By Julie Amacher, Classical MPR
"What I really wanted to do is just make a CD of something fun, something that people would want to just play. Just turn turn the CD on after a long day of work and just kind of relax and have fun listening while they're cooking, and imagine."
Helen Chang Haertzen is originally from Massachusetts. She's been in Minnesota for the past 17 years, where she's honored to play with Minnesota Orchestra in the first violin section. She recently teamed up with the associate cellist of that orchestra, Silver Ainomae, Russian-American pianist Denis Evstuhin, and pianist Oleg Levin to release a recording titled American Avenues.
Helen, this recording is all American music I want to know what makes this unique? What path did you follow that helped create the avenues that lead us down this musical road?
"Well, Julie, I was thinking of a 24-hour day in New York City. I didn't specifically choose the pieces when I was writing the grant. But they all kind of fell on like a palette, like as if you're just painting and then you just everything just visually starts appearing before your eyes.
And of course, I wanted to end with "Over the Rainbow." It's just a wonderful way to end the day that there's dreamers in this world. And another day is done and who knows what's going to happen tomorrow. So it's sort of like my 24 hours in existence in the city, which is my favorite city in the entire universe."
I want to talk about the Gershwin pieces. They are arrangements by Jascha Heifitz. Was he an inspiration for you as you were learning violin growing up, or maybe even today?
"I actually started appreciating him in my in my forties, to be honest. And I have an immense admiration for what he's done, not only as a violinist, but transcribing these amazing works for violin and piano. And I just knew that I wanted to record these Gershwin preludes, because Denis and I, we've performed them often together. And there's nothing like having a wonderful pianist to play these pieces with."
There is a rare gem from a very young Leonard Bernstein on this recording, a piano trio, and it dates back to his days at Harvard, I think when he was about 19 years old. What does this piano trio tell us about Leonard Bernstein?
"It may not be his most significant work, but it foreshadows his masterpieces to come.
"In the first moment when you hear the opening play by our cellist Silver Ainomaei, it's just beautiful. It's almost like you can hear this this voice of Bernstein, which I kind of can I can put in better if I can translate better. ... It just kind of foreshadows his West Side Story. The whole the...Maria, actually, to be specific, this soulful, searching voice which Silver plays so beautifully and so well."
There is another violin virtuoso from the early 20th century featured on this recording, or one of his pieces, Henri Vieuxtemps. He was a Belgium composer who really loved the United States, and he created a virtuosic set of variations on what we know as Yankee Doodle?
"This was a fun one to record. This was so much fun. I was just laughing in the studio the entire time. This piece was composed during his concert tour in New Orleans. It's just a fun rollercoaster ride, this piece!"
On her new recording, violinist Helen Chang Haertzen takes us on a tour down some unexpected American Avenues.
To hear the rest of my conversation, download the extended podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.