Benjamin Britten Birthday Year

DownloadedFile-36487smallThis year would be the 100th birthday of English composer, Benjamin Britten. One great way to celebrate is to listen to violinist Livia Sohn’s recording Britten’s Violin Concerto, Op. 15. She performs this challenging work with clarity and strength. It’s music that deserves to be heard; Ms Sohn’s recording invites you to listen again. She performs it with the Orchestra del Teatro Marrucino, conducted by Luigi Piovano, on the Eloquentia label. The concerto is restless music that throws the listener off guard. Just when one’s ear anticipates the usual next sound, something upsets the rhythm or jars the tone. Britten was 22 years old when he wrote it. The world was coming apart. It was 1938-39; the Nazis were devouring Europe, and Civil War was defeating democratic Spain. While there is nothing overtly political in the music, the sense of balance is shattered. The music is angry, provoking anxiety and fear. Britten offers no peace in the end, just more marches, a strange dance, and questions. Also on the cd is Jiyeh, by American composer Jonathan Berger. This music was inspired by the multiple tragedies of 2006 when Israel responded to attacks by Hezbollah. Berger was in Jerusalem at the time and learned that a rocket hit a power station in Jiyeh, a town on Lebanon’s coast. More than 20,000 tons of oil spilled into the Mediterranean. Jiyeh is a work inspired by this ecological disaster; the plight of Jiyeh’s mostly Maronite population which had suffered decades of attacks by Muslim fighters; the senselessness of war. In addition, the composer studied satellite images of the oil spill. That physical representation led to music based on the visual images of the oil. Ms. Sohn is on the music faculty at Stanford where she coaches violinists and chamber groups. She says she enjoys working with the students who are very bright with great abilities to do many things. Originally from Connecticut and educated at Juilliard, Ms Sohn has been in California since 2000. She is playing a lot of Britten and Lutoslawski at festivals this season. In addition to concerti performances, she also performs with her piano trio, Latitude 41. In addition to the Britten concerto, she is currently performing the Korngold concerto which she says is much easier to listen to, “its beauty just washes over you,” and the Schubert Fantasy, a great favorite. See more at