Athenaeum Concert Series 2023-2024
Renewal from Ashes – War, Destruction, Remembrance, Peace
The unimaginable horrors of war and conflict have been an ever-present reality in modern human history. In such times music emerges as an energizing propaganda tool and a visceral depiction of the unthinkable destruction of humanity; inevitably, however, it also unfolds into songs of remembrance and ultimately prevails as an affirmation of humanity. The Athenaeum Concert Series, founded and directed by Sheena Hui ’19, presents Renewal from Ashes – War, Destruction, Remembrance, Peace in its inaugural 2023-24 season, inviting four celebrated guest artists to speak about and perform music composed at times of war.
The Bijoux Saxophone Duo started their journey at the prestigious Paris Conservatory, where Aiwen Zhang and Valentin Kovalev were the only two saxophonists admitted in 2018. In 2020, Aiwen and Valentin moved from France to the US to pursue their education at the Universiy of Michigan as the most historical classical saxophone program in the country. Natives of Shanghai and Siberia, both of them had launched their solo careers as concert artists since their childhood, and together they had received over 50 prizes and awards internationally, as well as performed across North America, Europe, and Asia.
Since their first collaboration, their musical connection led to a strong romantic relationship. During the pandemic, the couple decided to stay in touch with the listeners and colleagues through the making of creative content. That was the time they developed their passion for filming and editing. Aiwen and Valentin grew out of their love for musical exploration, thanks to the versatility of the saxophone and their cultural diversity, they are able to fuse different music genres with their classical background to present audience boundary-pushing performances.
Since 2022 they are located in Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square, where they share a home with their newborn daughter (born June 7, 2023) and the furry audience of three cats and one dog.
A visionary artist with a penchant for the eclectic, Aiwen Zhang bridges the worlds of classical music, multi-media art forms, and global cultural exchange. As a classically-trained saxophonist, her mastery knows no bounds – spanning the U.S., Europe, and Asia. A notable highlight of her career includes a performance with the Cleveland Orchestra under the baton of Klaus Makela.
Aiwen is the first person of Chinese descent and the first woman to win a Top Prize at the Londeix International Saxophone Competition in Thailand. Aiwen’s performance dossier features illustrious venues like the Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, and Beijing’s National Center for the Performing Arts. Aiwen was also awarded first place in prestigious solo competitions including the Musicians Club of Women Awards Competition in Chicago, the Prix de Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris, and the Vandoren Emerging Artist Competition in New York.
A faculty member at Temple University's Preparatory School, Aiwen holds degrees from the University of Michigan, Paris Conservatory, and Eastman School of Music. Her flair for visual arts extends into freelance videography, photography, and editing for V&A TV, where she crafts multi- sensory performances that captivate audiences.
Valentin Kovalev is a fervently committed classical saxophonist, aspiring to elevate the saxophone's role in classical music. In 2023, he was honored with a Career Advancement Award from the Musical Fund Society in Philadelphia. A prolific competitor, Valentin has won numerous international awards, including those from the MTNA Competition (U.S.), Manhattan International Music Competition (U.S.), Classic Winds Competition (Israel), AndorraSaxFest (Andorra), Anches Simples de Toulouse (France), EkaterinburgSaxFest (Russia), and GoldenSax (Ukraine). He is also a distinguished recipient of grants from the Fondation pour la Vocation and the Rostropovich Foundation.
As the recent winner of the esteemed Naumburg Foundation 2022 Saxophone Competition, Valentin is excited for his Carnegie Hall Debut Recital in the 2023-2024 season with a premier of newly commissioned piece from American composer Steve Mackey. Valentin’s musical journey brought him from studying saxophone in Siberia to Moscow, obtaining an undergraduate degree from the esteemed Paris Conservatory, and completing a Master's degree at the University of Michigan.
In August 2023, he shared the stage with renowned electronic dance music violinist Lindsey Stirling in Portsmouth, VA, enthralling a crowd of 6,000. One of his most remarkable achievements is the cultivation of an engaged online community, now comprising over 60,000 music enthusiasts. Valentin is a Henri Selmer, Paris artist and is represented by Philadelphia's Astral Artists.
