Jacques and Kanae: When the mind and heart meet

Violinist Jacques Israelievitch and pianist Kanae Matsumoto rehearse together in Studio 17. Photo by Lauren Rock.

Yemi Falodun | Staff Writer

Jacques Israelievitch revels in deciphering the notes less-played. Kanae Matsumoto loves to give spirit to the notes she plays. Together, they revitalize classics.

In a dedication to rarely performed classical pieces, violinist Israelievitch and pianist Matsumoto will host a recital at 4:30 p.m. today in Fletcher Music Hall.

One of the last times the two appeared on stage, they played all 10 Beethoven sonatas in one day. It took six hours.

“We came out fairly unscathed,” Israelievitch said. “So, when we finished the last sonata, I felt like we could start all over again.”

And they did, as they performed the grueling yet exhilarating task in Toronto and at Chautauqua.

“We don’t discuss when we play,” Matsumoto said. “We just listen to each other. And it’s just boom — there.”

Israelievitch and Matsumoto bring a clear balance to their performances. Israelievitch is the artistic brainiac, whereas Matsumoto is the fierce muse.

“To me, sound is a reflection of your personality,” Matsumoto said. “When you play your instrument, you need to feel like you are ready to be naked.”

Today’s current recital marks the fourth time Israelievitch and Matsumoto will play together in front of the Chautauquan audience. They will perform overlooked pieces from notable composers such as Poulenc, Prokofiev and Schoenberg.

“The beginning is absolutely gorgeous, very touching and moving,” Israelievitch said about the Poulenc sonata written for assassinated Spanish poet Federico García Lorca.

“And then, it comes to a grinding halt at the end like the tragic ending of García Lorca being killed for no reason,” Israelievitch said. “It doesn’t have a happy ending. It’s not Hollywood.”

Similarly, Prokofiev’s sonata captures warfare, but on the Russian frontier.

“First of all, I love Russian music,” Matsumoto said. “You hear KGB coming to the door and banging, ‘This is the police! Open the door!’”

There is a moving picture that unfolds in the piece.

“You hear it in the music,” she said. “You hear the gust over the gravestone that’s going through, really eerie. And it’s not just a painting; it’s reflecting his emotional side.”

Matsumoto added she feels close to Prokofiev in the work, which includes a cocktail of emotions such as agony, anger and sadness.

“It’s so twisted,” she said. “Maybe I’m a twisted person, I don’t know.”

Schoenberg’s Phantasy for Violin with Piano Accompaniment, Op. 47, is more avant-garde compared to the other two pieces.

“His music used to be rather hermetic to the audience,” Israelievitch explained about Schoenberg’s dense composition. “Then he became religious and started to write music that was really reaching out to people.”

“For the first time when you hear it, it’s like, ‘Huh?’” Matsumoto said.

“It sort of haunts you when you get it in your ear,” Israelievitch said.

All the notes in the piece have equal importance, so it has no sense of tonality. And that makes it hard for the audience to follow.

“The third movement is very charming,” Israelievitch said. “The last movement is like fireworks, but then it ends quietly, exactly like it begins.”

Today’s recital will also feature Israelievitch and Matsumoto’s new album, French Violin Sonatas. Recorded a few years ago at Chautauqua, the album features the Poulenc piece and compositions from Debussy, Gabriel Pierné and Ravel.

“Music can be light, entertaining or thought-provoking,” Israelievitch said. “This is thought-provoking.”