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Superb performances by Kim Kashkashian distinguish this exceptional recording, on which the violist plays Luciano Berio's "Voci" and "Naturale", masterworks inspired by Sicilian folk melodies. The compositions are connected here by authentic field recordings from Sicily, making evident some of the sources that have long fired Berio's imagination. "My links with folk music are often of an emotional character," he has said. "When I work with that music I am always caught by the thrill of discovery. I return again and again to folk music because I try to establish contact between that and my own ideas about music. I have an utopian dream, though I know it cannot be realised: I would like to create a unity between folk music and our music - a real, perceptible, understandable conduit between ancient music-making, which is so close to everyday work, and our music."

Berio's interest in traditional music is reflected in some of his earliest compositions including his "Tre canzoni siciliani" of 1946/67 and is at the centre of the widely acclaimed "Folk Songs" written for Cathy Berberian in 1963/64. But as Paul Griffiths noted in Modern Music and After the nature of Berio's relationship to folk music has changed over time: "As he involved himself more deeply with past languages, so he began to use folk melodies as memes, as bearers of meaning to be analysed, brought into contact with one another, mused upon, imitated ... In the viola concerto 'Voci' (1984), Berio created a fantasy portrait of Sicilian folk music, which is 'certainly the richest, the hottest, and the most complex of our Mediterranean culture' ... His fascination with folk cultures that are not his own (he was born in Liguria, not in Sicily) is part of a wider fascination with musical traditions - wherever they spring from - as codes and manners of musical communication, both between people, and between people and the world."

This recording draws upon a network of long established relationships. Berio and conductor Dennis Russell Davies have been friends since the 1960s when they co-founded the Juilliard Ensemble, and Davies and ECM producer Manfred Eicher have collaborated since the 1970s. It was also Eicher who brought together Kashkashian and percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky, thereby initiating a duo in existence now for 11 years. Kashkashian herself has been recording for ECM since 1984; she has also worked extensively, in both concerts and recordings, with Dennis Russell Davies.

Below Kim Kashkashian talks about her recordings of "Voci" and "Naturale".

An Interview with Kim Kashkashian

Were you in contact with Luciano Berio while preparing the pieces for this CD'?

One would always try - if the composer is still living and working and perhaps even changing things - to get in close contact. If you look at the written text you don't always get all the information that you need, or that they intend to convey and so it's always wise, as well as fun and challenging, to work directly with the composer. Also, what in the case of Berio is very enjoyable is that he likes to sing, so we do some singing together, and he is also quite expressive with his voice, so one gets a better idea of exactly what is intended by those little notes on the page.

Did you talk at all to Aldo Bennici, the viola player of the première recording?

I recently had the chance to sit down and talk to him and it was also a wonderful event. The man is quite a theatrical person and in fact firmly believes that new music and theatre must become one. So he has an interesting perspective on all of this. He is Sicilian himself and did most of the searching and finding on the old melodies and he was able to tell me quite a lot about, first of all, the initial impulse behind the piece and, secondly, what some of the songs actually are conveying. So some very interesting and heartbreaking words and texts for these old songs. And one of the things he said to me, kept trying to say over and over again in different ways, is that the Sicilian personality is highly touched by the degree of intense sunlight in the land, and that that produces actually a shadow side to the personality so that there is a constant preoccupation with death. So there is this...it is like the two flip sides of a coin. And he says that the Sicilian personality shows both sides all the time, this parallel is always apparent in the personality. So that is an interesting perspective on all of these songs, as well as, of course, on the constructed pieces that Berio made out of the songs. So for example: one of these very simple and beautiful songs has a heartrending text, which is, the mother is saying to God, "Please, give my child a home, take my child". The implication being that "I cannot care for this child here, I don't have food, I don't have the ability to take care of this child, my baby, please give my baby a home in heaven." So, she is basically saying this child should die because it will be happier. So the melodies sound relatively harmless compared to the depth and the dichotomy that is apparent in most of the text.

"Naturale" and "Voci" seem to be very different pieces, would you agree on this?

Well, they are quite different in the montage, they are quite different in the affect therefore, but the - I can only think it in German, "Ausgangspunkt" - point of origin is, in a sense, the same. But what carries the piece "Naturale", because it's got the precision of colour with only the viola, percussion, and the vocal reproductions - it's in a sense a much more compact and intense experience. The piece was originally intended as a theatre piece, as a piece for dancer, and Aldo Bennici says that when the piece is to be performed it is best when you're actually - on the viola - gesturing and doing some of the theatre yourself to provide some of the missing element there.

The other work by Berio, "Voci", is perhaps more constructed, there is more Berio there, because of course his great strength is orchestration and the orchestration is phenomenal in this piece. It gives not only the reflection of the songs but a kind of amplification of the songs, to have so much constructed around them with such fantastic orchestration.

