Julie Amacher | Classical MPR
For the past 20 years, Margaret Batjer has served as the concertmaster of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. The ensemble asked her how she wanted to mark this milestone. The first thing that came to her was to reach out to composer Pierre Jalbert.
"In the back of my mind, I always had this dream of commissioning him to write a violin concerto. So as my 20th year in the orchestra came close, they asked me what I would like to do to celebrate those 20 years. I said, 'I'd like to commission Pierre to write me a violin concerto.'
"In this case, we did a tri-commission with the Milwaukee Symphony and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Unofficially, it became known as the 'Concert Master Concerto' because Pierre had relationships with both of those orchestras and both those concertmasters. And luckily, we maintained the recording rights to the piece."
Is there a theme that's running through the four pieces that are featured on this recording?
"I believe that the chamber orchestra, as well as my own musical personality, is fairly eclectic. I wanted it to represent that element of our personalities. So, Bach was a no-brainer for me because Bach is so close to my heart, musically, and a very important part of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra's repertoire.
"Over the years, I've really enjoyed pairing Arvo Pärt with Bach. He studied and absorbed himself in Gregorian chant. His music is very spiritual in that way. I particularly have always loved Fratres. That piece is very mesmerizing, the musical language is something that I think fits beautifully with Bach.
Lonely Angel by Peteris Vasks is a work that the composer himself had a very specific image in mind when he wrote it, and it's almost like a guardian angel watching over the world. Can you share that story?
"I'll read you what he wrote about this piece. He said, 'I saw an angel flying over the world. The angel looks at the world's condition with grieving eyes, but an almost imperceptible, loving touch of the angel's wings brings comfort and healing. This piece is my music after the pain.'
You are basically playing the role of the angel. How does that feel for you to be the angel in this piece?
"I have to say, I wasn't expecting, in a recording session, to be so moved. It is so extraordinarily beautiful. And playing it in the recording session was very emotional for me. So, I loved the role of being the protagonist and the angel in his story. I loved it.
"To have a composer's reaction to the world that he saw with such pain, but yet, he saw hope. And that this angel's wings was his way of bringing comfort and healing to people — I thought that was just a very profound and loving gift from a composer."
To hear the rest of my conversation, download the extended podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.