June 30, 2014

Composer from Santa Barbara

by Marina Korneva, musicologist

This story begins in 2010. My former teacher in polyphony Tatiana Svistunenko, Professor in the department of Theory and Composition at the Saratov State Sobinov Conservatory, invited me to a recital by the American composer Joel Feigin.

I am remembering this event of almost four years ago. At the Great (Bolshoi) hall of the Saratov Conservatory, Joel Feigin presented his compositions and participated in the recital as a concert pianist. I need to mention that Feigin uses different mediums as a composer. Those include opera ( Twelfth night after Shakespeare), works for winds and strings, chamber music.

I was extremely impressed by the concert on March 25, 2010. I was listening to Feigin’s works and thinking how some sections of those pieces resemble the spirit of Russian music in the most astonishing ways. It was especially obvious in Elegy for viola solo (performed by professor Anatoly Grigoriev) with six accompanying violas. This piece opened the first half. Some moments in it resurrected in my memory wonderful examples of beautiful tone painting in Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky’s Dawn over the Moscow river. Also, the “melting” sonorities pianissimo (“very soft”) in the last section brought to mind the finale of Scheherazade by Nikolay Andreevich Rimsky-Korsakov.

The program continued with the scene from the opera Twelfth night. Its strong lyrical sense and dramatic drive were very captivating, and especially present in the part of Viola. The following work, Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello, entitled Mountains and Rivers, made a different, somewhat unusual impression. The musical images, taken after Japanese philosophy, were created without the particular, conventional oriental means, which are expected by the Russian listener. In this case, the peaceful and contemplating mood was achieved by using high register and singing tone of the piano in contrast to the dry sound of pizzicato in string accompaniment.

Compositions featured in the second half were written specifically for Saratov musicians. Those included Sonata for Violin and Piano, dedicated to the conservatory professor Tatiana Bykova; a work entitled To a friend for the Brandt-Brass ensemble (the Grand Prix winner of the Second Shchelokov trumpet competition, director Oleg Abramov); and Mosaic for the Saratov Conservatory Chamber Orchestra ( artistic director and conductor Tatiana Bykova).

It’s noteworthy that all the intertwined, mosaic-like components of Feigin’s compositional style reflect complexities of modern world, as seen through the author’s optimistic outlook. The success of the concert was largely due to the hard work of both students and teachers of the Saratov Conservatory, and to the solid preparation by Tatiana Svistunenko, who was leading and hosting the event in Russian and English. I will add that Feigin arrived to Saratov a week before the concert and immediately joined the rehearsal process. Aside from the actual rehearsals, Feigin also gave master classes in composition. He listened to the works by student composers and gave them interesting suggestions.

Since then I have spoken several times with Tatiana Anatolievna. I learned more about Feigin and about the opportunities and means for his visit to Saratov. She told me about the Fulbright program which started cultural exchanges and connections between the Saratov State Conservatory and the University of California Santa Barbara, where Professor Joel Feigin teaches composition.

The academic exchange program named after its founder, American senator William Fulbright, was founded in 1946. It started in Russia in 1973. Then, 40 years ago, six American and Russian scientists received grants from the program to conduct research and give lectures. This is how the foundation for the bilateral academic partnership was laid. By now, ten versions of Fulbright program for different categories and scientific subjects have developed.

Joel Feigin (b.1951) graduated from the Juilliard School – one of the largest and most prestigious schools for the art and music in New York. His teacher was Roger Sessions. In addition, Feigin took lessons from the great French musician Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979). In 1998-99 J. Feigin taught at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory on the Fulbright program. Tatiana Svistunenko is a graduate of this international competitive program as well. In 2007-8 she gave a series of lectures “Theory and practice of the polyphonic techniques” for student composers at the University of California Santa Barbara. That is where she and Feigin met.

Joel Feigin is planning to visit our city once again. He already sent in his new work – Concerto Grosso for the Conservatory Chamber Orchestra. It is great to know that the name of Joel Feigin already belongs to the Saratov cultural chronicle.

Translated by Natasha Kislenko