Knowledge Exchange Violin – Part 4 SPRING 2024

Posted on March 5th, 2024 by


Zagreb March 5th 2024

5th March 2024. Conversation with Antonija Dejanovic. documentation specialist and curator at Museum of arts and crafts, Zagreb

So it’s time for the next stage in my Research England supported ‘Knowledge Exchange Violin’ project. I am in Zagreb at the beginning of a week of workshops, masterclasses, conversations, concerts and collaborations in this wonderful city.

What is Knowledge Exchange Violin?! It’s a very good question, and best answered  by links to the two previous posts about stages one and two of the project, in 2022.

Stage One: https://www.peter-sheppard-skaerved.com/2022/06/knowledge-exchange-violin-2022/

Stage Two: https://www.peter-sheppard-skaerved.com/2023/01/knowledge-exchange-violin-2023

Stage Three: https://www.peter-sheppard-skaerved.com/2023/08/knowledge-exchange-violin-part-3-autumn-2023/

It has been a big day for Knowledge Exchange Violin, both here in Croatia and online. Today the Library of Congress released two of the films that I have made with them, exploring two violins from the collection, with composer Michael Alec Rose, who has been and is so central to this project.

These week, I am in Zagreb, with my wife and collaborator Malene Sheppard Skaerved, based at the wonderful Zagreb Academy of Music. Today was only day one this residency, but was full of inspiration, ideas and diversity. We are quite literally situated in the Academy, as we have been given the use of a lovely apartment on the roof of the building, right next to the National Theatre/Opera House, and looking north to the old city, crowned by the 13th Century Church of St Mark and the cathedral to the North East. This was the view from my desk at 8 am this morning.

The view from our apartment on the roof of the Music Academy Roof. 5 3 24.

Zagreb is a city with a lot of personal history for me, a place where so much exploration and discovery has happened in the past. I first visited the city in 1999, to give concerts with Jorg Widmann and Jan Philip Schulze at the Zagreb Biennale. A few years later, I was back for a more rooted project in the city and its musical community, one which would resonate both my work, and of a number of other musicians. Indeed it is the very reason that I am here.

That project was a collaboration with the acclaimed Zagreb Soloists string orchestra, and composer Nigel Clarke. This resulted in an important piece, for both the composer and me, his ‘Miraculous Violin’, for violin and 13 strings. Here it is.

The leader of the Soloists at the time was the violinist Andelko Krpan, and sitNovi Zagrebting next to him was the violinist Laura Vadjon. Andelko is now the Dean of the Music Academy here, and Laura, reigning queen of Balkan baroque violinists. They are both evermore questing, idealist musicians, and our conversations and collaborations as to the future of our shared art, about repertoire, now include the students we work with, the next generations of artists.

But today we began the week of exploration in the ‘backstage’ of a museum, the Museum of Arts and Crafts, or MUO. As many of you will know, museums and collections are central to my work, and especially to this project, which includes shared projects with the Ashmolean Museum, the Minneapolis institute of Arts, the Library of Congress, the Metropolitan Museum and coming up soon the Paganini violins in the care of the City of Genova. The Museum of Arts and Crafts’ home is a beautiful 19th century building a few yards from where I am writing this, on Trg Rep. Hrvatske. However, like many of the buildings in the city, this building was badly damaged in the earthquake which hit the city on in March 2020. One of the most striking aspects of returning to the capital after a long gap was seeing the reconstruction and restoration which is underway, especially of the Cathedral, which lost both of its spires as a result of the quake and its aftershocks.

So the collection of the museum, is now housed in the large Museum of Contemporary Art/Muzej suvremene umjetnosti, which is situated in the Novi Zagreb area of the city. Arriving at the museum, we were led into the restoration rooms of the Arts and Crafts Museum, in the

basement of the ‘MSU’.

It immediately became clear to Malene and I, that there was a necessary counterpoint  between the themes and ideas behind the restoration of art objects, and the rebuilding, the rebirth of the the City. This clearly, will be a theme of the films which we would like to make here, on our return later in the year.

But initially, the reason for our visit to the museum was to see a violin is which is housed here. This instrument is labelled in the collection as a ‘pochette’. As so often the case with ‘non-standard’ size of design of instruments, the monikers applied to them (especially, in my experience, ‘Piccolo violin’) are inaccurate, and often as proved to be the case here, misleading. I might say that one of the themes of this project has turned out to be ‘what is a violin?’ or ‘violin shaped objects’!

