Lineage means a lot to musicians. Someone studied with someone, who studied with someone’s teacher, who studied with—and so on.
Such connections make interesting anecdotes, but rarely make a difference in performance.
Composer David Ludwig has is own distinguished lineage—his grandfather was pianist Rudolf Serkin, and his great-grandfather violinist/conductor Adolf Busch.
Ludwig’s “Paganiniana,” a world premiere performed Sunday afternoon at the Kingston Chamber Music Festival in the University of Rhode Island, continued that lineage, making new connections as well.
Those connections—one can guess—explored the legacy of violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini. Ludwig’s concerto, performed here by soloist Jasmine Lin and a small ensemble, invoked the virtuoso’s spirit.
In one continuous movement, but encompassing many moods, Ludwig recalls Paganini’s great set of Caprices. While echoes of that work abound—especially the alluring 24th Caprice—it’s more the legend of the virtuoso that informs the music.
Lin’s strengths made the work come to life. Possessed of formidable bowing technique, she made the treacherous passages seem lively and flowing, the lyrical passages deeply felt.
Ludwig’s work begins with a solo cadenza, sounding like the religious minimalism of Arvo Pärt, with its repetitions and challenging intervals. The ensemble was heavy on percussion—Mari Yoshinaga played an array including marimba, gongs, snares and blocks, and pianist Natalie Zhu added percussively, even reaching into the instrument for strumming effects.
The solo techniques focused on bowing, with Lin playing in front, on top and behind the bridge—each effect creating a different sound world.
“Paganiniana” pivots around Lin’s cadenzas. The first—showy but accessible—opens the work, and later returns. Others interrupt the ensemble in various ways—one lyric and mellow, and other, at the end, strongly evoking the 24th Caprice. The work felt organic and genuine; here’s hoping Lin keeps it in her repertory and realizes many more performances.
Tchaikovsky’s crowd-pleasing “Souvenir de Florence” provided a bracing concert closer. Anchored by former festival director and Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster David Kim, a string sextet dug deep into the tuneful, inventive sextet.
The slow movement stood out. Framed by a chorale-like passage, it features a dotted melody, passing through violin (Kim), cello (Priscilla Lee) and viola (Burchard Tang). Counterpoint pizzicato fills the spaces. The playing matched the elegance of Tchaikovsky’s score.
Almost unnecessarily beautiful, a dancing folk theme that spins into a fugue—cleverly interrupted and restarted—brings the work to a close. Each member of the ensemble contributed smartly to the richly woven musical texture.
The Kingston Chamber Music Festival runs through Aug. 5 at the Fine Arts Center Concert Hall, 105 Upper College Rd., Kingston. Tickets are $15–$30. Call (401) 308-3614 or visit kingstonchambermusic.org.