Hanford Family

Robert Hanford and Sheila Hanford, violins

William Hanford, piano

July 14, 2020

Rush Hour Concerts

Robbie Ellis, host


Maddalena Laura Lombardini-Sirmen – Duet, Op. 5 No. 6

I. Allegro

II. Allegro Brillante

Johan Halvorsen – Concert Caprice on Norwegian Melodies

Dmitri Shostakovich/arr. Levon Atovmian – Five Pieces for Two Violins and Piano

V. Polka

Hanford Family

Robert Hanford is the concertmaster of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. During the summer, he is also a concertmaster at the Aspen Music Festival. Previously, Mr. Hanford was the Associate Principal Second Violinist of the Minnesota Orchestra and a member of both the Milwaukee Symphony and Chicago’s Grant Park Symphony. He has appeared as soloist on many occasions with the Minnesota Orchestra, the Milwaukee Symphony and other Midwestern orchestras, including the Chicago Philharmonic. Mr. Hanford attended Northwestern University and is currently on the faculty as a violin instructor.  He graduated with first prize from the Orpheus Conservatory in Athens, Greece. For many summers he was concertmaster and violin instructor at the Birch Creek Music Festival in Wisconsin. He has also performed and taught at the Apollo, the MidAmerica, the Milwaukee, and the Roycroft Chamber Music Festivals.

In addition to his professional career as a violinist, Robert has studied and performed on the theremin, one of the first electronic instruments.  Robert is also an amateur artist blacksmith, having attended courses of study in Wyoming and Illinois.  His most recent passion is canoeing, and earlier this summer he completed a nine-day solo canoe trip in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota.

Sheila Hanford currently pursues a career as a freelance violinist and teacher in the Chicago area. She has a Bachelor of Music degree in Violin Performance from Northwestern University. Ms. Hanford performs with many Chicago orchestras, including Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Chicago Philharmonic, and Elgin Symphony.  She also performs frequently with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and has performed with the Minnesota Orchestra and the Minnesota Opera.

Ms. Hanford is currently on the faculty of The Musical Offering in Evanston.  While residing in Minnesota, Ms. Hanford was a violin instructor at St. Olaf College.  She also taught for many years on the faculty of the Birch Creek Music Festival in Door County, Wisconsin.

Beginning in the fall of 2020, Ms. Hanford will be pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Dominican University.  She resides in Evanston and enjoys knitting, reading and gardening.

William Hanford recently graduated from the 8th grade at Chiaravalle Montessori School in Evanston.  He has studied piano since he was five years-old and currently studies with Rick Ferguson at the Musical Offering in Evanston.  He has also studied flute for the past six years with Caroline Pittman at the Musical Offering.

William’s passion for ballet and dance began when he was three years-old when he went to see Alice in Wonderland performed by the Evanston Dance Ensemble.  He began his formal training in dance at the age of six at the Dance Center of Evanston.  He is very excited to be attending the Chicago Academy for the Arts in the fall on a full scholarship through the Rusty and Jeffrey Sanfilippo Young Men’s Dance Initiative.

William has spent a lot of time researching his Norwegian heritage.  He has been learning to speak Norwegian for the past three years. He has also learned to knit Norwegian sweaters. Unfortunately, a planned trip to Norway had to be cancelled for this summer, but he hopes to travel to Norway in the future.

Fast Facts:

  • Star pupil of Giuseppe Tartini
  • Published trios, duos, quartets and concerti that we know of
  • Her tours brought her to Faena, Turin, Paris, London, France, modern-day Germany and even Russia

Maddalena Laura

Lombardini-Sirmen (1745-1818)

Duet, Op. 5 No. 6

Maddalena Lombardini was born in Venice to parents of nobility, but nevertheless was impoverished. Having shown musical talent, she began studies at Ospedale di San Lazzaro e dei Mendicanti, an orphanage that taught young girls music, at the age of 8. Of note, Vivaldi’s father taught here before Maddalena would attend. Visiting musicians and others would write music for the girls and, undoubtedly, would donate funds in exchange for performances. It’s unclear if Maddalena was actually an orphan or if her attendance was due to the fact that the school actively recruited talented girls to join their ranks.

The Ospedale would introduce Maddalena to Giuseppe Tartini who mentored and inspired her to become a professional violinist. Professional touring female violinists were extremely rare at this time but this didn’t stop Maddalena. She would marry violinist Ludovico Sirmen and the two toured as virtuosi, which Maddalena would continue to do for the next 20 years. The duo was short-lived; within two years Ludovico would remain home with their newborn daughter while Maddalena continued to travel and perform.

