Jacob Ashworth

violinist, conductor, artistic director

Susan Kander: Hermestänze; Solo Sonata; A Garden's Time Piece [World Premiere Recordings]
By Jacob Ashworth (violin & viola), Lee Dionne (piano), Jessica Petrus (soprano)

Susan Kander: Hermestänze

My first solo album, a record of incredible new works for violin by Susan Kander, is now available on MSR Classics!


The album features three works: Hermestänze, a cycle for violin and piano which I commissioned in 2014; Solo Sonata for violin-viola-violin, an irresistible piece with virtuosic outer movements written for the violin and a wrenching Lament for solo viola in the middle; and A Garden's Time Piece, a beautiful, heartfelt cycle for violin and soprano based on poems of Leslie Laskey.




The music of Susan Kander has been heard throughout the United States and in cities around the world, including London, Paris, Mexico City, Lima, Birmingham, Vancouver, Cape Town, St. Petersburg and Guangzhou. Kander has received numerous commissions from notable ensembles and organizations, including the National Symphony Orchestra, Southampton Chamber Music Festival, Kansas City Chorale, Copland Fund, Columbia Foundation and a variety of instrumentalists and ensembles. In the operatic world, she has received commissions from Opera Minnesota, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Opera Theater of St. Louis and Columbus Opera. Her 2013work, Hermestänze, for violin and piano is a rare example of a large-scale dramatic cycle written for the violin. Kander is especially proud to have had her Solo Sonata for violin-viola-violin performed by commissioner Yuval Waldman in the Composers’ Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia, during their White Nights festival. A Fellow of the MacDowell Colony, Kander’s chamber music has been recorded on the MSR, Navona and Loose Cans labels. www.SusanKander.net

HERMESTÄNZE for violin and piano

In 2013, violinist Jacob Ashworth pin-pointed a serious hole in the violin repertoire: he went looking for something to match the great piano cycles and song cycles written in the 19th century by composers like Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Chopin and so many others, but found nothing comparable for violin. In response, he commissioned me, his mother, knowing my passion for character and theatricality in chamber music, to write “a song cycle for violin and piano.” After much discussion, we settled on Hermes, a first rank Greek god of so many parts and responsibilities and tales that an extended batch of movements would be great fun to compose. Hermestänze is the result. The fourteen movements depict Hermes, his extended family of great gods and mortals and a few of the stories in which he figures. Hermes was the messenger of the gods, and the god of travelers; he was a renowned trickster; he invented music (though his brother, Apollo, was the god of music) and he invented the first string instrument: the lyre. First and foremost, however, was his sacred and compassionate task of escorting the souls of the dead down to the edge of the River Styx, which they would cross over into Hades. One of the most complex fellows ever, he has proven to be a perfect subject for a cornucopia of musical tableaux.

SOLO SONATA for violin and viola

Though I did not know it at the time, the Solo Sonata was the coming together of two disparate but major events in my life: the infamous 9/11/2001, and my first opportunity to write for a virtuoso musician. Shortly after the World Trade Center towers went down, violinist Yuval Waldman came to me with the concept of a three-part solo work with viola featured in the middle movement. While thinking about the piece I would compose, I read an article referring to the phenomenon of “feast-famine-feast:” a cycle in which we are complicit in creating a disaster, experience a period of mourning and self-examination, then re-engage with almost a blind vengeance in the behavior that triggered the disaster in the first place. My outline for the piece comes from this idea. Unifying the movements are the same five notes, very differently deployed, to be sure. These pitches, as an opening gesture, came to me while looking at a collection of small Paul Klee watercolors at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The first movement, Capricciosa, is the more-or-less innocent dance of a young girl in rondo form, followed by Lament, in which the viola describes the immediate aftermath of something horrific. Both these movements make significant use of the five-note gesture. Finally, Malevolent Dances unleashes the furious denial of a dangerous, unresolved reality and, after the opening howl, throws it away forever.

A GARDEN’S TIME PIECE for soprano and violin

A Garden’s Time Piece was commissioned to celebrate the ninetieth birthday of artist-poet Leslie Laskey. Choosing text from his 2010 collection In Bright Light and Dark Shadow, I enjoyed using just the two voices – soprano and violin – to set his clean, evocative lines of nature, life and love across time and space. The voice of the violin expresses the underlying emotional complexity of the soprano’s deceptively simple lines.

--Susan Kander March 2017