Photo credit: J. Henry Fair
As part of this year’s Golandsky Institute’s Summer Symposium and International Piano Festival at Princeton, violinist/violist Miranda Cuckson appeared on stage with pianist Yegor shevtsov at the lecture of eminent composer, princeton’s own Steven Mackey, and the evening’s concert performance.
Although the method is in its origins is designed to cater to pianists, the Symposium has recently succeeded in its efforts to expand the use of the principles of the Taubman Approach,to other instruments. Thanks to the active engagement of faculty member, British violinist Sophie Till, in cooperation with the Institute’s co-founder and artistic director Edna Golandsky, the approach has been innovatively implemented for violinists.
While the festival focuses predominantly on traditional classical performance and repertoire, Edna Golandsky presents a strong Jazz section, featuring this year’s performers from the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, under the artistic direction of Danilo Perez, as well as some new music from contemporary composers; Golandsky, an open-minded musician, stands behind the inclusiveness of her programming choices. The main emphasis is on excellence in performance, no matter the musical genre. Miranda Cuckson’s participation combines all of these qualities, in a particularly remarkable way. Her ability to perform the traditional repertoire on violin is quite convincing, and with great splendor, Cuckson manages to connect to the audience effortlessly with her virtuosic presentation of the Sonata for Violin and Piano written by Steven Mackey in 1996.
The personable Steven Mackey introduced his work prior to its performance at the Golandsky Institute’s presentation; the lecture was a wonderful opportunity to experience a personal encounter with the Grammy-award-winning composer and current chair of the Princeton Music Department. Mackey, assisted by Cuckson and Shevtsov, referred to the differences between a classically trained performer’s approach to the written score and its performance, and the emotional response of a musician used to improvisation, like a musician with a background in Rock, such as himself.
Shevtsov, who was committed to providing a sensitive and elegant pianistic accompaniment for Cuckson, did not intuitively catch on to Mackey’s musical concept at first, as far as some of the quirkier parts of the music were concerned, but ultimately came around in a big way. Coming from traditional, score-oriented music, the excellent and versatile pianist was confronted with a musical line, but lack of melody in Mackey’s music. His meter was almost “too good, too accurate,” to allow for the mellowing of tempi and pitch conceived in Sibelius, the computer generated composition software, to translate into the composition’s performance, according to Mackey. Mackey’s jovial attitude reflected on advice by his own theory teacher, who had told him, when wrestling with perfection: “You need to go have a drink.” After their first run-through of the piece, Shevtsov had no difficulties then to absorb the material, and make it his own, as he himself showed great flexibility and rythmic sensitivity in performance.
The composer’s presence seemed invaluable to the conception of the piece, which after all, he sees as an individually conceived conglomerate of musical styles, tweaked into his own highly personalized musical ideas through a long process of composition according to structural principles. Also noteworthy is Mackey’s understanding of his role as a facilitator across the divide of two worlds of music, one traditionally bound by its score, a world he first entered at the age of 19 when he, an improvising musician playing in rock bands, became fascinated by classical music.
For Cuckson, who grew up with a passion for music in the home of a pianist and a composer/pianist, the dialectic between traditional and contemporary vocabulary never seemed to have impacted her broad musical spectrum; she feels equally comfortable in both worlds. “I was always aware of music that’s created at the time, but especially during my Graduate studies at Juilliard; my teacher Robert Mann’s passion for new music that he championed with the Juilliard Quartet had a great impact on my interests,” says the young artist.
Cuckson busily performed with several different chamber groups, one of them ACME, which prominently features a special interest in contemporary American Music. “There were so many opportunities developing at the time, a boom of new Ensembles that lately have been invited by bigger institutions, making it viable to have a life in music and still making a living. People also gradually lose the ‘angst’ of new music…there are so many ways to write music, which are worth exploring.” Photo: Cuckson, Mackey and Shevtsov
There seems to be an air of natural assurance around her, which helps her to convey the message of any music she tackles, taking the material to virtuosic heights. Cuckson sees her continuous role in music as an influential force: as a performer, both as a soloist and chamber musician on viola and violin, as a facilitator, commissioning new works, and as a teacher. She already gives back to the younger generation in her position on the Mannes College faculty.
During the evening’s performance at the Princeton McCarter Berlind Theater, Cuckson, situated in front of the grand piano, just slightly away from the keyboard to ensure her a close rapport with Shevtsov, connected firmly with the audience with her stage presence. In rehearsal, she remarked on the negative result of the stage light’s excessively blinding effect: “I like to be able to see at least part of the audience!” This artist-audience communication is tangible in her playing, which is thoroughly alive.
Cuckson is already involved in the production of two CDs set to be released on the new Urlicht Audio Visual label. The first one, Melting the Darkness, is a compilation of works by living composers for solo violin and electronics. Cuckson plays works using microtones, which she feels are especially expressive, technically challenging, and refining for the ear. The electronic music involves various software programs and different approaches. Featured composers on this album are Iannis Xenakis, Georg Friedrich Haas, Oscar Bianchi, Christopher Burns, Alexander Sigman, Ileana Perez-Velazquez, and Robert Rowe, almost all of whom Cuckson has worked with over the last two years.
The second compilation is an American Composer-themed disc with pianist Blair McMillen featuring both “Roger Sessions: Sonata for Solo Violin,” his first serial piece from the 1950s, and Elliot Carter’s “Duo,” a large work written in the 1970s; the CD also features Jason Eckardt’s “Strömkarl,” which was commissioned for this recording and premiered live in May 2013. All of these selections are a welcomed opportunity for Cuckson to display her mastery of the works’ intricate organization and musical complexity.