Program Notes:

At this time, in order to be seen in the crowded market of performers, all traveling musicians needed unique selling points, including performing their own compositions. At the time Maddalena was a relatively unknown composer and so many of her works were published as co-written with her husband. It has since been proven that they were solely written by Maddalena. Among those works is her Duet, Op. 5.  This duet (along with all her works) is expertly written, capturing the spirit and nuance of the early Classical style.  Compared with the early works of Haydn, these works possess a lightness and delicacy that you can’t help but enjoy.

Notes by Ashley Ertz

Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935)

Concert Caprice on Norwegian Melodies 

Celebrated violinist, composer and conductor, Johan Halvorsen was a Norwegian treasure, continuing the traditions established by Edvard Grieg. While Halvorsen started off his musical career as a violinist, he is most known for his compositions and conducting in the theater. During his tenure he wrote over 30 scores to accompany plays, most of which, unfortunately, have been lost. However, not lost are countless orchestra and chamber works, concertantes, incidental and choral music and even an operetta. Though his music career was overshadowed by Grieg’s, he obviously admired him. He eventually orchestrated some of Grieg’s piano works and actually married Grieg’s niece.

 Program Notes:

Folk-inspired, Halvorsen’s Concert Caprice has such a rustic, cheerie pastoral feel, it’s impossible not to be delighted when listening to this work. The piece begins with bird song imitations and becomes a dance between the two players, trading off the melody and accompaniment. Though there is no written evidence or articles about this, some scholars have the opinion that the folk melodies were inspired by the Hardanger fiddle, an 8 to 9 string member of the violin family. Some call it the national instrument of Norway, the Hardanger fiddle was created to accompany dance, supporting scholars’ theory of its association with the Caprice. We know that Halvorsen played the Hardanger fiddle and the double-stops and other technically playful sections in the Caprice match the fiddle naturally. Whether this theory is true or not, the Caprice is virtuosic and challenging for the performers, but nevertheless enjoyable for audiences and performers alike.

Notes by Ashley Ertz

Fast Facts:

  • Started studying violin at age 7 and was recruited to the local Civil Defense Band to play piccolo soon after. Continued to receive violin instruction while playing piccolo.
  • Married Edvard Grieg’s niece, Annie Grieg-Halvorsen
  • Conductor of the National Theatre of Oslo from 1899 until his retirement in 1929.

Fast Facts:

  • Hoped to become a concert pianist like Rachmaninoff, wanting to both write and perform. He would end up primarily writing.
  • Earned credentials to be a pianist for silent films in 1923. At this time movies still had no sound so theaters would employ a pianist to improvise the music for the show. 
  • Visited NYC in 1949 on Stalin’s orders to represent Russian to the Cultural and Scientific Congress for World Peace

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) arr. L. Atovmian

Five Pieces for 2 violins and piano

       V. Polka

Dmitri Shostakovich was born and raised in St. Petersburg, growing up through the war and revolution. Dmitri would enter into the Petrograd Conservatory in 1919 under the composer Alexander Glazunov. He would study piano and composition, his First Symphony being his graduating work. This piece is still performed frequently and studied rigorously by many orchestra students since it is now listed on virtually every orchestra audition.

Shostakovich was likely one of the first highly-regarded composers to consciously and deliberately be politically aware, seeking guidance from and including in his art political narratives. This caused his career to be very problematic and strained at times, yet he managed to produce a staggering 14 symphonies which are still performed regularly. While he is probably most known for his symphonies, he also managed to write 6 concerti, 15 string quartets, 3 operas, numerous piano works and chamber works, several song cycles and ballets, and a massive quantity of film scores.

Program Notes:

While so much of Shostakovich’s music is intense, dark, dramatic and rather modern, he also wrote such beautiful lyrical “classical” pieces, full of delicate details and light melodies. These lighthearted works can be found in much of his ballets, incidental music and suites. One of Shostakovich’s pupils, Lev Atovmian, was so inspired by these works that he arranged this suite of five pieces for violin duo and piano. Tonight we will be hearing the Polka from this suite, telling its own short story.

Notes by Ashley Ertz

The Rush Hour Concerts series is supported in part by awards from the National Endowment for the Arts

and the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

Don’t miss the Kirk family next week on

Rush Hour Concerts!

Tuesday July 21, 5:45pm

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