Contemporary classical composer Sophia Jani and violinist Teresa Allgaier announce their new collaborative work Six Pieces for Solo Violin on Squama Recordings. Characterized by its calmness and poise, each movement focuses on a particular technical aspect, bending the boundaries of the instrument while maintaining the illusion of simplicity.
Sometimes the most complicated thing anyone can do is to try to create something that feels uncomplicated. Arvo Pärt, ballet, a delicious meal we didn’t cook ourselves, Ella Fitzgerald, a safe place to lay our heads at night, a quiet pine forest (…) In all these things, it takes a lot of effort to make us feel as if something is effortless. – David Lang (from the liner notes)

Composed by Sophia Jani
Performed by Teresa Allgaier
Recorded by Noël Riedel
Mixed and Mastered by Martin Ruch
Produced by Martin Brugger
Lacquer cut by Sidney Claire Meyer
Photography by Tonda Bardehle
Assistance by Lia Bardehle
Styling by Laura Fries and Carolin Schreck at FRECK
Hair and Make-up by Bianca Hartkopf
Creative Direction and Design by Maximilian Schachtner
© 2024 Squama

Notes on Six Pieces for Solo Violin
by David Lang

The first thing I noticed about the recording of Sophia Jani’s “Six Pieces” is that it is recorded in seven tracks. Which, I must say, confused me a little bit. I mean, the piece is called SIX PIECES, and the addition of an introductory Prelude turns the six into seven. Is it an ironic mis-counting? A deception of some kind? The Bach Cello Suites are also in six movements, but their Preludes count as one among the six. Why would the six elegant, meticulously crafted and beautifully played little pieces on this recording need anything extra to introduce them?

A “prelude” has different meanings in the different periods of Western classical music, but its original function comes from the Baroque, as a way of putting us in the mood to hear the dance-related movements that will follow. It serves to prepare us for the act of listening to the body of the piece. In the case of this recording, and in addition to putting us in a Baroque state of mind, it is interesting to think about what Jani is preparing us for, and why she thinks that we need to be prepared for it.

The most apparent thing that the Prelude introduces is the emotional atmosphere of the music of the entire piece – there is a calmness here, a graceful and unornamented clarity that we hear immediately and which carries over through the other movements. The single violin line enters, and proceeds to unwind itself, in an unhurried fashion, and the logic of its proceeding is relaxed – the violin outlines a tonality, it pauses, it starts again, it arpeggiates, it pauses again, it introduces a double stop, which in its turn is played in tremolo, it disappears. Each phrase is its own gem-like little bead, and all are tied together on a very spare bracelet.

The Prelude prepares us for the sound world that awaits us. We learn some specific things from it: there will be just one violin, the music will unfold gently, the notes will relate somehow to certain gracious harmonies that are intended to make us feel comfortable with them, the violin will be called upon to make sounds that can be polished, and tuned, and emotionally shaped. In other words, the Prelude doesn’t just introduce the larger piece. It introduces a way of proceeding that holds true for all the subsequent movements. It teaches us the grammar of the work, as a whole.

The Prelude even tells us something about the content of the other movements and how that content develops. The short, discrete phrases of the Prelude prefigure how Jani divides the music into the separate movements. Each phrase of the Prelude hints at its own musical strategy – the arpeggio, the tremolo, the double stop. This prepares us for the division of the music in the movements to come: the six pieces also each highlight a different musical aspect or procedure. Arpeggio. Triads. Ricochet. Each individual piece is like an etude, each still calm and unhurried but with its own specific technical focus. That division of the materials is there already in the Prelude.

The most significant issue that the Prelude prepares us for, however, is more a philosophical issue, than a technical or dramaturgical one. It prepares us to ask ourselves how we feel about ‘simplicity’ as a parameter of music. The music here, in all its movements, gives the illusion of simplicity. It employs a mostly consonant language, it unfolds gently and with great delicacy and leisure, and it searches for an honest and direct way of moving forward. It wasn’t very long ago that writing music of such supposed “uncomplicatedness” would be controversial. In some circles I am sure it still is. And maybe that is why we need a Prelude to prepare us for it, for Jani to stake out her territory and announce the terms of her music, before she really asks us to hear it.

