Violist Arianna Smith is briefly back home in St. Charles, from California en route to Paris, where she will continue her viola studies at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et Danse de Paris with Jean Sulem. Her stay in her native Chicagoland included a performance with pianist Kay Kim at the weekly WFMT-simulcast Dame Myra Hess Concert in beautiful Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center.
Again a near capacity crowd on a rain spotted day, this time there were also many family and friends from St. Charles in the audience, including a duly proud father who was chatting up the crowd pre-concert with stories about his star daughter.
Add to that the volunteer passing around free cookies and the artist readying her pencils to make her gift portrait of the performers.
Ann Murray, Director of the International Music Foundation that sponsors the concerts, also circulated pre-concert to say hello to the many people in the audience she knows. Yes—picture a friendly event that seems to epitomize Chicago’s ability to make world class arts and entertainment accessible to all with a sometimes small town feel.
Smith and Kim did not disappoint.
Smith chose a repertoire for the concert that was meant to shine a light on the viola’s melodious voice and it did.
First up was a premiere at the Dame Myra Hess series of work by Nino Rota, a composer familiar to cinephile fans of Fellini, among other filmmakers. Smith describes the piece as “forlorn and yearning with many passionate parts.” This was a different sound than the typical Dame Myra Hess offering, perhaps perking ears to give the concert en toto an intent listen.
For those of us who are more familiar with a clarinet piano duo playing Brahms’ “Sonata No. 1, Op. 120 in F minor”, the longest piece played by Smith and Kim in this recital, it was perhaps a chance to see how the viola sounds almost like the clarinet’s tone sibling at times. Brahms’ Sonata also gave Kim a chance to shine as the melody line shifted back and forth from piano to viola.
Short but sweet, the concert wrapped up with Ravel’s “Pièce en forme de Habanera”, a Spanish-sounding composition ,though the roots of habanera dance actually trace back to Cuba’s adoption of a French dance. In four minutes, this piece went from soft to sultry to all around smiles between Smith and Kim as they stood to take their bows from the audience.
20 year-old Smith already has a long list of credits, including winning a top prize in the prestigious Fischoff National Chamber Competition. A relatively recent convert from violin to viola, she is an ardent fan of the instrument. Smith says, “..as a violist in a quartet I can change the harmonies and the whole mood . For me it’s just the viola’s sound. When you hear a viola, your heart sings.”
Sing it did. Bravas!
The exciting Dame Myra Hess Concert series continues every Wednesday at 12:15 in Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center. These tickets are free and open to the public with live simulcasts on WFMT.