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Dueling Violins

By Alexander Hough in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 8, 2009 3:40PM

Photo of David Bowlin from ICE's website
Do you demand satisfaction? You'll be able to find it at either solo violin recital going on this weekend, as two accomplished musicians play works from opposite ends of the Western music spectrum.

Striking first is David Bowlin, one of the founding members of the International Contemporary Ensemble, the new-music collective founded in Chicago and now co-based in New York. Tomorrow night Bowlin will play pieces by three modern Italian composers: Salvatore Sciarrino's "Six Caprices," a rumination on the limits of silence using quiet harmonics; Luciano Berio's "Sequenza VIII," from the series of fourteen works, each written for a different solo instrument; and Luigi Nono's "La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura," a partly improvisatory violin piece accompanied by eight electronic tracks spliced together by the composer using his recording of violinist Gidon Kremer. This recital at the Museum of Contemporary Photography is ICE's first Chicago concert of the 2009-2010 season.

Two days later you can travel some 250 years into the past and hear Christian Tetzlaff play J.S. Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. The six pieces are conventionally structured - the three Sonatas conforming to an established outline, the three Partitas composed as dance suites (with the exception of Partita No. 2's concluding behemoth, the Chaconne), but don't be fooled by the formality. It sounds like overdramatic hyperbole to call this music some of the greatest ever written, but, well, just please pardon our sentimentality. And pardon Tetzlaff, too, who says that he thinks Bach, a talented violinist, composed them for himself as a sort of personal prayer book. This is less a history lesson and more a poetic way of expressing the spiritual experience of performing these works; if audiences ceased to exist, violinists would continue to play Bach's Sonatas and Partitas. This is huge undertaking by Tetzlaff and the audience alike - there will be an hour-long intermission - but it's a rare, illuminating chance to hear a single artist tackle all six of these pieces in one sitting.

David Howlin performs at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan, Friday at 7:30 p.m., $10; Christian Tetzlaff performs at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, Sunday at 2:00 p.m., $32 - $109