In a number of interviews and articles your way of playing the viola is compared to singing. Is that the feeling you have, too, and if so, how did that influence your way of interpreting these pieces?

The fact that the actual sung reproduction is not heard in "Voci" is not important because the melodies are completely played by the viola, in both pieces, actually, so that's a colour factor more than anything else in the "Naturale" piece. To try to answer the question about where the impulse comes from when one sings on an instrument, I will again loosely quote Aldo Bennici, who recently sat in a room, looked at me and said, "When I started to play the viola what I wanted was a sonority, and the reason I wanted a sonority was because I thought I could speak to God." So he wasn't being pathetic, he was saying that as a child he was religious, as all Sicilians were, and he thought that was his best way to converse with God was through the sonority of the instrument, through the voice. And he - and I would agree - makes a complete parallel between the vocalisation on the instrument, what kind of sonority comes out of the instrument and what would come out of the chest and vocal chords, should we have the good luck to have that kind of equipment, which a lot of us don't. However the impulse is identical and in the best case remains so.

You recently recorded Bartók's viola concerto for ECM. Bartók is surely the composer one would immediately think of when talking about the influence of folk music in 20th century music. And now you have recorded these Berio works: Is the folk music influence an element in composition that attracts you in general?

I am going to answer this in two parts, because Bartók and Kodály were two people who were well-known because well-documented in their research of old folk music or "country music", as Bartók describes the difference between "country music" and "city music" or "art music". But again, the origin for a lot of composers, the point of origin, must be the folk music of that nation, the folk music of that culture and sometimes in a very conscious way, as with Bartók, and sometimes in a not so conscious way. But true for many composers, certainly true for Brahms, certainly true for Schubert, so I wouldn't like to isolate Bartók except in the sense that he made a very big and well-documented study of folk music and it was for him a very important, perhaps even more important, aspect of his work.

Now, the other thing you asked me is a little bit harder to get around. The music as we look at it, the music of the 20th century gets, on the surface, further and further away from what we would recognise as folk melody, or what we would recognise as organic human rhythm or harmony, and becomes perhaps more and more identified with the objective, what is outside the human being. However, the point of comparison, the point of reference for the musician, for the interpreter and for the listener, remains that subjective element of "What can I sing'".

Can you say something about your partnership with Dennis Russell Davies, with whom you have worked on a number of occasions?

As you can see, if you look at the catalogue of our repertoire, I enjoy working with Dennis, and particularly because he does understand this singing element or the need to breathe, and is an incredibly good supporter of that quality. Also, he was a student of Berio's, he studied with Berio, and therefore there is a very strong connection and a good understanding, again, of what the text actually implies and how one can best bring it to fruition. So that was also for me a very important factor, that the two of them have such trust in each other.

And Robyn Schulkowsky, you also worked with her quite a lot.

We've had a long and fruitful relationship and hopefully one that will continue, and I think that the "Naturale" score, as it stands on paper, is not quite the same as what Robyn made out of it because, again, the percussion role in the theatre piece was perhaps more of a supportive role, and as we made the recording, it took on a much more lively and elemental role. So she was a very important part of the picture, part of building up our picture of that piece.

interviewer: Tina Köhn

***

Luciano Berio, one of the most contemporary composers and musical philosophers, was born into a musical family in Oneglia, and studied harmony, counterpoint and piano with his father and grandfather, both composers and organists. In 1945 he entered the Milan Conservatory, and in 1952 won a Koussevitsky Foundation scholarship to study with Luigi Dallapiccola at Tanglewood. Returning to Milan he co-founded, with Bruno Maderna, the groundbreaking Studio di Fonologia Musicale. For a decade from 1962 he was based primarily in the United States where he taught at Mills College, Harvard and Juilliard, visiting Europe to lecture at Darmstadt and Dartington.

From 1972-80 he collaborated with Pierre Boulez in developing IRCAM in Paris, heading its electro-acoustic department. He subsequently founded Tempo Reale, an institute for new music, in Florence. He was Distinguished Composer-In-Residence at Harvard University during the 1990s.

Of the same generation as Stockhausen and Cage, Berio pioneered modernism in music, and his works have embraced the widest possible range of styles, idioms and aesthetic positions, including 12-tone music, aleatoric music, collage, electronic music and sound processing, music theatre, confrontations with folk song and popular music of many kinds, and an intense involvement with settings of poetry and prose (writings of Dante, Pound, Cummings, Homer, Sanguineti, Joyce, Lorca, Calvino, Beckett, Lévi-Strauss, political slogans, and more). The many works written for singer Cathy Berberian made giant steps in the field of "new vocalism", and his "Sequenzas" have explored virtuoso capabilities of solo instrumentalists. His re-examinations of the music of the past have resulted in pieces based on sketches or unfinished pieces by composers including Mozart and Schubert.