I wrote above that simplicity is an illusion here. Paradoxically, it is hard to make music that flows as if it is simple – simplicity is the result of hiding all the hard work that went into making it. Sometimes the most complicated thing anyone can do is to try to create something that feels uncomplicated. Arvo Pärt, ballet, a delicious meal we didn’t cook ourselves, Ella Fitzgerald, a safe place to lay our heads at night, a quiet pine forest – there are a lot of important things in the world that we value, at least in part, for their relaxed sense of order, their performative calm, their illusion of effortlessness. In all these things, it takes a lot of effort to make us feel as if something is effortless.

A big part of the effortlessness of this recording is the restrained virtuosity of the performer, Teresa Allgaier, who plays all this exposed and subtle music with confidence, and with real elegance. It is just as true for performers as it is for composers, and it is just as true in all our lives, as in our music: it is hard to be direct, to say something clearly, to be honest, to be true, to mean what you say and to live what you mean.

This music does.

  • Sophia Jani

    Sophia Jani is a German composer of contemporary classical music who takes a poetically minimalist approach to composition. Her music has recently been performed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony, the Munich Symphony, Bang on a Can, the Goldmund Quartet, vocal sextet Sjaella and pianist Eunbi Kim among others. Performance venues include the Elbphilharmonie, Lincoln Center, Meyerson Symphony Center, Baryshnikov Arts Center, MASS MoCa, as well as New York Public Radio’s The Greene Space. She has also contributed music to successful film, theatre, dance and album projects.
    Jani is the 2023-2025 Composer-in-Residence with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and was the 2023 Musical Artist in Residence of the Arvo Pärt Centre, as well as the recipient of the APC Residency Fellowship. In addition to her work as a composer, Jani is passionate about building a diverse and international community of artists that open-mindedly addresses the challenges notated music faces in the 21st century. To that end, alongside Teresa Allgaier, she is one of the founders and artistic directors of Feet Become Ears, which is a platform that commissions, presents, and celebrates contemporary chamber music.
    Jani holds degrees from the University of Augsburg, the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich and the Yale University School of Music where she studied with Martin Bresnick and David Lang, made possible through the generous support of the Fulbright foundation.

  • Teresa Allgaier

    Violinist Teresa Allgaier shifts her focus between classical contemporary music and experimental pop music, whilst always looking for the spell of a comforting yet stirring tone in her sound and music-making. She works in collaboration with emerging composers and bands, performs with her string ensemble Kontai Ensemble and writes music for her Chamber Pop duo Fallwander.
    As a soloist Teresa has performed with various orchestras in the past, interpreting violin concertos by Bach, Bruch, Mendelssohn, Khachaturian, Pärt and Riley. She most recently performed the solo part in a recomposition of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons in a concert addressing climate change with Tonwerkorchester and Fridays For Future at the Herkulessaal Munich. Other concert and theater productions have taken her to venues such as the Barbican Theatre London, Wigmore Hall London, Vienna Musikverein, Kammerspiele Munich, Philharmonie Munich or Volksbühne Berlin. Teresa plays in the live ensembles of Ralph Heidel and Carlos Cipa and in the Ensemble Reflektor. She took part in the International Ensemble Modern Academy at the Klangspuren Festival in Austria and has performed several times at the Fusion Festival, X-Jazz Festival, Reeperbahn Festival, Überjazz Festival and many others.
    Teresa studied classical violin at the University of Music and Drama Munich with Prof. Ingolf Turban and Prof. Sonja Korkeala and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama London with Prof. Alexander Janiczek, followed by a year of studies on the ‚International Cooperation Master New Music’ programme in Bern/Dresden/Salzburg.
She is currently based in Leipzig and Munich.

    • Six Pieces for Solo Violin

      180g vinyl, comes with hot-foil embossed obi-strip

      • Stil:
      € 25