In our opening concert for the series we present a program of music featuring works by composers whose lives were profoundly touched by war and political unrest in the 20th and 21st centuries. These compositions serve as a sonic history, capturing the emotional zeitgeist of the eras they represent and transforming into anthems of resilience or symbols of peace.
The Bijoux Saxophone Duo invites the audience to explore with them the fascinating ways in which composers react to periods of conflict and change, and how their works continue to resonate with us today.
Maurice Ravel, Le Tombeau de Couperin
Claude Debussy, Noël des enfants qui n'ont plus de maison
Béla Bartók, 44 Violin Duos, Sz.98
10. Ruthenian Song
11. Cradle Song
15. Soldier's Song
Sergei Rachmaninoff, Symphonic Dances (excerpt)
Dmitri Shostakovich / Levon Atovmyan, Suite for Variety Orchestra No. 1
VII. Waltz No. 2
Igor Stravinsky, Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo, K. 033
I. Sempre p e molto tranquillo ♩= 52
III. ♪ = 160
Liang Lei, Memories of Xiaoxiang
Myroslav Skoryk, Melody
John Williams, Schindler's list
Ben Laude is a concert pianist, music educator, and video producer whose playing has been described by the New York Times as “superb in pace, tone, and eloquence.” He has performed in recent seasons with the Southern Tier Symphony, New Amsterdam Symphony, and Austin Civic Orchestras and has been heard in live broadcasts on WQXR (New York), WFMT (Chicago), and WWFM. He has created hundreds of video lessons and interviews with dozens of world class pianists for the online music education platform Tonebase and received a YouTube Silver Creator Award for the Tonebase Piano YouTube channel. Laude has held faculty positions at Bard College- Conservatory and New York’s Suzuki School for Strings and holds degrees in piano performance from Rice University and the Juilliard School.
For more than a century, nation states have called upon particular works of classical music to serve as propaganda in times of war and political strife. While Allied Forces during World War II most notably turned to the “fate motive” from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony as a symbol of victory, another popular symphonic work in C minor – Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto – played a comparable role in the 1944 Allied propaganda film Victory in Tunisia, a year before it was immortalized in the soundtrack of the 1945 British film Brief Encounter. Composed at the turn of the 20th century in pre-Revolutionary Russia, the Concerto is paradigmatic of the Romantic piano concerto tradition, its fateful dramatic arc and potent symbols of love and heroic triumph all readily exploitable by nations with populations reeling from destruction and loss.
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 — Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
II. Adagio sostenuto
III. Allegro scherzando
Accompanied by G-Phil
Forrest Howell is a near-nomadic musician and writer from Woodinville, Washington. His work as a performer embraces an omnivorous taste in music, ranging from historical keyboard instruments to contemporary Broadway productions to experimental sounds and improvisation. Recent highlights include performances at Music Academy of the West, the Gilmore Piano Festival, Hill Auditorium with the Ann Arbor Symphony, the University of Michigan’s Imprint Series, CoLab at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, Round Top Festival Institute, and Porto PianoFest as an artist in residence.
As a writer, Forrest has contributed to I CARE IF YOU LISTEN, American Music Teacher, and The Westfield Center for Historical Keyboard Studies. He is currently developing the program-note essay genre which contextualizes musical interpretation within personal narratives. The first iteration of this project, “Return from Oblivion: Essays During a Recital”, is focused on stories of loss which occurred during his years as a humanitarian worker in São Paulo.
Forrest currently resides in Denver where he is serving as a full-time Senior Resident Teaching Artist with ArtistYear, an AmeriCorps program focused on providing access to arts education in underfunded schools.
Forrest completed studies in music and science at Brigham Young University and the University of Michigan.
Songs of remembrance play an important role in the grieving process. In the wake of collective tragedy such as war and civil unrest, the losses can be twice-felt — first, on a personal level where one feels loss deeply and intimately; and second, on a community level where shared traits, characteristics, and stories connect us to the losses of many.