Anyway as I talked with Antonija Dejanovic. documentation specialist and curator at the museum, I had this wonderful object in my hand, and began to ease it towards being playable, and working out, what to do with it, and maybe, what it is.

Multiple conversations were running at the same time: whilst I talked with Antonija, Malene was deep in discussion with two restorers working on baroque paintings on the other side of the room  – Jaminka Podgorski and Ksenija Pinta. They were digging into the questions around the aesthetics and ethics of removing overpainting and varnish, and in two cases ‘pentimenti’: We have been thinking more about your Dido and Aeneas picture: This pentimento is so fascinating, as the ‘repenting’ in question, either  was by the the artist or perhaps the commissioner of the paintino. Of course Dido’s sister goes by A number of names: For musicians, the name ‘Belinda’ was first used for Dido’s sister in the 17th century opera by Purcell – but in Ovid (where she appears in both ‘Metamorphoses’ and ‘Fasti’ she is ‘Anna Perrenna’, who escapes from their brother (Pygmalion), and then is later shipwrecked on the shores of Lavinium, named for Aeneas’ wife, ‘Lavinia’, who, understandably grows irate at her husband’s ex-lover’s sister, forcing her to flee, and be turned into a water-nymph. Without her, and with ‘rosy-fingered dawn appearing between the lovers, the picture is the end of a long night of lovemaking.

With the figure, it is the tragic

Working with young musicians at the the Zagreb Music Academy 5 3 24

eparture of Aeneas, leading directly to the Queen’s suicide, a tragic picture. (all in Aeneid Book IV). Of course, there is another partner in the story, Dido’s husband, Acerbas (or Sychaeus), priest of Hercules and a man of immense wealth, murdered by Pygmalion, in some ways, Dido’s death is punishment for that murder. Rubens depicts the suicide alongside Acerbas’ body.

Later in the week, the Museum posted this on their social media page:

This week, distinguished professor and versatile artist Peter Sheppard Skaerved has spent a pleasant time with the curators and restorers of the Museum of Art and Crafts.
During viewing selected music (violin and harp) from the Museum’s Musical Instruments Collection, prof. Sheppard enthusiastically transmitted elements of his encyclopedic knowledge to expert museum staff. We look forward to seeing you again!

 

After this inspiring meeting, we returned to the music academy for an inspiring afternoon of masterclasses. There were three fascinating chamber groups working with me, playing Shostakovich Quartets (3 and 8) and Martinu’s wonderful sonata for Violin, Flute and Piano.

This last was particularly fascinating for me; it was a piece which I last explored as a student violinist, and actually, I played it in my first every concert in Denmark, when I was 22, at the Musikforeningen  in the old Music Academy Building, with the flutist Janne Thomsen and pianist Ulrik Stærk. Little did I know then that this was the beginning of a journey where Denmark would be such a big part of my life!

Working with a young composer. Zagreb 5 3 24

At the end of the masterclasses, I led a session exploring writing for the violin today, with both composers and players from the Academy. The conversation was grounded in a new work written for me by a young composer here, and we reached out to questions of technique and aesthetics across all musical periods. The past so often revitalises the present! This session would provide the underpinning for the concert

on the following day, which bounced back and forth from present to past, by way of chaconnes and passacaglias from the 17th, 18th, 20th and 21st Centuries!

Wednesday 7th February – Zagreb day two

Today was a truly fascinating one. The morning was given over to masterclasses, mostly with violinists. The repertoire was Mozart and Beethoven concerti and Paganini Caprices. Even after a lifetime exploring and thinking about these pieces, I am still struck by how fascinating they are, and how much there is to explore: with Mozart, today, the focus was on characterisation and harmonic preparation. I find that younger artists are often

surprised at the technical depth that I expect to explore, how much drama and story is revealed by extremely detailed engagement with the music. The violinist playing Paganini is very naturally gifted, so the inevitable question emerges – how to avoid simply leaning into what we find easy and ensure that we confront the real challenge of this music, and not just what we find convenient? I realised today that I have rarely taught the Beethoven concerto, so I was grateful for this chance to return to this piece that has been such a vital part of my evolution as an artist. In some ways, this is a piece that confronts today’s short-breathed, ‘immersive’ obsessions. It’s scale demands time and consideration, but it refuses to overwhelm, to seduce the listener or player. It is up to travel alongside it. to keep abreast of its melos and argument, but it certainly does not need us. Beethoven came up again in conversation at the end of the day, after my concert. Malene and I spent a lovely evening over supper with our old friends, violinists

