Mark Gresham | 09 OCT 2020
Kennesaw State University has been live-streaming concerts from its Bailey Performance Center long before the COVID-19 pandemic — years before, that is, not weeks or months. It was the first university to do so in the Atlanta DMA, a “designated market area” for distribution of media which which is ranked nationally at No. 10 in the Nielsen DMA Rankings for 2019 – the professional data gathering standard by which media audiences are mapped and measured. KSU’s experience made it well-prepared to address the wave of virtual concerts necessitated by the pandemic, with the primary shift of gears being the absence of a live, in-person audience.
Likewise, violinist Helen Hwaya Kim and pianist Robert Henry, both professors and heads their respective departments at KSU’s School of Music, have much to celebrate in terms of longevity: Monday’s virtual concert from the Bailey center’s Morgan Hall marked the 10th anniversary of their musical collaboration as recitalists, having performed their first concert concert together in the fall of 2010 at KSU. The single-level, 624-seat concert hall itself opened in October 2007, so the two have been performing there for most of its history, and live-streaming has been taking place there for most of Kim and Henry’s time as collaborative musicians.
Kim and Henry opened the concert with the cheerful Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord in No. 3 in E major BWV 1016 by Johann Sebastian Bach. Although the keyboard part was written for harpsichord, I have no personal objections to performing it on the modern piano, and Henry’s careful touch, voicing and coloring suited Bach’s music well and complemented Kim’s violin part.
Naturally darker and fuller in palette was Johannes Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100, nicknamed “Meistersinger” because of the composer’s use of motifs from Wagner’s music. It is both the shortest and most lyrical of Brahms’ three violin sonatas, but typically the most difficult of the three to pull off, especially in the task of balancing virtuosity with its lyrical expression. Kim and Henry did that rather well. The toughest challenge of the evening, however, came in the final work on the intermissionless program.
Ottorino Respighi is best known for orchestral works such as his Pini di Roma, Fontane di Roma and Feste romane, with their colorful orchestrations which would come to heavily influence Hollywood film scoring. Respighi similarly injected an orchestral character into the piano part of his Violin Sonata in B minor (1917). He was a rather accomplished violinist, so takes the solo violin part rather thoroughly across the gamut of the instrument’s pitch, color and dynamic range.
The parts for both instruments are quite demanding, with both harmonic and rhythmic complexities that are daunting, most notoriously the opening of the Andante expressive second movement where the violin part is written in 4/4 meter while the piano part is in 10/8 – measures otherwise being equal length – which is essentially like quintuplets in the piano had it been written in 4/4. I will assert here that contemporary music engravers would likely get into bar fights over Respighi’s choice of notation for this movement. It was a tour-de-force for the performers as well as an intriguing piece for the listener, but, alas, one not likely to be heard all that frequently in a local concert hall.
The audio captured the range of expression in the performance well, with a bit of improved balance and sense of the presence of the hall than even last year, and the video images were well chosen and well framed in switching between the various camera angles. The downside was that the audio and video were not in sync for some reason, with the audio roughly a second ahead of the video, consistent throughout. For some unexplained reason I was unable to access the live stream on Monday, although I tried for what would have been a half hour into the concert. I was, however, graciously provided subsequent access to the archived video, from which I was able to re-assess this time-lag multiple times.
A slight lag of the sound behind the video is easier to digest, as is slight time lag in a large hall. But the other way around, especially with closeups of performers’ fingers, and the violin bow, is something to which we are all much less acclimated, so it doesn’t feel all that comfortable. However, the video itself looks good, and the problem can surely be resolved rather simply through editing by shifting the entire audio track so it lines up with the video track. Alternatively, the performance can simply be enjoyed by listening to the audio and not watching. ■