NPR Transcript: Kim Kashkashian’s Vocal Viola

National Public Radio (NPR)
September 4, 2009 Friday
SHOW: All Things Considered 9:00 PM EST NPR

Kim Kashkashian’s Vocal Viola

NOAH ADAMS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I’m Noah Adams.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

I’m Robert Siegel.

And I want to introduce you now to a piece of music. A few weeks ago,
a new CD by the violist Kim Kashkashian arrived in the mail. She plays
pieces by Armenian and Israeli composers on it. And after popping it
into the CD player, I was amazed to find myself blown away by the
title track. It’s about war and grief. It’s called "Neharot, Neharot,"
that’s Hebrew for rivers, rivers.

Ms. KIM KASHKASHIAN (Violist): The piece "Neharot" refers specifically
to the weeping and mourning of women before, during and after war.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Kim Kashkashian says it wasn’t originally intended to be about
that. Israeli composer Betty Olivero was writing a piece for
Kashkashian to play when war broke out across Israel’s northern
border. Rockets were flying. People were dying and grieving. And those
events forced themselves into Olivero’s composition. It’s scored for
two string ensembles that often play against each other. Also, an
accordion, percussion and, of course, Kim Kashkashian’s viola. The
music quotes liberally from Middle Eastern melodies and songs of
mourning, as well as the music of the Italian baroque composer,
Claudio Monteverdi.

Ms. KASHKASHIAN: The piece starts very, very dark. I’m – she uses
Monteverdi madrigal and also some melodies from Orfeo. And if I may, I
would like to read the text of the madrigal that she’s using because
it tells you a lot about the piece – or I’ll read a part of it. War is
my state – full of wrath and grief. And only by thinking of her do I
find some peace. So, from one clear and lively source flows the sweet
and the bitter on which I feed. One hand alone both heals and wounds
me. And so that my suffering may not reach the shore, 1,000 times each
day I die, 1,000 I am born. So far am I from my salvation. So that’s
how the piece opens.

SIEGEL: The Monteverdi madrigal sounds just out of reach, just beneath
– and on the partially penetrable dark surface. And then the music
becomes more conflicted.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KASHKASHIAN: The piece is divided in two orchestras playing a
dissonance to that – a dissonance both harmonically and
rhythmically. And the accordion is joining the second orchestra. So
what you’ve got is a picture that is already distorted from the very
beginning.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: And soon comes the mournful lament of violas. Not
Kashkashian’s, but those of the ensemble.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KASHKASHIAN: What she’s done is to darken the picture.

Soundbite of music)

Ms. KASHKASHIAN: Make us confused a little bit.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KASHKASHIAN: Now it’s me – for the viola.

(Soundbite of music) SIEGEL: And then it’s a duet, viola and
accordion.

Ms. KASHKASHIAN: We were inspiring each other and disturbing each
other as I see it.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: After some nine minutes of these musical allusions to war and
grief, the piece turns explicit.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KASHKASHIAN: It’s shocking, isn’t it? Totally shocking.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: These are the recorded voices of women mourning and your viola
among it.

Ms. KASHKASHIAN: Yes. Me trying to match them.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Kim Kashkashian says the challenge for her in this piece is
not to play like a classical violist, to let the bow vibrate or
crescendo in a way that she describes as more vocal than
instrumental. Within a few minutes, there’s some resolution, some
familiar intervals. I found that the memory of those voices stayed
with me. They’re actually laments that professional mourners sing in
Arabic and in Kurdish. And for me they demonstrated a paradox about
recording.

It’s great that I can listen to them over again. I can read liner
notes that describe how the composer came by this idea. But nothing
substitutes for the first hearing, when it’s new, powerful,
disorienting and painful.

Ms. KASHKASHIAN: It is a paradox. For me, I mean, for all of us
interpreters, we face daily the paradox of having a given text, which
stays the same. And it’s our job to be true to it and, yet, when we
get on stage, we have to make it new every time. And I choose to see
the recording as it’s a moment in time, which gets captured and,
therefore, it’s for the listener. The paradox becomes a double
paradox. But it’s the same one that we as interpreters face
daily. It’s always a moving target. And we always have to stay
flexible. And we have the challenge of the changing environment and
the audience – always different.

SIEGEL: You could take it easy and say, I’ll start with that last
point. The audience is always different. So, hey, for them, you know,
for them it’s a new show every time.

Ms. KASHKASHIAN: That’s true, but I can’t take it easy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: And frankly, so long as she continues to feel pushed to record
powerful, new music like this, I’m glad that she can’t.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Violist Kim Kashkashian’s new album is called "Neharot,
Neharot." And you can hear more from her CD at our Web site npr.org.

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