 

Today was a truly fascinating one. The morning was given over to masterclasses, mostly with violinists. The repertoire was Mozart and Beethoven concerti and Paganini Caprices. Even after a lifetime exploring and thinking about these pieces, I am still struck by how fascinating they are, and how much there is to explore: with Mozart, today, the focus was on characterisation and harmonic preparation. I find that younger artists are often

Malene Skaerved in conversation with violinist Andelko Krpan. Zagren 6 3 24

surprised at the technical depth that I expect to explore, how much drama and story is revealed by extremely detailed engagement with the music. The violinist playing Paganini is very naturally gifted, so the inevitable question emerges – how to avoid simply leaning into what we find easy and ensure that we confront the real challenge of this music, and not just what we find convenient? I realised today that I have rarely taught the Beethoven concerto, so I was grateful for this chance to return to this piece that has been such a vital part of my evolution as an artist. In some ways, this is a piece that confronts today’s short-breathed, ‘immersive’ obsessions. It’s scale demands time and consideration, but it refuses to overwhelm, to seduce the listener or player. It is up to travel alongside it. to keep abreast of its melos and argument, but it certainly does not need us. Beethoven came up again in conversation at the end of the day, after my concert. Malene and I spent a lovely evening over supper with our old friends, violinists Ivan Novinc and Andelko Krpan; talking about Beethoven, a consensus emerged – that the access to education that he had as a teenager in Bonn, and to the advanced lectures in philosophy that he was able to audit at the university there gave him a leg up for the future, fitted him for the complex ideas that his music would increasing explore from 1815 until his death.

In the afternoon, Malene and I went up to the upper, old town to find coffee, and to search for our stories, the tales that we find welling up from the stones and earth of the places that we love. One of the most important things about travel, is to sit and do nothing, to just be somewhere, find a table, a coffee, and let the buildings, the atmosphere, the layered history come us. So that’s what we did: we found a lovely table on Ul. Pavla Radica, with a friendly waiter, under the shadow of the city walls, and a cute puppy doing the rounds. Spring is on the way, and the embankments of this medieval redoubt are covered with Violets and Speedwell flowers. And that’s all we needed, before I pushed back into the second half of the day.

The evening was in two halves. First of all, I worked with the contemporary music group on a lovely project which they had made around the

Working on the Zagreb Academy ‘Folksongs’ project. 6 3 24

idea of ‘modern folksongs’. At the centre of this endeavour is Luciano Berio’s ‘Folksongs’ (1964), originally written for his then wife, Cathy Beberian. Fascinatingly, Berio’s response to working with folksongs mirrors that of Haydn, and Beethoven, when they were commissioned by Robert Burns’ publisher, G S Thomson, to make arrangements of British and European folksongs. Berio noted:

“When I work with that music I am always caught by the thrill of discovery.”

For me, working with the past, and with the vernacular, ignites that thrill of discovery: it is one of the themes of ‘Knowledge Exchange Violin’. The college had asked a group of student composers to arrange folksongs, like Berio’s, drawn from a variety of sources. One of the arrangement sets worked with the Beethoven/Thomson arrangements on which I have spent such a lot of energy in the past, and another, of Croatian folk songs was made by Ivan Makar, who has written a lovely piece for solo violin which I will premiere on my next visit this spring.

