The New Epoch

Lucia Lin violin
Jonathan Miller cello
Diane Walsh piano

Release Date: September 9, 2022
Catalog #: NV6463
Format: Digital
20th Century
Chamber
Cello
Piano
Violin

Artists are liminal figures — they cross thresholds and collapse boundaries between past, present, and future.  In THE NEW EPOCH, three musicians from the Boston Artists Ensemble interpret works by French composers Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, and Lili Boulanger, infusing these pieces with unprecedented freshness and clarity.

Each celebrated in their own right, cellist Jonathan Miller, violinist Lucia Lin, and pianist Diane Walsh join forces in every duo setting possible from this assortment of instruments. Exploring works written at the threshold of the First World War — with the world crossing into the violent twentieth century and composers reacting with music that looked both nostalgically back and innovatively forward — they underline the commonalities between each composer’s unique voice and reinterpret this music for our turbulent present.

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Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Sonata for Cello and Piano: I. Prologue Claude Debussy Jonathan Miller, cello; Diane Walsh, piano 4:31
02 Sonata for Cello and Piano: II. Sérénade et Finale Claude Debussy Jonathan Miller, cello; Diane Walsh, piano 7:22
03 Sonata for Violin and Piano: I. Allegro vivo Claude Debussy Lucia Lin, violin; Diane Walsh, piano 5:20
04 Sonata for Violin and Piano: II. Intermède; Fantasque et léger Claude Debussy Lucia Lin, violin; Diane Walsh, piano 4:24
05 Sonata for Violin and Piano: III. Finale Très animé Claude Debussy Lucia Lin, violin; Diane Walsh, piano 4:49
06 Sonata for Violin and Cello: I. Allegro Maurice Ravel Lucia Lin, violin; Jonathan Miller, cello 5:17
07 Sonata for Violin and Cello: II. Très vif Maurice Ravel Lucia Lin, violin; Jonathan Miller, cello 3:31
08 Sonata for Violin and Cello: III. Lent Maurice Ravel Lucia Lin, violin; Jonathan Miller, cello 6:17
09 Sonata for Violin and Cello: IV. Vif, avec entrain Maurice Ravel Lucia Lin, violin; Jonathan Miller, cello 6:11
10 Nocturne Lili Boulanger Lucia Lin, violin; Diane Walsh, piano 2:59
11 Cortège Lili Boulanger Lucia Lin, violin; Diane Walsh, piano 1:50
12 Pièce En Forme de Habanera Maurice Ravel Jonathan Miller, cello; Diane Walsh, piano 3:03
13 Berceuse Gabriel Fauré Jonathan Miller, cello; Diane Walsh, piano 3:53

Recorded at Mechanics Hall in Worcester MA
Editing, Mixing, Mastering, Engineer & Producer Brad Michel

Cover Art Family of Saltimbanques (1905) by Pablo Picasso
© 2022 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Back Cover Art Les Saltimbanques (1905) by Pablo Picasso

Violin by Pietro Guarneri of Venice, (made in) 1740

Cello “Paganini-Piatti” by Matteo Goffriller of Venice, (made in) 1700

Piano by Steinway and Sons

Executive Producer Bob Lord

A&R Director Brandon MacNeil

VP of Production Jan Košulič
Audio Director Lucas Paquette

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming, Morgan Hauber
Publicity Patrick Niland, Aidan Curran

Artist Information

Lucia Lin

Lucia Lin

Violinist

Lucia Lin made her solo debut at age 11 with the Chicago Symphony and went on to be a prizewinner of numerous competitions, including Moscow’s prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition. She then held positions as Assistant Concertmaster at the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Leader with the London Symphony Orchestra.

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Jonathan Miller

Cellist

Jonathan Miller is a 43-year veteran of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and is founder and Artistic Director of the Boston Artists Ensemble. He is a founding member of the Gramercy Trio, which has premiered new works and received critical acclaim for its outstanding performances of standard repertoire. Miller has recorded the complete Beethoven Cello Sonatas with Randall Hodgkinson which were described as “exciting” by The New York Times. He has also commissioned new works for cello by distinguished composers Judith Wier, Scott Wheeler, Matthew Aucoin, Harold Meltzer, and Gabriela Frank; on Naxos, Albany, PARMA, Centaur, and Newport Classic labels.

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Diane Walsh

Diane Walsh

Pianist

Winner of the Munich ARD Competition and the Salzburg Mozart Competition, pianist Diane Walsh has performed concertos, solo recitals, and chamber music concerts throughout the United States and internationally. She has appeared at numerous summer festivals including Marlboro, Santa Fe, Bard, and Chesapeake, and was the artistic director of the Skaneateles Festival. She gave 113 performances of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations on stage in the Broadway production of Moisés Kaufman’s play 33 Variations, starring Jane Fonda. A graduate of the Juilliard School and Mannes School of Music, and a Steinway Artist, Walsh has released 19 recordings of diverse repertoire from four centuries, and has taught piano and chamber music at Mannes, Vassar College, and Colby College.

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Notes

In 1915, Claude Debussy was facing almost unimaginable difficulties in every aspect of his life, including grave illness. And yet he planned and began composing a revolutionary group of six sonatas for diverse combinations of instruments. Only three of these sonatas were completed before Debussy’s death, and all three are certainly masterpieces. The Cello Sonata was the first completed of the set.

