The Violin and Tuba, Together at Last

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Attendees at tonight’s performance at the Lang Concert Hall will be in for a rare treat. Miranda Weinberg ’09 and Robert Hollahan ’09 will be leading a bevy of musicians through a series of odd but imaginative pieces completely composed by current and former Swarthmore students.

The centerpiece is The Only Piece Ever Written for Violin and Tuba. When Weinberg and Hollahan first encountered it four years ago, during a freshman music class, they saw it as a challenge. Ever since then, they’ve been agitating to add it to a performance.

They weren’t too lucky, on that front. The piece was written by “P.D.Q. Bach,” the comedic alter-ego of Swarthmore alum Peter Schickele ’57, who was Swarthmore’s first music major. “He writes music that pokes fun at, and is in the style of, light baroque,” said Weinberg. “There are a lot of absurd juxtapositions.”

“The feeling was that having a funny piece on a serious program wouldn’t be appropriate,” said Hollahan, explaining why the piece had been turned down for department performances. Still, he is confident that “part of it sounds like something you’d go and hear and be very serious about.”

With graduation in 2009 only just around the corner, Weinberg and Hollahan resolved to create their own event. They solicited student musicians and composers, garnering some forty participants.

The concert’s lineup includes six pieces for violin and tuba, accompanied by seven other pieces which follow in the original duo’s off-beat footsteps.

The other works include Professor of Music Tom Whitman’s Overtone Prelude which “is a play on the acoustical properties of sound,” said Hollahan, jumping up to demonstrate the technical details of overtones, and assuring this reporter that it is “all very mathematical.”

Attendees will hear Leland Kusmar ’11’s “Prayer,” based on first-hand experiences from Bali, Gerrit Straughter ’09’s “Winds,” designed to evoke “the flights of fancy you might take upon hearing the wind,” said Weinberg.

An atonal fugue, entitled “Duet” and written by Bradley Gersh ’09, opens the second half of the concert. It represented the biggest challenge for duo. “It has a very dense texture,” said Weinberg. “A lot of the music we play is tough, but this pushed us to our limits,” added Hollahan.

Ultimately, the concert will close with an unusual polyrhythmic, polymetric creation by Gabe Ricco, entitled “From Separation to Unity.” Performed on two pianos, Hollahan described the music as playing with overlaying rhythms and the textural wash of the sound.

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