Berio's music has received very many awards including the Fondation Européenne de la Culture, the Siemens Prize, Sibelius Prize, the Italia Prize, Palermo's Nietzsche Prize and the Golden Lion Award of the Venice Biennale, and the Wolf Foundation Prize of Jerusalem. He also holds honorary degrees from the University of Siena and the University of London.

Previous recordings of the music of Luciano Berio on ECM New Series include "Due Pezzi" (performed by Michelle Makarski and Thomas Larcher on ECM 1712), and "Les mots sont allés" (performed by Thomas and Patrick Demenga on ECM 1520/21).

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Violist Kim Kashkashian has established herself as one of the most accomplished artists of her generation. In recent seasons, she has appeared as soloist with the major orchestras in New York, Berlin, Vienna, London, Milan, Munich and Tokyo including performances with Riccardo Chailly, Christoph Eschenbach and Riccardo Muti. She has performed recitals at the Metropolitan Museum and the 92nd Street "Y" in New York City, in Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Cleveland and Los Angeles.

Kim Kashkashian's quest for new directions and forms which she obtains through intense and continuous work with composers is an active part of her musical life. As a result of these relationships with such composers as Gubaidulina, Penderecki, Kancheli, Kurtág, Mansurjan, Pärt and Eötvös, she has extensively enlarged the repertoire for the viola. Her commitment to chamber music, which began during years of participation at the Marlboro Music Festival where she was strongly influenced by her work with Felix Galimir, continues through appearances at the Salzburg Marlboro, Lockenhaus and Stavanger Festivals. Current ongoing partnerships include duos with pianist Robert Levin, percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky, and harpsichordist Robert Hill.

A frequent Guest Artist with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Chamber Music at the "Y" series and Music from Marlboro, Kashkashian has performed with the Tokyo, Guarneri, and Galimir Quartets and toured with a unique quartet which included violinists Gidon Kremer and Daniel Phillips and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Recordings by Kim Kashkashian give an index of the range of her activities. After earlier recordings of Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante and Divertimento KV 563 with DGG and Sony, her extensive discography with ECM comprises many works including the complete Sonatas from Hindemith, the Shostakovich Sonata op. 147 (Robert Levin, piano), the solo concerti from Britten, Penderecki, Kancheli and Schnittke as well as works by Linda Bouchard and Paul Chihara for viola and percussion (Robyn Schulkowsky), the Bach Sonatas for viola da gamba and cembalo (Keith Jarrett), music from Eleni Karaindrou for the film "Ulysses' Gaze" by Theo Angelopoulos, and a chamber music CD with works of Kurtág and Schumann together with Eduard Brunner, clarinet and Robert Levin, piano. Kashkashian's recording, with Robert Levin, of the Brahms Sonatas won the Edison Prize in 1999. Her most recent recording of concertos by Bartók, Eötvös and Kurtág was released in June 2000, and won the 2001 Cannes Classical Award for a premiere recording by Soloist with Orchestra.

Kashkashian's extensive teaching activities have included professorships at the University of Indiana in Bloomington and at Conservatories in Freiburg and Berlin, Germany. In September 2000, she began teaching viola and chamber music at the New England Conservatory in Boston.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, of Armenian descent, Kashkashian graduated from the Peabody Conservatory of Music where she studied with Walter Trampler and Karen Tuttle.

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Dennis Russell Davies was born in Toledo, Ohio. He has lived in Germany since 1980 yet remained an active presence on the North American music scene as guest conductor with the major orchestras and operas of New York and Chicago. Currently Davies is Chief Conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Chief Conductor of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra and Professor of Orchestral Conducting at the Salzburg Mozarteum. He recently concluded his tenure as Music Director of the American Composers' Orchestra.

Davies is recognised as one of the most innovative and adventurous conductors in the classical musical world. He has worked closely with many contemporary composers including Luciano Berio, William Bolcom, Giya Kancheli, John Cage, Lou Harrison, Hans Werner Henze, Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass and others. He has also appeared on 14 ECM recordings to date including five albums with Kim Kashkashian as soloist. His recording, with the American Composers Orchestra of John Cage's "The Seasons" won the "Best Contemporary Music Prize" at the Japanese Record Academy Awards 2000.

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Robin Schulkowsky was born in Eureka, South Dakota, and completed her studies at the University of Iowa. In the mid-1970s, she was percussionist with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and the Santa Fe Orchestra and directed a class in percussion at the University of New Mexico. The percussionist has been sought out as an interpreter by major composers including Iannis Xenakis, Heinz Holliger, John Cage, Christian Wolff, Morton Feldman, Mauricio Kagel and Karlheinz Stockhausen, all of whom have valued her personal and imaginative approach to the score. In addition to her work in new music she also plays free improvised music and has collaborated frequently with the idiom's grey eminence, Derek Bailey. She recorded a (mostly) solo album "Hastening Westward" for ECM in 1995. In the same year she also received the Christoph and Stephan Kaske Award for her innovations in drumming.

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