Duo Diorama

MingHuan Xu, violin

Winston Choi, piano

January 6, 2021

Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts

David Schwan, host


William Grant Still – Suite for Violin and Piano (14′)

I. African Dancer

II. Mother and Child

III. Gamin

Arlen/Beethoven/Bernstein; arr. W. Choi – A Place for Us (Somewhere) for Violin and Piano (9′)

Paul Schoenfield – Four Souvenirs for Violin and Piano (12′)

I. Samba

II. Tango

III. Tin Pan Alley

IV. Square Dance

DUO DIORAMA comprises Chinese violinist MingHuan Xu and Canadian pianist Winston Choi.  They are compelling and versatile artists who perform in an eclectic mix of musical styles, ranging from the great standard works to the avant-garde.  It is a partnership with a startlingly fresh and powerful approach to music for violin and piano.  Comprised of two renowned soloists who can effectively blend their distinctive personalities together to create a unified whole, the duo maintains an active performing and touring schedule.

Having performed extensively throughout Asia, Europe, North America, and South America, Duo Diorama has gained a loyal following wherever they travel to.  The duo’s recent appearances at the Chicago Cultural Center, Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie, Washington D.C.’s Library of Congress and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art were met with critical and audience acclaim.  They have also performed at the Colours of Music Festival, Ebb and Flow Arts, the GroundSwell Series, the Mammoth Lakes Music Festival, the Chamber Music Festival of Saugatuck, and the Walla Walla Music Festival. Their  South American tour included performances at the Festival Musica Nova in Brazil and Festival Encuentros.  As the inaugural recipients of the Banff Centre’s Rolston Fellowship in Music, they have recently toured throughout Canada, having performed in recital series from coast to coast.  The duo has embarked upon three recital and masterclass tours of China, with appearances at the Central, Shenyang, and Sichuan Conservatories of Music, as well as in the cities of Baotou, Hohhot, Jinan and Shanghai.  A feature broadcast on the debut was covered by Voice of America, a weekly television program viewed by millions of people in Asia. They were also named Artists-in-Residence for the Chinese Fine Arts Society’s 2011-2012 season.

Having already commissioned and premiered over 30 works in the last few years, Duo Diorama is a leading proponent of music of living composers.  Their insightful and dynamic interpretations of music of living composers have established the duo as a true champion of contemporary music.  They are committed to music from today’s culture and take a very personal approach to the presentation of these works – both those by the established modern masters and today’s emerging young composers.  Their many projects include performing multi-disciplinary works involving electronic media.  By juxtaposing their performances with colorful commentary, Duo Diorama’s unique performances emphasize the relevance and vivacity of classical music. Their recordings can be heard on Albany Records, the MIMM label, New World Records, and iTunes.  In 2019-20, they launched the inaugural season as the Artistic Directors of the Unity Chamber Music Series held at the Unity Temple in Oak Park, IL.  A husband and wife team, the duo makes their home in Oak Park, with their twins Lillian and Ethan.

William Grant Still (1895-1978)

Suite for Violin and Piano (1943) 

William Grant Still was born in Mississippi and is commonly referred to as the “Dean of African-American Composers”. Born into a family of musicians and teachers, he moved to Arkansas as an infant and later studied violin. While earning a bachelor of science degree at Wilberforce University, he conducted the band and began to orchestrate and compose. He later completed his formal studies at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

Still entered the world of popular music before beginning his compositional career in New York and eventually moving to Los Angeles. His accolades include awards and honorary degrees from symphonic and educational institutions. Heavily inspired by black spirituals, he wrote over 150 musical works including operas, ballets, symphonies, chamber works, and arrangements of folk themes before his death in 1978.

Composed in 1943, each movement of William Grant Still’s Suite for Violin and Piano is inspired by a different contemporary African-American Visual Artist. Richmond Barthé’s 1933 statue African Dancer is the inspiration for the first movement, sharing the same title. The movement consists of bold, driving themes contrasted by a bluesy middle section. The second movement contrasts greatly with the first, being lyrical and gentle in nature, depicting Sargent Johnson’s Lithograph Mother and Child. The finale is lively and exuberant, depicting a 1930 bust of a street-smart young man, titled Gamin, by sculptor Augusta Savage.

Notes by Ashley Ertz

Arlen/Beethoven/Bernstein; arr. W. Choi

A Place For Us (Somewhere) (arr. 2020) 

Program Notes from the Arranger:

I have long been aware of Bernstein’s fascination with the 2nd movement from Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto, and how Bernstein references the work in the melodies in Somewhere (from West Side Story).  This “re-imagining” of mine puts these pieces side by side and explores the many different ways that the two works can be intertwined.  This was not planned as some sort of medley, but to mesh the identities of the two works together. The timeless classic Somewhere Over the Rainbow is also woven into this work as well.  When we dream, we sometimes lose track of where our stories start and end, and things begin to blur and lose their distinction from each other.  This work aims to create that same sense of fantasy, and is dedicated to my wife, MingHuan Xu. – Winston Choi

Paul Schoenfield (b. 1947)

Four Souvenirs for Violin and Piano (1990) 

Born in Detroit, Paul Schoenfield lives in both the United States and Israel. His music incorporates the musical and cultural themes from Israel and Judaism and has been performed by ensembles such as the New York Philharmonic and the Seattle Symphony. In following with the american tradition, Schoenfield’s music embraces and blends classical music, jazz, folk and klezmer, and never without a sense of fantasy and humor. Composed in 1990, Four Souvenirs for Violin and piano brings together these contrasting musical voices, proving opposites can attract. The opening Samba unfurls  in an energetic state, light and written expertly for both instruments. The second movement, Tango, begins with a slow lyrical violin line, followed by a sultry tango, ending with the blues. The third movement, Tin Pan Alley, starts the way the previous movement ends, evolving into a Scott Joplin ragtime. We end the piece with the boisterous Square Dance.

Notes by Ashley Ertz

Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts are made possible through the generosity of the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council and the Union League Club of Chicago.
Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts are presented in partnership with the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and 98.7 WFMT

Don’t miss Paula Kosower and Kuang-Hao Huang

next week on the

Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts!

Wednesday January 13, 12:15pm

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