The spring program of Hopkins Center for the Arts pianist in residence Sally Pinkas balances lyrical, jaunty Filipino folk-based compositions with two musical reflections of more troubling times and places: a British composer’s deeply felt statement about the losses of World War I and a Syrian-American’s tribute to his ravaged home city of Aleppo.
Pinkas performs the program Tuesday, April 10, 7 pm, in the Hop’s Spaulding Auditorium. She also will play excerpts of the program on Thursday, April 5, at 11 am, in a live broadcast on VPR Classical, Vermont’s classical public radio station.
The program draws on developments over the past several years in Pinkas’ career. She previously performed a work by the Boston area-based composer Kareem Roustom in 2013, in a program including clarinetist Kinan Azmeh and the Apple Hill String Quartet. For this program, she chose his gorgeous Aleppo Songs for solo piano, made up of reflections on a number of urban folk songs from Aleppo, known as qudud, as well as original material. All profits from sheet music sales as well as royalties generated from 2016–2018 performances are being donated to Doctors Without Borders to support their work in the Middle East. Steeped in the musical traditions of the Near East and trained in western concert music and jazz, Roustom is a musically bilingual composer who has collaborated with a wide variety of world-recognized artists receiving numerous commissions to compose works.
Video: Pianist Tanya Bannister gives the New York premiere of Aleppo Songs, by Kareem Roustom, at the Roadmaps Festival. Performed on November 8th, 2018.
The Filipino music on the program is connected with several concerts tours of the Philippines Pinkas has made in recent years performing with her husband and fellow pianist Evan Hirsch. Through that association she became enamored of the “salon music” of that country from the late 19th century—a time when Spanish colonial hegemony was starting to give way to a dawning national consciousness. Blending European and native influences, Filipino composers began producing music for the well-to-do to perform in their European-style private living room concerts. Pinkas plays works by Francisco Buencamino Sr., Francisco Santiago and Nicanor Abelardo.
Some of the works were folksy, directly quoting a phrase or so from Filipino folk songs or evoking a folk feel. Others mimicked European composers like Chopin, while others followed popular forms like the danza habanera.
Also on the program is Piano Sonata, H.160 (1924) by British compose Frank Bridge, a work pivotal in Bridge’s own artistic development. Age 37 when “the Great War” began, Bridge had been celebrated for light, pleasing work that reveled in England’s pastoral beauty. As the war continued and Great Britain lost a generation of young men to grisly combat, Bridge’s own music began to explore great dissonance and advanced chromaticism, as well as more complex rhythms and forms. His piano sonata reflects this transition. Tempos and rhythms change quite often, not allowing the listener to settle into any mood presented by the piece. The form can be described as “continuously developing”; a small, seemingly unimportant motive could be the basis for the entire next section. Bridge made his feelings plain in dedicating the work to Ernest Farrar, a composer and organist who was a contemporary of Bridge at the Royal College and who was killed in action. With its angry outbursts, the Sonata is seen as heralding the more dissonant Bridge and is a landmark in British piano music.
Since her London debut at Wigmore Hall, Israeli-born pianist Sally Pinkas has been heard as soloist and chamber musician throughout the world. Among career highlights are performances with the Boston Pops, the Aspen Philharmonia, Jupiter Symphony and the Bulgarian Chamber Orchestra, and appearances at the festivals of Marlboro, Tanglewood, Aspen and Rockport, as well as Kfar Blum in Israel, Officina Scotese in Italy, and Masters de Pontlevoy in France. Pinkas’ extensive solo discography includes works by Schumann, Debussy, Rochberg, Ileana Perez-Velazquez and Christian Wolff for the MSR, Centaur, Naxos, Albany and Mode labels. Long drawn to the music of Gabriel Fauré, she followed her critically-acclaimed release of Fauré’s 13 Nocturnes (on Musica Omnia) with a recording of Fauré’s Piano Quartets and his 13 Barcarolles, earning the title “A Fauré Master Returns” on an enthusiastic review by ClassicsToday. The Wall Street Journalnoted her “exquisite performance” in her “superlatively well-played” recording of Harold Shapero’s Piano Music, released on the UK label Toccata Classics.
Praised for her radiant tone and driving energy, Pinkas commands a wide range of repertoire and explores little-heard musical realms. In 2015 she made her debut in the Philippines, performing and recording rarely-heard Filipino Salon Music for the University of the Philippines’ Centennial celebrations. The Philippines’ Daily Inquirer noted “…her eloquent tone… essayed with brilliant projection…” adding that “her sense of balance was impeccable, and the voicing well etched.” With her husband Evan Hirsch (The Hirsch-Pinkas Piano Duo) she has toured extensively, and has premiered and recorded works by Rochberg, Pinkham, Peter Child, Kui Dong and Thomas Oboe Lee. She is a member of Ensemble Schumann, an OboeViola-Piano Trio, and of the Boston-based Trio Tremonti. Other current collaborations include the Villiers Quartet in London, the Adaskin String Trio and the Apple Hill Quartet. Pinkas holds performance degrees from Indiana University and the New England Conservatory of Music, and a Ph.D. in Composition from Brandeis University. Her principal teachers were Russell Sherman, George Sebok, Luise Vosgerchian and Genia Bar-Niv (piano), Sergiu Natra (composition), and Robert Koff (chamber music). Pianist-in-residence at the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College, she is Professor of Music at Dartmouth’s Music Department.