Violinist Simone Porter Finds a Connection in Upcoming Sarasota Orchestra Concert
Susan L. Rife
Not everyone would see connections between Henry James’ 1881 novel “Portrait of a Lady” and Samuel Barber’s 1939 Violin Concerto, Op. 14.
Simone Porter does.
The violinist, who will be partnering with the Sarasota Orchestra under Thomas Wilkins for upcoming Masterworks concerts at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, notes in a blog post of her 10 Most Notable Books of 2018 that “Portrait of a Lady” “echoed and reanimated my approach to Barber’s Violin Concerto…I found in his descriptions of Isabel’s curiosity and musings an explicit sensibility that deepened my understanding of inquiry and passion open to Barber’s heart.”
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The Barber concerto in question is one of the American composer’s best-known works, and offers in its three movements a decided change of character from the Allegro and Andante – with their lyrical, almost singing quality – at the Presto, which displays the full virtuosity of the violin and the violinist.
“When I read ‘Portrait de femme’, it was a eureka! moment,” Porter said in a recent phone interview from “snowy, icy” Erie, Pennsylvania.
“Henry James’ description of Isabel sounded like a barber’s concerto to me. There’s something about his characterization – it was like a moment of synesthesia,” Porter said. “There’s a kind of innocence that she has at the beginning of the book, this intense desire for experience. Reading about it in ‘Portrait’ just started to sound like Barber to me. It has the same kind of color scheme for me. As she saw the book, one life-altering mistake reminded me of the much wiser, calmer, and more plaintive second movement. And the third movement reminded me of the energy and activity of his spirit. I felt like they were soul mates emotionally.
Porter, who is from Seattle and studied at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles, first played the Barber Concerto when he was 17.
“It became very dear to me and something I knew very well,” said Porter, who is now 25. “My first outings with him were high-pressure events. I made my debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl! Playing him is special because he’s been with me at so many crucial and important times, so there coming back is always really great.The piece lends itself to interpretations of personal journeys.
Its unusual structure is “asymmetrical”, Porter said, and resulted from Barber’s apparent resentment at criticism he received after writing the first two movements as a commission for Iso Briselli, a violin prodigy at the Curtis Institute. of Music. When Briselli’s violin teacher dismissed both movements as too simplistic, Barber wrote the third movement in a radically different style which Briselli dismissed as too difficult to learn quickly.
Porter described it as “a beautiful, beautiful concerto. The second movement has a rich, ambrosial texture. And then we have this explosion of a sassy, frenetic third movement.
The concerto will share the poster of a program of all the American composers with the Toccata for orchestra of Jim Beckel and the Symphony n° 9 (“New World Symphony”) of Dvorak. Guest Conductor Wilkins is the Music Director of the Omaha Symphony.
Masterpieces: New World. Sarasota Orchestra. 8 p.m. Friday, March 11 and Saturday, March 12, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 13, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets $35-$98. Classic Conversation with Thomas Wilkins, 10:30 a.m. Thursday, March 10, Holley Hall, Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center, 709 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets $11 in advance, $16 at the door. 941-953-3434; sarasotaorchestra.org.