Meditations on Family

Yevgeny Kutik
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Meditations on Family features new works inspired by memories and tradition. A series of weekly musical meditations commisioned by violinist Yevgeny Kutik.

The Background Violinist Yevgeny Kutik says:
"Almost everything I know about my family’s history and culture I learned by sitting at dining room tables for years on end listening to relatives share stories of what life was like in the USSR. Thanksgiving of 2017 was no different. After hours of collective story-telling, my grandmother Luba shared her memory of dropping my immediate family off at Minsk airport in 1989 to say goodbye and see us off to our new life in the west. During the mass Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union in the 1980s, leaving the USSR meant going into the unknown with few resources and belongings. I decided to put music to family memories and stories.

I asked composers I admire to choose their own family photo, a photo that conjures up memories of joy, sadness, unity, and longing, and to translate that photo into a short work for violin. The result is eight musical meditations, written by eight different voices, each inspired by their own family story and tradition. Here are Meditations on Family."

You can hear each piece, see each photograph, and follow along on Yevgeny's new website.

There is a new meditation! In October 2020, Yevgeny presented a world premiere: Julia Adolphe's Smile Softly, Softly Smile. Watch the premiere and explore the photo behind the work here.

Catalog: MAR 493
Available on Amazon

Watch a video from Meditations. This is a beautiful and powerful performance of Joseph Schwantner's "Daydreams…".

The Music
Christopher Cerrone - Flight to Limbo
Gity Razaz - Cadenza for the Once Young
Andreia Pinto Correia - Litania
Kinan Azmeh - Rima
Gregory Vajda - How to Draw a Tree
Paola Prestini - Suitcased Dreams
Timo Andres - See Above
Joseph Schwantner - Daydreams…

Here is the first meditation: Listen

Chris Cerrone - Flight to Limbo

"Flight to Limbo" borrows its name from a John Updike poem but is ultimately inspired by a photo of my father as a very small child in Italy in 1947. He had suffered from a terrible case of pneumonia, and being rural farmers during a world war, there was little chance to save this very sick child. His local priest prepared him for death in the pictured ceremonial garments. Luckily, he miraculously survived, recovered, and is still with us today. When composing my violin piece for Yevgeny Kutik, I tried to imagine my father in this moribund state, near death, and barely able to breathe despite enormous effort.

Here is the second meditation: Listen

Gity Razaz - Cadenza for the Once Young

I decided to write my short violin piece about my grandparents, specifically about my grandmother. After the death of my grandfather, my grandmother (or Mamani, as we call her) moved to the U.S. to be close to her family. She and Babaee (my grandfather) were living in Iran all alone after their children immigrated to the US and Europe, so it was only natural for Mamani to come live here after her husband of 60+ years had passed. However, after a short period of five years, Mamani decided to move back to Iran as she was homesick, missed visiting Babaee’s resting place and all their memories. This piece is dedicated to their lasting love and decades of companionship.

Here is the third meditation: Listen

Andreia Pinto Correia - Litania

In his Book of Disquiet the great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa writes: "Litania: We are two abysses - a well staring at the sky". Pinto Correia was inspired by a photo she took on the island of Madeira. From the bottom of a subterranean passage the stairs seem to rise up directly toward the bright sky, from darkness into light. The duality of this photo evoked for her Pessoa’s "Litania" - "litany" in English. Pinto Correia's music has been described by the Boston Globe as "compellingly meditative".

Here is the fourth meditation: Listen

Kinan Azmeh - Rima

The photo that inspired composer Kinan Azmeh shows Kinan as a young boy, crossing a bridge with his sister Rima; they are holding hands. He says: "The photo captures a profound moment of contentment during which two happy siblings are simply smiling at the camera. The short piece of music that I have composed tries to depict the same serene simplicity, another short frame in time where the clarinet and the violin play along each other. All I wanted was for these simple melodies to unfold effortlessly with lots of love, similar to how my sister Rima held my hand across that bridge." In this meditation, clarinetist Ryan Yure performs with violinist Yevgeny Kutik.

Here is the fifth meditation: Listen

Gregory Vajda - How to Draw a Tree

In composing this music, Gregory remembered the family tree that was drawn up by his relatives years ago for his 30th birthday. In his composition, "How to Draw a Tree", the music played by the double bass functions as the trunk of this imaginary tree while the swift, Eastern European folk music-like passages of the violin represent the branches. Members of the younger generation are closer to us, while the beginnings of our family history are distant with less contrast. Yet without the trunk there are no branches. In this meditation, double bass player Edwin Barker performs with violinist Yevgeny Kutik.

Here is the sixth meditation: Listen

Paola Prestini - Suitcased Dreams

"Suitcased Dreams" is a work for piano and violin that meditates on a moment captured long ago. Composer Paola Prestini recalls strong memories of her early childhood, and a shared moment of bonding and strength with her mother. Paola Prestini says: "Many of my large-scale works tackle themes that shaped my early childhood – travel, otherness, bridges. This work is no different. My mother and I had just immigrated to the US and it was right before my parents separated." The fabric of the piece begins with a distant melody that is passed and answered between the two instruments, representing a shared emotion of unease and of fear of the unknown. The instruments entwine at times and at times are opposed, later moving into two voices running together in a cascade denoting a more resilient tone, then culminating in pulsing chords of unease.

Here is the seventh meditation: Listen

Timo Andres - - See Above

The composer Timo Andres says:
"See Above is a small musical representation of the first photograph I remember taking, in which my family occupies a small sliver of space at the bottom of the frame, the rest of the picture filled by a vast expanse of white wall, bare except for a painting of two owls. Why I chose to frame the photo this way remains mysterious. A latent avant-garde impulse, or perhaps just an interest in owls?"

Here is the eighth meditation: Listen

Joseph Schwantner - Daydreams

Joseph Schwantner says: "For as long as I can remember, music’s many mysteries have engaged my ear, mind and spirit. The love and support of my Grandmother and Mother helped encourage my musical interests. An old photograph (1924) of my maternal grandparents and mother as a baby fired my musical imagination with fond memories of early family life." The photo inspired the music "Daydreams", composed especially for "Meditations". This is the 8th and final meditation in the series.

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