Ilana Setapen’s Milwaukee debut recital
Dancers speak of centered balance and of radiating movement from the core, the mid torso. This makes the limbs appear integrated and cohesive. Boxers think this way, too; a punch generated from the hips delivers more pop that one isolated in the arm.
I thought of this Friday night, as I heard and saw Ilana Setapen play the violin in a recital at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. She moves more than most violinists, but not in a random or showy way. Her way of moving pleases the eye and informs the music. You could see whiplash syncopations coming before you heard them in Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 2 (Obsession), Beethoven’s Sonata No. 4, Opus 23, and Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins.
Setapen would crouch slightly in anticipation, then pull up sharply to jab an accent and barb a rhythm. The difference in the sound was real and apt. Of course the eye influenced the ear’s perception, too. Which is one more a good reason to attend live concerts instead of staying home with your stereo.
Her full-bodied way of playing also had something to do with her rich, generous sound. Her power at full bore was quite something in the conservatory’s intimate hall. (She’s playing a 1624 Amati on loan from Frank Almond.) But this recital was no mere decibel fest; Setapen thrilled with stage whispers as well as roars. The electric energy of her playing rose from the combination of power, the urgency of her phrasing, and her crackling, bristling rhythm.
Pianist Stefanie Jacob joined Setapen in Schubert’s Sonata in A, Opus 162, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 4, Opus 23, and Gershwin’s Prelude No. 1 (arr.Heifetz). They were a little out of sync to start the Schubert — nothing egregious, they just weren’t feeling phrases quite the same way. Pianist and violinist found the groove halfway through the second movement and stayed there the rest of the night.
Setapen did well by the underrated Eugène Ysaÿe, first by wittily explaining the premise behind Obesession‘s first movement. It turns out to be a bizarre gloss on the Prelude of Bach’s Partita in E. The premise is that the violinist suffers memory lapses and becomes increasingly angry and desperate while trying to negotiate Bach’s Prelude. Setapen nailed the tragi-comedy of the situation exactly in the playing. She took the piece one step further by joining Jacob in Robert Young’s superfluous piano addition to Ysaÿe’s first movement. That was, um, obsessive, excessive, ironic and amusing.
Ilana Setapen is finishing her first season as associate concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.This was her first Milwaukee recital; on Friday, she said she hopes to play many more. Schwartz, too, is a talented newcomer. It’s great to see orchestra players who love to make music and find ways to make it beyond the MSO. And it was great to see many of Setapen’s orchestra colleagues show up to cheer her on.
The program was a benefit for Ronald McDonald House of Southeast Wisconsin. Ticket sales and donations of over $1,000 went to the charity.