ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque musician David Felberg has studied dozens of pieces for the violin but never learned Vaughan Williams’ well-known work “Lark Ascending.”
When Santa Fe Symphony general manager Greg Heltman asked Felberg if he would play the violin part in this work for violin and orchestra, he jumped at the chance.
“It’s one of those famous pieces I never got to during all my violin studies,” said Felberg, who is the orchestra’s concertmaster. “I started learning it last year and played the version for violin and piano with Pamela Pyle at a Sunday morning Chatter concert about six months ago so I would become familiar with the piece.”
Felberg performs “Lark Ascending” with the Santa Fe Symphony at next Sunday’s “Birds & Brahms” concert in Santa Fe’s Lensic Performing Arts Center.
“This piece is somewhat different from most pieces I’ve played,” Felberg explained. “The harmonic structure is modal. The fingering is different. But what really stands out about the piece is that it feels like I’m in a different world. I don’t mean to sound trite, but the music really soars.”
Williams made sketches for “Lark Ascending” while watching ships cross the English Channel at the outbreak of the First World War and completed the piece in 1920. He dedicated the work to English violinist Marie Hall, who premiered the piano-accompanied version in 1920 and the violin and orchestra version in 1921.
“The orchestration is lush and beautiful when it needs to be and sparse when it needs to be sparse,” said Felberg. “It doesn’t feel like a violin solo with orchestral accompaniment. It feels like a collaborative effort.”
Williams included three cadenzas in the work, placing one at the beginning, one at the middle and one at the end of the piece.
“The cadenzas are completely written out but they feel improvisatory,” Felberg added. “What I do is play around with the tempo a bit and that helps give the cadenzas an improvisatory feel.”
Rather than a dramatic end, “Lark Ascending” has an otherworldly feel to it.
“It’s so extraordinary at the end,” Felberg said. “It kind of hangs there. It’s absolutely ethereal.”
Felberg, who plays a Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume violin from 1829, made his New York City recital debut in Merkin Hall in 2005. He regularly performs throughout the Southwest as a recitalist, concerto soloist and chamber musician with groups including Albuquerque Chamber Soloists and Taos Chamber Music Group. He is also the associate concertmaster of the New Mexico Philharmonic and music director of Chatter.
In addition to “Lark Ascending,” the Santa Fe Symphony presents Gioachino Rossini’s “La Gazza Ladra,” Bedrich Smetana’s “Moldau” and Johannes Brahms’ “Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73.” A pre-concert lecture takes place at 3 p.m. in the Lensic.