Violin-piano duo to perform Balazs, other works

2013-01-17T00:00:00Z Violin-piano duo to perform Balazs, other worksCathalena E. Burch Cburch@azstarnet.com Arizona Daily Star
January 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Tucson composer Frederic Balazs and Faroe Islands violinist Monika Stauss Joensen have been friends for 15 years but have seen each other only five times.

This week will make six when Joensen and Faroe Islands pianist Birgitte Schnakenburg visit Tucson for a handful of concerts featuring Balazs' music.

We caught up with Joensen via email before she left for Tucson last weekend; she and her family will be here for 10 days doing recitals and workshops. She chatted about her relationship with Balazs, who was the Tucson Symphony Orchestra's first full-time conductor in the 1950s, and the violin piece he composed for her.

The pair met in 1998. Joensen was putting together a summer music festival in her native Faroe Islands that focused on American music. She got in touch with Balazs and asked him to help with a program of American contemporary music that also included his works. Balazs, who turned 93 last month, jumped on board and ended up going to the festival.

"Together we performed Bach's Concerto for Two Violins, (which was) broadcast live on the local radio," Joensen said in the email.

Balazs said he and Joensen became fast friends. He was so inspired by her playing that he composed his Partita for Solo Violin for her.

"Over almost one year, he let me take part (in) his ideas and inspirations, so I could follow the development of the piece," Joensen said in her email. "When I finally got it, I was almost moved to tears - it must have been the biggest present I ever got in my life."

Joensen premiered the piece at the 2000 International Bach Festival in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, with Balazs in the audience.

On Friday, Joensen and Schnakenburg will perform Balazs' Sonata for Violin and Piano "The Canticle of Brother Sun of Francis of Assisi," a three-movement piece.

"You find more and more stories, pictures in it - birds are singing, thunder rumbles, the sun is rising," she said. "You meet the good fairy; there are folk dances. A world opens where you find yourself admiring many different secrets put together in just three movements. It's such a fascinating piece."

Her trip to Tucson this week marks the first time she has seen Balazs since he last visited the Faroe Islands in 2008.

"Before he left, I made him a big sandwich with ham so he should not be starving on his long journey back to U.S.A.," she recalled. (The Faroe Islands are located halfway between Norway and Iceland.) "But unfortunately the dog at the customs in London smelled it and they took it away. How often since then Frederic told me the bad story and how stupid he was to put this lovely ham sandwich into the pocket of his coat (rather) than directly into his stomach."

If you go

• What: Violinist Monika Stauss Joensen and pianist Birgitte Schnakenburg in concert.

• When: 7 p.m. Friday.

• Where: Korean Presbyterian Church of Tucson, 2801 E. 17th St.

• Cost: $10 suggested donation at the door, $5 for students with proceeds benefiting the Tucson Music Teachers Association.

• Program: Works by Luigi Boccherini, Edvard Grieg, Frederic Balazs, Jules Massenet, Jacob Gade and Leo Portnoff.

• Other events:

• TMTA master classes with Joensen and Schnakenburg on Sunday (2 p.m. for pianists, 5 p.m. for strings and chamber music) at the Korean Presbyterian Church.

• Children's concert at 10 a.m. today at SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, 1436 N. Campbell Ave.

• Recital at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Benedictine Monastery, 800 N. Country Club Road. Free.

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