Violinist Robyn Bollinger will be the featured soloist performing Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto with the Orchestra of Indian Hill on Saturday, November 4. Buy tickets.
A Philadelphia native, Ms. Bollinger made her orchestral debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the tender age of 12. She was awarded a 2016 Annenberg Grant for her multimedia performance project entitled CIACCONA: The Bass of Time, as well as an Entrepreneurial Musicianship Grant from her alma mater New England Conservatory for her ground-breaking Project Paganini, a performance project featuring all twenty-four Paganini Caprices. Ms. Bollinger has performed with the Boston Pops and at music festivals throughout the country. A member of the acclaimed, Grammy-nominated Boston-based ensemble A Far Cry, she is a sought after collaborator and popular figure in chamber music.
Along with her Orchestra of Indian Hill debut on November 4, Ms. Bollinger will conduct a masterclass for Indian Hill Music School students that morning at 10:30 am. The Masterclass is free and open for public observation.
This is your first time performing with the Orchestra of Indian Hill. What have you heard about Orchestra of Indian HIll/Maestro Hangen that makes you look forward to playing with the orchestra?
Whenever I tell people I’m playing with Orchestra of Indian Hill and Maestro Hangen, everyone’s eyes immediately light up and they start nodding very fast. That’s a good sign! The Orchestra is so respected in the Boston community, and I’m really excited to come play.
What excites you about the piece you are performing with Orchestra of Indian Hill, Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35?
I really love this piece. It was new to me when Maestro Hangen reached out to me last year, and it has been so fun to learn. It is hard for the violin — but worth it! It is sensual but angular, open and singing but rhythmically complex. It is a wonderful combination of juxtapositions. When I’m describing it to friends, I usually call it a mash-up of Debussy and Prokofiev- it has the rich, luxurious, extended harmonies of Debussy with the backbone and wit of Prokofiev. This will be my first time with this particular work, and I’m super excited!
What is special about the work?
From a formal perspective, the piece is unusual for a few reasons. It’s all in one movement — not very commonly done. The cadenza, or the big violin solo, doesn’t happen till the very end of the piece, and it’s even at a bit of a climactic moment. It might look odd on paper to have the orchestra drop out so late in the game, but I find it very dramatic!
Taking a broader musical view, I find the piece to be remarkably sincere. Sometimes in concertos the listener might get the sense that the violinist is just showing off; but the way Szymanowski has written the piece, the difficulty is all essential to the musical expression. There is both struggle and defiance in some of the virtuosic writing in this piece, and also such sublime weightlessness. I find it to be a remarkable work.
Why is orchestral playing important for a violinist?
I think it’s really important to collaborate with others and work towards something bigger than oneself. That requires checking one’s ego at the door, which can be difficult sometimes! However, not being the center of attention doesn’t mean that one gets to slack off — if even one violinist doesn’t care or plays out of tune, the experience of the whole orchestra suffers. It’s a healthy reminder about teamwork.
Orchestra playing is also important for history. Most great composers’ greatest works were written for orchestra. There is nothing in the world like playing a Beethoven Symphony, or Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, or the Bach B Minor Mass. As a violinist, the best way to explore those important pillars of our history is to play them. It doesn’t get any better than that.
What is similar in terms of orchestra and chamber music?
Teamwork! And, in both disciplines, one has to listen extremely carefully and be ready to respond to any kind of cue, whether you’re in a string quartet or a full orchestra.
What can you say about the violin that you’ll be performing on?
I am very lucky to play on a brand new 2017 Sam Zygmuntowicz violin. I love it! Sam finished it in February, and it’s such an honor to be the first person to really get to play it. Violins are a bit like wine: they will change considerably as they age, and it’s quite a process to open them up to their fullest potential. It can take decades. But violins are also a bit like Harry Potter wands: the violin chooses the violinist, meaning the instrument has to be a good fit with the violinist’s style of playing. I am really excited to be opening the violin up and teaching it what I like; and it’s also teaching me how to do things more easily.
What happens in a masterclass, and why is it a valuable experience for student musicians?
In my masterclass, I will be working with a small group of students, coaching each student individually for about 20 or 30 minutes on a piece they are working on, offering my ideas, interpretations, or suggestions about how to approach the music.
A masterclass is great exposure for students — exposure to teachers and performers they might not otherwise meet, and exposure to new and different ways of thinking about music. I also think it’s special to hear how different clinicians approach the repertoire. Often times the students are performing pieces that the clinicians know pretty well, so the way the clinician works with the student(s) can be a window into the clinician’s own process. Audience members get to hear talented young students demonstrate their abilities and then watch a mini lesson, something that’s usually a private experience. It’s also a chance for the audience to humanize the clinician a bit. Often clinicians are famous soloists or important pedagogues, people regular audience members don’t have access to.
What should the participants be prepared for?
As a clinician, I try to ask myself: What’s the one thing I can say to this student to make a difference today? I’m not looking to fundamentally change technique, or to tear apart the student’s musical interpretation. I’m looking for one idea to explore and focus on in different guises throughout the piece. Masterclasses are a celebration of work already done, and the exciting prospect of more work to do. Participants should be prepared to learn, to try new things, and to come away from the experience with new tools or a new perspective. Participants are guinea pigs, and everyone knows how hard that can be. But everyone in the room – clinician, fellow participants, and observers — wants the participants to succeed.
As a student, I’ve participated in more masterclasses than I can count at this point. I’ve done solo masterclasses with Gil Shaham, Midori, Julia Fischer, Christoph Eschenbach, Pamela Frank, Donald Weilerstein, Robert Lipsett, and more, and I’ve been lucky to have chamber music masterclasses with some of the top quartets and chamber musicians in the world.