Soloist Spotlight: Sarah Haines + Gizem Yücel

It's not every concert series where one finds not just one viola soloist but two. Sarah Haines performs the world premiere of Michael Boyman's Concerto for Viola and Orchestra Friday, March 10, and on Saturday, March 11, Gizem Yücel solos on two tangos by Astor Piazzolla, a brand new arrangement of Adiós Nonino by Antonio Truyols followed by Le Grand Tango.

The viola is often an overlooked instrument of the orchestra. Though many composers counted the viola as one of their main instruments, it has one of the most limited solo repertoire. The viola is almost always an inner voice - a color or texture inside the fabric of a harmony. So what would drive a person to choose the viola, an instrument structurally embedded within the string section and rarely chosen for melodic stardom?

This concert series is a special event not just by the sheer notion of two featured viola soloists but two viola soloists on two brand new works, the new arrangement of the Piazzolla and the Boyman, both breathing new life into the viola repertoire.

***

Sarah Haines is an active violist and almost none of what she performs is would be considered "classical." Though classically trained, she finds herself more often than not on stages outside of the symphony hall with bands like Bellehouse, a folk rock group where Sarah is a founding member, violist, and singer-songwriter, and Emanuel and the Fear, where she plays viola and also contributes to song writing. She has just completed the recent run of Beardo, the new musical about Rasputin by Great Comet composer Dave Malloy. If Sarah is a classical violist but plays very little "classical" music, where is the line between music and music?

The Concerto for Viola and Orchestra by Mike Boyman is the result of a long and lasting friendship. When Sarah and Mike first met in the New Jersey Youth Symphony, Sarah in fact played the double bass, an early indicator to her multi-instrumentalist career. The two found themselves in the same musical circles over the years, at NYU and now in The Chelsea Symphony. Mike, a violist and fellow member of TCS, is incidentally the inaugural winner of the TCS Composition Competition - this concert series opens with this year's winner, Danny Gray's Summer Mountains.

The Boyman is at times technical, lyrical, driving, and lush. When preparing this as yet unheard piece, Sarah took it to her former teacher who lay down some wisdom: the composer wants a successful performance and a good recording, so do whatever you need to do to make that happen.

It's not so different to work up a piece, whether it's learning to play the first song she wrote for Bellehouse, "How Sweetly," for viola and voice (both performed by Sarah - at the same time!) or the Boyman Concerto. Her practice methodology is the same - get out the metronome, start slow, be specific, make musical decisions, and make sure the composer is happy. Things that are difficult to do are still things that are difficult to do. The more you do it, the more automatic some things become, allowing for greater focus on areas that require one's attention.

Sarah's experience on stages of all kinds have given her an appreciation for the importance of enjoying what you do. "People who are listening are more engaged when you are really into what you're doing," she noted.

*****

The featured performer on Saturday, Gizem Yücel, is also an active violist. Classically trained she also plays a variety of music, from Spanish music or mariachi to bluegrass, all while teaching with the Harmony Program and performing as a member of the Greensboro Symphony in North Carolina.

Gizem's first string instrument was viola when she studied as a young girl in her native Turkey, an unusual turn as most violists begin with another string instrument (most commonly violin). Because her hometown had no music school, she left to attend the conservatory in Ankara in the fourth grade. After a brief stint with the piano, she specifically chose the viola but was told she was too small for the instrument. She burst into tears and the teacher acquiesced saying, "well, you will just work harder."

The motivation for Gizem's commitment to music is simple - she wants to play beautiful music. This dedication was reinforced after a brief consideration of a different career following completion of her conservatory training in Turkey. Gizem moved to Manhattan and followed a passion for forensic science but then realized she missed music. Her graduate work brought her to UNC Greensboro where she completed a doctoral degree in 2013 after which she returned to her first home in the US - New York City. Now, her goal is to strive for beauty and enjoyment in her musical expression.

Gizem will perform two tangos by Astor Piazzolla in a concertino-esque pairing. Piazzolla came up in the classical tradition and studied with the legendary Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Although he was working to be a "serious" composer, it was when he played his bandoneon for her that she said "Astor, your classical pieces are well-written, but the true Piazzolla is here, never leave it behind." And the rest, for Astor Piazzolla, is history. The composer became a legend in his own right, writing pieces in the tango tradition for classical instrumentation, beloved by audiences all over the world.

***

Both of these performances feature the results of new work - a reimagining of a tango or a world premiere. They represent the relationships inherent in music and performance - interpersonal and intermusical. What's more, they also allow the soloists to be a part of the creative process as it's happening. Performing a piece written by a living composer allows for a collaboration between artists that goes beyond what is captured on the page. Though the two pieces in this concert series are very different, the spirit is remarkably similar. There is a focus on collaboration, enjoyment, and the art of making music.

The Chelsea Symphony is proud to present two viola soloists, Sarah Haines premiering the Boyman Concerto for Viola and Orchestra on Friday, March 10, and Gizem Yücel performs a new arrangement of Astor Piazzolla's Adiós Nonino and Le Grand Tango on Saturday, March 11.