Beethoven Project

Unraveling Beethoven: Beyond the Canon

Tonia Ko                         Allen Anderson                         Jesse Jones                         Robert Honstein                          D.K. Garner

Reanimating Beethoven’s 10 Violin Sonatas in the 21st Century

In approaching the ten Beethoven sonatas as a whole, pianist Mimi Solomon and I are commissioning the composers Allen Anderson, David Garner, Robert Honstein, Jesse Jones, and Tonia Ko to respond to specific pairings of sonatas in the context of various musical fabrics. Musical fabrics are comprised of the sonic threads that are woven together by a composer to produce a musical work’s aural tapestry. The commissioned composers will pull on a “loose thread” of Beethoven’s and reweave it. Their works will be written for violin and piano, with the optional inclusion of electronics. The project will consist of performances throughout 2016 and 2017 in several five-concert cycles in North Carolina, New York, and Pennsylvania. Each cycle will be comprised of performances of all ten Beethoven Sonatas along with the newly commissioned works.

More about this project

As part of our ongoing, lifelong engagement with the Beethoven Violin Sonatas, we think a lot about how we hear these works, and the things we notice–not just on repeated hearings, but also with 21st century ears and sensibilities. To de-canonize, undress, and humanize a figure like E.T.A. Hoffman’s heroic Beethoven is paradoxical; we seek a new image for “Beethoven” in our post-canonic age, yet in so doing we reanimate this figure in a different way. We are writing a new chapter in our ongoing relationship with this music.

The motivation for this project is about coming to grips with the concept of the ‘Classic’ from the various standpoints of performer, composer, and listener. What does it mean for creative artists to work alongside the specter of classic works? How do we hear these works now, and what have they become in our 21st century world? Do listeners recognize a canonic, classic work as such, or are we now in fresh, fertile soil for these works in our culture? These are questions that our project seeks to open and to investigate.

Our culture values originality, though we have also inherited a canon of classics and all of the expectations that accompany anything associated with the canon. This project seeks to undress and unravel those expectations a bit, and to learn more about their origins. We want to have our cake and eat it too; we want to move beyond the canon and into the 21st century, and we want to take Beethoven with us.


September 30 and October 1, 2016

UNC Process Series

As part of the 2016-17 UNC Process Series, Mimi Solomon and I premiered two new works by Tonia Ko and Jesse Jones. Ms. Ko’s piece, Tribute (Axis II), for violin and piano, is inspired by Beethoven’s op. 96. Mr. Jones’ Scherzo, for violin and piano, riffs on the finale of Beethoven’s op. 12 no. 3.

Tonia Ko’s Tribute (Axis II)

Tribute (Axis II) explores the concept of horizontal motion across the surface of one string, inspired by the “anti-virtuosity” of Beethoven’s op. 96. Ko reinterprets the distinctive opening trill of Op.96 as an intensification of line– one that is both a melodic line and the physical one of the string. From the outset, the border blurs between “distortion” and “pitch,” especially as the violinist plays along the various axes of bow weight, bow speed, and sounding point. This idea is also prevalent in the piano writing, which maximizes the sound world of the lowest two notes.

Nicholas DiEugenio, violin Mimi Solomon, piano

Live Performance, October 1st, 2016

Jesse Jones’ Scherzo

This work riffs on the bubbling, jocular finale of Beethoven’s op. 12, no. 3. It also refers to another Beethoven work–can you hear which one?

Nicholas DiEugenio, violin Mimi Solomon, piano

Live Performance, October 1st, 2016

D.K. Garner’s The Sky Was Good For Flying

Commissioned jointly with the Mallarme Chamber Players of Durham, NC, Mimi Solomon and I premiered David Garner’s new work The sky was good for flying in a concert at the home of Edith Gettes and Jason Thomas in Chapel Hill, NC. This was the first concert in our entire cycle, and was a great success! We performed David Garner’s work twice, along with Beethoven’s op. 23 and op. 47, in a program we called “Leather.” Each of the five programs in the cycle are titled after different materials, playing loosely on the various musical fabrics evoked by Beethoven’s violin sonatas.