Carolin Widmann’s widely acclaimed ECM New Series recordings have traversed a broad arc of music – from Schubert to Xenakis. Her award-winning album of contemporary music “Phantasy of Spring”, released in 2009, opened with Morton’s Feldman’s “Spring of Chosroes”; now she returns to Feldman with one of the US composer’s pivotal compositions, Violin and Orchestra, written in 1979. With its almost painterly attention to detail and to texture, this slowly unfolding single-movement work marked a new direction in Feldman’s music. It is not a concerto in the strict sense of the term, not soloist with orchestral support. The violinist must move inside the glowing colour-field of sound. In this exceptional Feldman recording, Widmann does so with great delicacy and feeling, exploring the subtle orchestral texture, crafted together with conductor Emilio Pomàrico and the players of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra.
“In the noisiest century in history,” critic Alex Ross has noted, “Morton Feldman chose to be glacially slow and snowily soft. [In his music] chords arrive one after another, in seemingly haphazard sequence, interspersed with silences. Harmonies hover in a no man’s land between consonance and dissonance, paradise and oblivion.” Violin and Orchestra calls for the largest instrumentation Feldman specified – including quadruple and triple winds and brass, four percussionists, two harps, two pianos and a corresponding body of strings. Yet the work is quiet, dreamlike.
“Feldman is a great favourite of mine,” says Carolin Widmann. “His music has in my opinion not only contemporary but everlasting relevance for its unique language and the ways in which it seems to suspend time, to freeze it. Sometimes when I listen to Feldman I’m unsure if a few minutes or half an eternity has passed. As one enters into its spatial dimension you stop thinking about where this music has come from and where it is headed and you become part of it. And that opens up philosophical questions. How does this music change us, as listeners?”
“As a player, you have to immerse yourself in the Feldman cosmos. In Violin and Orchestra, the violin is first among equals. What Feldman brings out of the instrument in terms of sound and colour is very beautiful. But it’s by no means a piece for demonstrating instrumental capacity. This concept is completely abolished (in my view it could usefully be challenged in much classical and Romantic repertoire, too). To play Feldman, you have to take a back seat and make sure that all expression is solely in the service of the music. That’s also a kind of spiritual exercise, and one that obliges the violinist to question the parameters of personal style, peeling away all superfluous gesture.”
Violin and Orchestra was premiered by Paul Zukofsky and the Hessian Radio Orchestra with Cristóbal Halfter conducting, in Frankfurt in 1984. The present recording, with Carolin Widmann and the Frankfurter Radio Orchestra, was aided by the support of the Festival d’Automne à Paris, who also presented the work in the autumn of 2009.
A native of Munich, Carolin Widmann studied with Igor Ozim in Cologne, Michèle Auclair in Boston and David Takeno in London. She regularly appears as a guest artist at such festivals as Lucerne, Schleswig-Holstein and Salzburg; she has also performed at the Enescu Festival in Bucharest, at the Festival D'Automne in Paris and at the chamber music festivals in Lockenhaus, Heimbach and Jerusalem.
As a soloist Carolin Widmann has appeared with the Gewandhaus-Orchester Leipzig, Orchestre National de France, the L'Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, the Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich, RSO Vienna, the BBC Symphony Orchestra London, London Philharmonic Orchestra and the China Philharmonic in Beijing, collaborating with conductors Riccardo Chailly, Sir Roger Norrington, Silvain Cambreling, Vladimir Jurowski, Emanuel Krivine, Peter Eötvös and Heinz Holliger.
Carolin Widmann is the recipient of a number of awards including, most recently the Artist of the Year Prize of the International Classical Music Awards, which was presented to her in Milan in March 2013. As the jury noted, “Her sensitivity and intelligence as an interpreter enable her to express the deepest emotions in the romantic sonatas by Schumann or Schubert, while at the same time feeding her curiosity for contemporary music and the exploration of experimental sonorities.”
Beyond her work as a soloist, Carolin Widmann has been a professor for violin at the Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy conservatory in Leipzig since 2006 and holds the artistic direction of Germany’s oldest chamber music festival, the Sommerliche Musiktage Hitzacker.
She plays a G.B. Guadagnini violin from 1782.
Carolin Widmann’s ECM recordings include Erkki Sven Tüür Strata (with Jörg Widmann, clarinet and the Nordic Symphony conducted by Anu Tali), Robert Schumann The Violin Sonatas (with Dénes Várjon, piano), Phantasy of Spring (music of Feldmann, Zimmermann, Schoenberg and Xenakis, with Simon Lepper, piano), Franz Schubert Fantasie C-Dur / Rondo h-moll / Sonate A-Dur (with Alexander Lonquich, piano).