New Classical Tracks: Opera, in brief

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
November 6, 2013
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Pianist Lily Maisky grew up in Brussels with a famous father, cellist Mischa Maisky, with whom she now performs duets. And violinist Philippe Quint grew up in Russia with a famous mother, a composer of Russian pop music. Both Maisky and Quint agree having well-known parents has definitely been a plus.

"First of all, I felt incredible admiration," Quint explains, "And second, I would say that it was so inspiring. You're just constantly in that world of music and arts and culture and you have the most incredible people constantly visiting you at an early age. So I think that really forms you as a musician and as a person and if anything, you become more mature much quicker."

Opera Breve is the first collaboration between Lily Maisky and Philippe Quint. Quint says the recording is somewhat autobiographical.

"We wanted to come up with a unique concept. And for me, this concept started from the little aria from Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel called "The Evening Prayer," which was commissioned for me by somebody who was very dear to me.

"This lady commissioned this arrangement from me and I didn't realize that it wasn't just an arrangement. It turned out to be a bit of a mini-requiem, which I only had a chance to perform at her funeral. So I think that from that point on, we both decided that this was going to be a very personal CD and each work has certain associations and reflections."

"Lensky's aria", from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, is a work that has special meaning for both Maisky and Quint.

"It's kind of a rare transcription, very underperformed. As Philippe said, it's a very personal piece for anyone who has a Russian connection. It's basically the big hit of Russian opera," Maisky explains.

"And my very first opera, to be honest with you," Quint chimes in. "The first opera I attended, which was in the Kremlin, was Eugene Onegin. And I'll never forget just listening to this aria of Lensky. It made an enormous impression on me."

Another beautiful aria stems back to Quint's childhood. "I think Una furtiva lagrima was one of the most popular arias on Soviet radio back in those days when I was growing up. And every time they played it I would just be glued to the radio."

Quint adds his own personal touch to this interpretation by putting the violin part in different octaves, and adding double stops which allows him to perform two notes at the same time, something that singers can't do.

Both Quint and Maisky have strong ties to Jascha Heifetz's suite of transcriptions from Gershwin's folk opera, Porgy and Bess.

"I was attracted to the prospect of having one solid sequence of pieces, which Gershwin fits perfectly," Maisky explains. "And indeed I'm quite passionate about jazz. I studied jazz at music school but unfortunately never took it any further. I've performed it quite a few times with different people over the years and I think they're really, really fantastic arrangements by Heifetz. It's really a gift to perform these works on violin and piano."

"And for me, I grew up on smuggled tapes of Heifetz in Soviet Union," Quint adds. "We actually did not have any access to recordings of Heifetz or Horowitz and of course American music wasn't something that was so popularized. So I think it was a cassette of Heifetz performing It Ain't Necessarily So, and I didn't realize at that point that there was a whole suite that he wrote.

"When I came to the U.S. in '91, it's very interesting that my life took this turn where I was exposed to American music from literally day one. And in fact my first records were all of American music — William Schuman and Ned Rorem and John Corigliano and many others. Gershwin, of course, was a dominant figure in my life from that point on."

Opera Breve is a charming collection of opera highlights arranged for violin and piano. Through these hand-picked works, Lily Maisky and Philippe Quint share an intimate part of themselves, which comes through in each performance.

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