Many works by Debussy have very strong visual programs and are sometimes compared to impressionist painting; however the cello sonata is more akin to the symbolist poetry written in that epoch. The title of the first movement, “Prologue,” seems literary, as if it were a preface, or the back story of a protagonist. The “Sérénade” and “Finale” are played without pause and constitute the second movement.

Debussy’s marking for this second movement are the same as in his violin sonata: Fantastique et Léger (fantastic and light). Does this exotic writing evoke the archetypal characters from the Commedia dell’Arte? Debussy is silent on the subject, but there is some evidence of his former interest in that old theatrical tradition.

For many, me included, this sonata appears to be a tale of Pierrot, and of his eternal and unsuccessful courting of Columbine. In the second movement “Sérénade,” I imagine an actual serenade by Pierrot, strumming his guitar with a comically dissonant chord.

The “Prologue” has extreme and sudden emotional changes, and for me is a “back story” of Pierrot. And the “Finale,” marked Léger et nerveux (light and nervous) depicts him again, as wild and energetically free. A sudden slow episode marked con morbidezza is for me a moment of his reflection and lucidity; I make a downward glissando from this section, imagining that Pierrot at this moment takes off his mask.

This great sonata concludes with declamatory energy; Pierrot is unrepentant and majestically defiant.

By 1916, the 54-year-old Debussy was afflicted by terminal colon cancer, painful surgery, and radium treatments; a large, legal judgment against him (his former wife had sued him over unpaid financial support); anxiety and despair about the war raging in Europe; and suicidal depression. Despite his suffering, he found himself inspired to take up the Violin Sonata again, of which he had sketched the first two movements earlier in the year. The following spring he submitted it to his publisher and, on May 5, 1917, played in its debut performance with the violinist Gaston Poulet. It is miraculous with what perfection, concision, and refinement Debussy synthesized his style in this, his final work, filling it with, as he wrote to a friend, “joyous tumult.”

The mercurial first movement begins with a soft minor chord in the piano that seems to float upward to a major chord; the violin answers in descending thirds, equally fragile and allusive. The “Intermède” is a quicksilver serenade, evoking strummed guitars and plaintive singing; one can easily imagine Picasso’s harlequins, acrobats, clowns, and jugglers. In the “Finale,” against a background of flickering piano tremolos, the violin recalls the mysterious opening of the first movement, then turns to a scampering tarantella which ends in a cascade of piano arpeggios and violin trills.

— Jonathan Miller and Diane Walsh

Maurice Ravel dedicated his Sonata for Violin and Cello to Debussy, whom he revered. Ravel wrote: “I think this sonata marks a turning point in my career… The music is stripped to the bone. The allure of harmony is rejected and more and more there is a return of the emphasis on melody.” Ravel achieves, in this Sonata, the fully realized harmonic splendor that we know from his other well-known works. The violin and cello continually toss the melodic themes back and forth in counterpoint, creating or suggesting the harmonies with their interplay.

The theme of each of the four movements is a variation of the same motif, a way of unifying a composition developed by Beethoven in his late period. Our goal in this performance was to show how the same motif grows into the individual characters of each movement.

The constant counterpoint and the rich, sometimes exceedingly remote harmony make the piece somewhat challenging for both listeners and performers. But the fleetingly implied harmonies, at times jagged and angular, are gorgeous, and are, as Ravel described them, “stripped to the bone.”

Ravel completed the sonata in 1922, at first simply calling it Duo. In the first movement, the cello often plays higher than the violin in delicate passages. The “Scherzo” is mostly played in pizzicato, a technique used by both Ravel and Debussy in the second movements of their string quartets. The “Andante” begins with a soul-searching cello and violin melody which blossoms into a passionate climax with an accelerating tempo, followed by a gentle and pensive conclusion; this form recalls the slow movement of Ravel’s Piano Trio. The last movement, “Vif, avec entrain” (lively, with spirit) has vigorous manic energy, playfully creating extraordinary harmonies.

— Jonathan Miller and Diane Walsh

Lili Boulanger was a prodigy who began singing and learning to play four instruments (harp, piano, violin, and cello) by the time she was five. Chronically ill since childhood, she nonetheless won the Prix de Rome at age 19, for her cantata Faust et Hélène. She died only five years later.

Boulanger’s sparkling sense of harmony and texture, as well as Debussy’s strong influence, can be heard in her Nocturne (1911) and Cortège (1914.) They are character pieces which set the scene with a few simple brush strokes: the piano’s soft broken octaves in Nocturne evoke the stillness of night, and a jaunty strummed figure in Cortège announces a happy procession. The violin’s melodies are song-like and improvisational, and beautifully balanced with the accompaniment.

— Jonathan Miller and Diane Walsh

Maurice Ravel’s Pièce En Forme de Habanera for cello and piano is named for a Cuban dance rhythm from 19th-century Havana. It originated from 18th-century English contradance, and then traveled to the Americas. With the additional element of African rhythms, this refined dance form then traveled back to Europe. The habanera’s slow, distinctive rhythm (also used by Bizet in Carmen) is haunting and hypnotic. Ravel originally wrote Pièce in 1907 as a Vocalise-étude for low voice and piano, which he later transcribed for cello and piano.

— Jonathan Miller and Diane Walsh

Gabriel Fauré composed his gentle lullaby, Berceuse, for (muted) cello and piano several decades before the other music on this album. He was the teacher of Ravel and also was admired by Debussy. His lovely and often unexpected harmonies glide by effortlessly, and inspired the next generation of French composers.

— Jonathan Miller and Diane Walsh