Then it was time for the concert. I put together a programme which explored various communications: the communication that I enjoy with composers, alive and dead, the communication between past and present, between composers and other composers, between, composers and their inspirations. I wrote in the programme:

‘Michael Hersch responds to the writing of Bruno Schulz. Heinrich Biber invites us to walk a Passacaglia with our Guardian Angel. Mihailo Trandafilovski, picks up the walking theme with a timbral chaconne. Telemann revels in the countryside; this is his most pastoral Fantasie. The young composer Thomas McDonnell studies at London’s Purcell School – his new work has been developed in workshops with Peter and the composer Robert Saxton. The Klagenfurt Manuscript is the greatest single collection of 17th century solo violin music; nearly all of it anonymous, and most likely written by a nun in present-day Slovenia. David Matthews returns to the wintery theme – a frozen fantasia. Michel Woldemar was an ‘outsider’ musician in revolutionary France – his ‘Dream’ is a variation on Gluck. And the late Dmitri Smirnov is inspired by an intriguing melody by Leonardo da Vinci.’

After the concert there was a burst of excited conversation with students and staff from the Academy. As well as being excited by the

Talking to staff, students and audience after the concert. 6 3 24. The Head of Strings of the Zagreb Academy, Ivan Novinc, is on the left 6 3 24

programme they wanted to meet the very early Brescian violin (16th century) on which I played the suite from the ‘Klagenfurt Manuscript’ (1685).

But most inspiringly, the students were most interested, and moved by the piece by the very young composer from my Purcel School composer’s project, Tom McDonnell ‘…autour les sonorités..’.

‘Can we see it – we would like to play it’

Absolutely nothing inspires me more, than that. I brought music by an emerging composer from a wonderful British music school, to the freshest, most lively european music academy, and violinists here immediately recognised music that they wanted to be a part of! What could be a better outcome. Today, I will send them the music and put composer and performers in touch: my job, as ever, is to make the links and then to be unnecessary! Such a wonderful thing to a small part of.

Friday March 8th Zagreb

The last two days have been completely filled with music and collaborators. By the time I got to this evening, I had give 27 sessions, on solo and chamber music by JS Bach, CPE Bach, Quantz, Mozart, Beethoven, Sibelius, Prokofiev, Ernst, Shostakovich, Berio, Haydn and young

Teaching Bach. Zagreb 7 3 24

composers’ work.  If there was a dominant composer, it has to have been Bach-the young musicians brought me material from three of three Sonatas and Partitas, which, of course, are central to every violinist’s life and work.

What are the questions which dominate conversations with young musicians today, here in the Balkans. Well, we focused on a specific handful.

  1. What is music about? Or more to the point, what is the specific moment, or a particular piece, about?
  2. What should be the relationship between the concerns and milieux of the composers whose music we play and our explorations of it now?
  3. What level of technical investigation/preparation should we aspire to in order to be most faithful to the works we play and to our audience.
  4. Are we shackled by the traditions of old and more recent pedagogies? If so, how do we cast them off.

One moment in a masterclass/coaching summed this up. I spent Friday morning working on two works by composers most associated with

Working on Quantz with musicians in Zagreb 8 3 24

the court of Frederick the Great, C P E Bach and Johann Joachim Quantz. Not surprisingly, given these composers’ concerns, the conversation turned to the emotional content of music, to  Empfindungskeit – which one might translate as the idealistion of extreme emotional sensitivity. As the second group shaped the peroration of the Adagio of the Quantz trio sonata, a palpable shiver, a chill, flashed through everyone in the room. The past it seemed, momentarily touched the present, or the present touched the past. The thing that we had been talking about, happened.

All around us, in the city, the question of how we correspond with, countertpoint, revitalise, renew, respect and rebel against the past is being asked every day. The variegated responses and rebuildings following the earthquakes of 2020 offer answers and in some cases more questions, at every step the streets of this warm and intelligent city. In our brief break between masterclasses and workshops, we found our way to the beautiful streets around the cathedral, which stands in the area on the eastern slopes of the Old Town – the Kaptol, where King Ladislaus founded the Zagreb dioceses in 1094. When the earthquake hit, one of the 800 year-old Cathedral’s two west end spires collapsed onto the adjacent medieval bishop’s palace. This was ironic, because these spires were erected after an 1880 earthquake flattened a single 17th century

Reconstructed spire segment, waiting to be hoisted up to its place. Zagreb Cathedral, 8 3 24

watchtower, built to look out for Ottoman invaders, which had served as the cathedral bell tower. The modern stone yard which had been spread out in front of the still-closed building, when I visited last year, is largely cleared now, but a few pieces, segments to be inserted into the top of the spires, still sit there. They visibly tell a similar story to the one of restoration, renewal and replacement which we have been exploring.