This was followed by a new piece by Katherine Balch, “Apartment Sounds,” for solo violin and electronics. I wasn’t as wild for it, it didn’t really hold together for me. Next was another Bach piece, the Gavotte en Rondeau from the same E major partita. Again, Bollinger played it with grace and magic.
Balch did the next reading, an excerpt from Goethe’s *The Metamorphosis of Plants.* Bollinger played another movement from the Ysäye sonata #4, the Sarabanda. It started off pizzicato and led to a ruminative, long-limbed melody. I think every piece on the program featured some two-voiced writing, I wonder if that was deliberate? It certainly adds an extra dimension to a solo piece.
Bollinger read another Hughes poem, “Mother to Son.” She played another piece by Balch for violin and electronics, “River walk.” I liked this one better, the violin writing was impressive and the electronic score was cool, but I didn’t feel like they really went together.
Bollinger read an excerpt from Ovid’s *Metamorphosis.” She played the Bourée from the Bach partita which cruised right into the finale from the Ysäye sonata. It took a second for me to realize that we had moved from one to the other, that was delightful.
She read Puck’s epilogue from *A Midsummer Night’s Dream* - - “If we shadows have offended…” Which got me a little teary, it’s so touching! She ended the program with the Gigue from the Bach. Hyeyung, one of the hosts of the concert, wrote this in the chat section of the Zoom screen: “Open Space is not responsible for the fires that Robyn has started with her playing tonight.” Hilarious! And yes, the joint was on fire!