Composers often draw inspiration from grief and loss, and the two pieces on this program show how they choose to immortalize the experience of loss and pay homage to those whose lives were ended in tragedy. Drawing upon literature, poetry, and historical accounts, this lecture-recital presents the stories of Leos Janacek's Sonata, I.X.1905 enshrining the collective Czech sentiments surrounding the 1905 protests in Brno. It will also present Maurice Ravel's nostalgic suite Le Tombeau de Couperin, which is dedicated to the members of his musical community lost to the fighting of WWI. These two works reveal the ways in which efforts to remember those lost to war and tragedy can result in art that can chronicle history and emotions, transforming grief into healing and beauty.
Leoš Janáček, I.X.1905
I. Předtucha (Presentiment)
II. Smrt (Death)
Maurice Ravel, Le Tombeau de Couperin
Logan Skelton is a much sought after pianist, teacher and composer whose work has received international critical acclaim. As a performer, Skelton has concertized widely in the United States, Europe and Asia and has been featured on many national public radio and television stations, as well as on radio in China and national television in Romania. He has recorded numerous discs for Centaur, Albany, Crystal, Blue Griffin, Equilibrium, Supertrain, and Naxos Records, the latter on which he performed on two pianos with fellow composer-pianist William Bolcom. He has been a juror for many international piano competitions and regularly appears in international festival settings. As a composer, Skelton has a special affinity for art song, having composed nearly two hundred songs, including numerous song cycles. A devoted teacher himself, Skelton has been honored by the University of Michigan, including the Harold Haugh Award for excellence in studio teaching as well as the Arthur F. Thurnau professorship, among the highest honors given to faculty members at the university. Skelton’s own piano students have won awards in many national and international competitions. He has served on the faculties of Manhattan School of Music, Missouri State University, and the University of Michigan.
THE BROTHERHOOD OF PEOPLES
Folk Styles in the Piano Music of Béla Bartók
Though many musicians are aware that Béla Bartók’s compositions were strongly influenced by folk music, relatively few know in any specific terms what those influences actually were. By correlating recordings of folk music (often Bartók’s own cylinder recordings) with selected pieces of Bartók’s piano music, this lecture attempts to identify specific folk music elements which appear in Bartók’s works. Some of the folk elements discussed include: Ukranian Kolomeyka rhythm, Romanian Colinda rhythm, Hungarian parlando rubato and tempo giusto styles of folk performance, Bulgarian rhythm, Serbo-Croatian diaphonic singing, various folk instrumental styles, etc.
Special attention is given to performance implications of the various folk styles. In particular, an attempt is made to distinguish certain rubatos and accents which may be considered as appropriate and stylistic for some folk styles, but not for others. This point is illustrated by my own performance of selected Bartók piano works as well as excerpts from Bartók’s own piano recordings. The lecture concludes by focusing on Bartók’s integrated synthesis of folk and fine art.
Ultimately, we become aware that Bartók’s eclectic use of folk styles is a highly personal and compelling artistic expression of his underlying philosophy of humanism as expressed in a 1931 letter to Octavian Beu:
“My own idea, however—of which I have been fully conscious since I found myself as a composer—is the brotherhood of peoples, brotherhood in spite of all wars and conflicts. I try—to the best of my ability—to serve this idea in my music.”
Various piano pieces by Béla Bartók
Sheena Hui ‘19 is the founder and director of the Athenaeum Concert Series. As a pianist she has performed dozens of solo and chamber recitals in Hong Kong, Europe and across the United States, recently serving as artist-in-residence at Porto Pianofest in Portugal. She enjoys programming music by contemporary Chinese and American composers.
Sheena has been working with the University of Michigan Gershwin Initiative to edit upcoming critical edition scores of George and Ira Gershwin’s compositions, including the two-piano scores of An American in Paris, Concerto in F, and a handful of Gershwin songs. Her current research focuses on the compositional style of Alexander Borodin with the goal of completing a number of unfinished works by the composer.
Sheena is currently a doctoral student at the Eastman School of Music where she studies piano with Natalya Antonova and Ran Dank; her previous teachers include Logan Skelton and Gayle Blankenburg. Sheena is profoundly aware of her responsibility to share the artistry and knowledge she has inherited from her lineage of remarkable teachers. In addition to her teaching at various music festivals and institutions, she hopes that the Athenaeum Concert Series will bring a relevant and fresh perspective on classical music to the Claremont community.