Tonight: Sonata Series at RISD Museum

“You picked two pieces that rely heavily on color!” remarked Lucia Lin (violinist of the Muir Quartet and my former teacher). She had generously spent her Sunday morning listening to Jeff Louie and me play Sergei Prokofiev’s “Five Melodies” and César Franck’s Sonata and offering us her feedback. One of the things I love about Luci’s teaching is that she asks questions that get my mind churning. My brain tends to exhaust itself worrying about technical details—this tempo still too fast for my fingers, these notes still out of tune, this spot not loud enough, etc.—but Luci will ask me a question that forces me to step back and see the big picture. She’ll help me remember why I was drawn to a piece of music in the first place, and what kind of story I want the piece to tell.

“What do you like about Prokofiev?” was Sunday’s first question.

“Well, that’s easy!” I thought to myself at first. Prokofiev has always been one of my favorite composers. When I was a kid I would listen to the music from his ballet Romeo & Juliet over and over and sing the themes while producing small dramas with my Barbie dolls.

Putting my lifelong love for Prokofiev into words, however, wasn’t particularly easy. When I think of Prokofiev’s music, I think of drama, dance, evocative harmonies, vocal melodies, and color. Jeff was able to articulate his thoughts a little better than I, pointing out the “rich harmonic language, which even when it’s very dissonant is still lyrical.” We realized that even though Five Melodies is a short work (about 13 minutes), it contains a striking range of moods, characters, and landscapes, and its dimensions expand from intimate duet to quasi-orchestral at times. In a way, the piece is the perfect little capsule of all the things we love about Prokofiev.

Though I’m less familiar with other examples of César Franck’s work, his Sonata for violin and piano evokes many of the same things for me as Prokofiev. This magnificent work, my personal favorite of the Sonata repertoire, is filled with singing melodies, lush harmonies, drama, and of course color. The piece often takes on the quality of a fantasy rather than a formal sonata, as various thematic material recurs throughout the different movements. These melodies could be seen as motifs for a story. Whatever the story is, it’s full of fire, passion, introspection, and love. Just as Prokofiev’s Melodies, it carries us through a full spectrum of textures, colors, and feelings.

So if you need a break from all the dreary gray and white outside, we hope you can come bask in the colors of Prokofiev and Franck this evening at the RISD Museum!

-Lisa Barksdale

Sonata Series Event 
RISD Museum Grand Gallery
Thursday, February 6
Free with Museum admission