THE SILVER VIOLIN CONCERTO
A New Violin Concerto Inspired by Classical North Indian Hindustani Music
To be Composed by Award-Winning American Composer Sheila Silver
And Premiered by Canadian Violinist Emmanuel Vukovich
“Only a few composers in any generation enliven the art form
with their musical language and herald new directions in music.
Sheila Silver is such a visionary.”
- Wetterauer Zeitung, Germany
Celebrated American composer Sheila Silver has expressed interest in composing a Hindustani-inspired classical Western violin concerto for Canadian violinist Emmanuel Vukovich. This project has applied for funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, and is in the process of identifying a consortium of orchestras both in Canada and the US to perform and record the work.
American composer Sheila Silver is the recipient of several prestigious awards including the 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship, the Sackler Prize in Opera; a Bunting Institute Fellowship; and the Rome Prize. This spring, Silver will be the Resident Composer at the American Academy in Rome, where her music will be featured in an orchestral concert celebrating the Academy's 125th Anniversary. Later this year SongFest in Los Angeles will devote an entire evening to her music including a performance of the complete Beauty Intolerable, A Songbook based on the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and a new work being composed for the occasion. Albany Records will also release a 2-disc set of Silver’s vocal music with several singers including Dawn Upshaw, Stephanie Blythe, and pianist Gilbert Kalish.
An important and vital voice in American music today, Silver has written in a wide range of mediums, from solo instrumental to large orchestral works, and from opera to feature film scores. Her musical language is a unique synthesis of tonal and atonal worlds, coupled with a rhythmic complexity which is both masterful and compelling. Audiences and critics praise her music as powerful and emotionally charged, accessible, and masterfully conceived:“Silver speaks a musical language of her own, one rich in sonority, lyrical intensity and poetic feeling” - Chicago Tribune.
A Thousand Splendid Suns
Silver recently completed an opera based on Khaled Hosseini’s international bestselling novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, which has been commissioned by the Seattle Opera and will be premiered in Seattle’s McCaw Hall in October 2022. In order to develop a musical vocabulary with which to evoke the color of Afghanistan where the narrative of her opera takes place, Silver has made several trips to India to study with Pandit Kedar Narayan Bodas, a leading singer and teacher of Hindustani music in India. This is Western music, but Silver's use of raga, bandish, and Hindustani taals (rhythmic cycles) informs her musical choices.
The Hindustani sound world has also filtered into other recent compositions by Silver such as her Nocturne, Based on Raga Jog, premiered by Gilbert Kalish at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in 2015 and Being in Life, Concerto for Alphorn, French horn, 5 Tibetan singing bowls, and string orchestra. This piece, commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation for Seattle’s Philharmonia Northwest, Julia Tai, conductor, and Ann Ellsworth, horns, was premiered in October, 2019, and will receive its European premier on April 18, 2020 in Rome with the Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the American Academy in Rome. For a full biography and more examples of Ms Silver work please visit her website: https://www.sheilasilver.com
A New Musical Language
Silver is interested in working further with the Hindustani sound world she developed in A Thousand Splendid Suns. According to Silver, the violin is one of the few Western instruments that can easily approach many of the sounds native to Hindustani music. On working with Vukovich, she comments, “Emmanuel’s playing is so vital, passionate, and lyrical, and he is open to experimentation.”
“The opportunity to collaborate with a celebrated composer on a new violin concerto, and to be given the privilege to premiere this work is a distinct honor,” says Vukovich, “I’m thrilled to be working with Sheila and to be able to create this opportunity to celebrate and share our common humanity through different cultures.” Vukovich will also record Silver’s piano trio, To The Spirit Unconquered, with The Parcival Trio and renowned recording engineer Martha de Francisco at McGill University in June.
According to Silver, every music lesson with Pandit Bodas begins with chanting OM and every raga is first explained through its spiritual intention and the melodies upon which improvisation in Hindustani music is constructed, like in jazz, are all very specific prayer melodies. One does not study music in India without studying its spiritual origin. Music, as a non-verbal form of communication, reaches very deep. This work will speak to people who are interested in music created from a spiritual perspective. While this project is intended for general audiences of orchestras in concert venues around the world, the fact that it reaches into non-Western traditions, will interest a general public both in the West and perhaps also draw people of non-Western traditions who may like to see how their own culture is influencing Western culture. Ultimately, it is an opportunity to celebrate and share our common humanity through our different cultures.
The creation of a new work of art, like the birth of an individual, is a process with a long and at first invisible gestation period, and a future that is ultimately impossible to predict. The central aim of this project is the creation of a musical work which will speak to audiences across cultural barriers, geographical distances, and through time.
A New Violin Concerto
The opportunity to collaborate with a celebrated and established composer on a new violin concerto and to be given the privilege to premier this work is an honour that few violinists are given. This is a rare privilege for Vukovich to work with Silver on this new ground-breaking work and to explore her musical language. For Vukovich, this form of exploration first began almost twenty years ago with the discovery of Yehudi Menuhin and Ravi Shankar's legendary recordings : West meets East. Vukovich was first introduced to, and inspired by these recordings through his mentor John McDowell who transcribed some of these works for Emmanuel to play - including Swara Kakali.
Vukovich has been deeply inspired by Menuhin’s artistic legacy and personal journey including the practice of yoga and meditation. In one of his latest recordings of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, Menuhin introduces distinctly Indian melodic and harmonic material in the cadenza of the 3rd movement. This gesture of crossing musical and cultural boundaries within a work is the aim of this new violin concerto by Sheila Silver and will be of the greatest significance, not only for Vukovich’s artistic development and career, but more importantly, to inspire violinists and audiences around the world and into the future.