Live from Elm Court

Episode II Program Note

By Carl Halvorson

Cicely Parnas writes: “Jocelyn Hagen was one of the first composers I thought of when I decided to make the idea of a commission project a reality. Not only is she an incredible composer, singer, pianist, and artistic role model, she is also a dear friend. And when your friend writes a piece for you, it’s extra special! Working with Jocelyn on this was fun, challenging, mind-opening. I didn’t know if some of her ideas were possible on the cello, and I had to be creative to find ways to make them so. Who would have thought a cello could play three lines at once? Jocelyn did, and I am so grateful to her for bringing her voice and creativity to the cello. Each movement for me has a different personality and story to tell, ranging from fiery to charming, sensitive to surprising, and everything in between. I know this piece will quickly become a staple of the solo cello repertoire.”  

One of his most famous works, Bach’s beloved Double Concerto for Violins is scored for strings and basso continuo, but he also arranged it for two harpsichords, and it has been transcribed for piano. This arrangement for violin and cello brilliantly shows all the fugal imitation and counterpoint in great clarity, and the mesmerizing way the two individual voices intertwine.

Written by one of the founders of the Turtle Island String Quartet, Julie-O has quickly become a favorite of cellists and audiences alike. It is difficult to play, yet must sound improvised.

Saint Saens’s Danse macabre began as an art song for voice and piano, based on an old French superstition about Death summoning the dead from their graves to dance while he plays his fiddle. This is reminiscent of the medieval Dance of Death (or Totentanz), an artistic allegory on the universality of death where all strata of society are forcibly danced to their graves, thus illustrating the vanities of earthly life and the temporality of our brief spans.  Saint Saens then expanded the mélodie into a tone poem, and there followed countless transcriptions of the work by others, including this chilling one for cello and violin that loses none of the atmosphere and intensity of larger versions. Of course, the voices are full of tritones, or intervals of diminished fifths, since they were known as ‘the devil in music.”