Leah Hollingsworth hears the performance of Jessie Montgomery, Lera Auerbach, Chris Rogerson and Kaija Saariaho at the Rose Studio, New York, on 18 January 2024 


Paul Huang, Mika Sasaki and Nicholas Canellakis bringing beauty to Saariaho. Photo: Cherylynn Tsushima

The New York premiere of Jessie Montgomery’s Musings for two violins is easily my new favourite work of hers and was spectacularly performed by CMS violinists Paul Huang and Danbi Um. Each of the six movements was delightful in its own way but throughout them all a Bach-like elegance and controlled sophistication took precedence. Huang and Um played with such resonant sound that it often sounded like more than two violins, and yet their ensemble was so well matched that simultaneously they seemed as one player.

Lera Auerbach’s powerful Violin Sonata no.2 ‘September 11’ followed, and Um – now with pianist Mika Sasaki – captured well its intensity and force. Disconnected episodes depicting shock and grief interrupted each other, interspersed with lyrical passages. The virtuosic cadenza was especially powerful and the duo’s committed performance was intense and often jarring but never ugly despite its subject matter.

Composer Chris Rogerson spoke about his trio for two violins and piano, Afterword, explaining its connections to Jessye Norman; it did indeed have a broadly nostalgic and elegiac feeling, and I admired his ability to marry pain and beauty in music. Kaija Saariaho’s piano trio Light and Matter closed this imaginative programme of new music. This was a piece filled with extended techniques and non-traditional textures and, while this was perhaps the least lyrical offering here, Sasaki, Huang and cellist Nicholas Canellakis brought beauty and sensitivity to the score.