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Press Acclaim

A Straight A for Four Bs and the Bass of Time

 “Versatile violinist Robyn Bollinger, a graduate of NEC and a recipient of a 2016 Leonore Annenberg Fellowship, treated a receptive Gardner Museum audience to a multimedia conversation and solo concert she created through that fellowship last Thursday. … Already a highly acclaimed artist, Bollinger made her debut at age 12 with the Philadelphia orchestra; her mastery of the instrument became manifestly clear in her chronological rendering of examples by Biber, Bach, Bartók and Berio. …The bass in the Biber Passacaglia is clear, insistent and pure, riveting in each new variation. On a sonorous, year-old violin by the respected luthier Samuel Zygmuntowicz, Bollinger delivered each variation reverently. … Another video interlude evoked Bela Bartók’s grace in the face of ill health and financial challenges in the early 1940s as a prelude to Bollinger’s rendition of the first movement of his Sonata for Solo Violin, Tempo di Ciaccona, an elegiac one permeated by Magyar folk tunes throughout the variations. Yehudi Menuhin, who was moved by Bartók’s difficult circumstances, commissioned the work in 1943. The Bartók sonata is so difficult that whole treatises have been devoted to it (see Oliver Yatsugafu’s Performance-Practice Issues in Bartók’s Sonata for Solo Violin). Again, Bollinger delivered. Finally came the Luciano Berio Sequenza VIII, written in 1976 for Carlo Chiarappa, based on a “compass” of two notes, A and B, and which the composer himself described as “a tribute to that musical apex which is the Ciaccona from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita in D Minor.” Bollinger executed the piece with bright focus and luminous tone. … The world will be hearing more from this engaging and original talent.” -Julie Ingelfinger, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, May 5, 2018


Tracing the ciaccona on a journey through the centuries

 “…violinist Robyn Bollinger presented a multimedia recital entitled “Ciaccona: The Bass of Time.” In it she did more than just perform dauntingly difficult works by Biber, Bach, Bartok, and Berio. She melded them into an evening-length exploration of the ciaccona as such — a Baroque dance form that has morphed over the course of centuries. Between the works, using projected visuals, a prerecorded script, and live commentary from the stage, she framed the evening as “the story of an idea.”… Audiences are clearly hungry for this kind of approach, and its seems especially fruitful for players at the beginning of their career. Bollinger only recently completed her studies at New England Conservatory, and she currently plays with local ensembles such as A Far Cry and the Chameleon Arts Ensemble. Yet her program proved enticing enough to interest the Gardner Museum and the adventurous Brooklyn venue National Sawdust, to draw a respectably sized audience on Thursday, and to earn favorable notice in The New York Times. If Bollinger had offered these exact same works clothed in the garments of a more conventional recital, it’s hard to imagine the concert attracting this type of notice…. The Passacaglia of Heinrich Biber (1644-1702) is an antique work of haunting melancholy; Bach’s Ciaccona represents the spiritual pinnacle of the 18th-century violin; the first movement, “Tempo di Ciaccona,” from Bartok’s Solo Sonata is a tour de force of folk-inflected modernism; and Berio’s Sequenza VIII (from 1976) suggests some kind of wild interstellar voyage in sound.In fact, what all four of these works seemed to share more obviously than any family resemblance of form is a tendency to push the violin itself toward the outer extremes of instrumental possibility. Throughout the night, Bollinger’s technique proved equal to every challenge, with playing that was poised, precise, and musical. It was in the Berio, however, that her performance seemed to catch fire, projecting both a sense of visceral commitment and a physical athleticism placed at the service of bold musical expression.” -Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe, May 4, 2018


Rule Breakers and Rule Makers

“At any rate, Fratres is probably Pärt’s most popular instrumental work. It dates from 1977 as a piece for indeterminate instrumentation, with the violin-piano version done in 1980. Simply put, it’s a set of variations on a six-bar ground—a truncated chaconne, you might say. It’s an early example of Pärt’s “tintinnabuli” methodology focusing on what he hears as the bell-like clarity of triadic harmony. The tune, structured on a D harmonic minor scale without ever sounding the D minor tonality (you hear an awful lot, though, of the A major dominant!) is redolent of Russian church modes. It is stated by the violin solo in a virtuosic cadenza-like arpeggiation, to which Bollinger contributed sure technique and a raw edge as it made its way from ppp to fff. …Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 7 in C minor, op. 30 no. 2 (1802) closed the first half. While still designated a sonata for piano with violin accompaniment, it is really a violin sonata in the modern sense—thus qualifying Beethoven as both a rule-breaker and a rule-maker. It was also one of his earliest pieces to employ the ‘new style of writing’ to which he turned when Haydn-Mozart classicism seemed to him no longer adequate to communicate his personal vision. As with most middle-period Beethoven this sonata’s outer movements essay constructions from concatenations of small motifs rather than fully fleshed-out, balanced themes, sometimes expansively as in the first movement, sometimes more tersely, as in the finale. Bollinger and Schumann gave a taut, highly charged reading of these movements, Schumann displaying well crafted dynamic control and Bollinger nonstop energy. The slow movement (in A-flat, just as in the Fifth Symphony, also in C minor) was serene yet emotive, with Bollinger’s lightly applied portamento well suited to this lyrical interlude. The early Beethoven biographer Schindler said the composer thought about eliminating the scherzo because its gruff humor was out of keeping with the overall tone of the sonata; but this was probably more Schindler’s opinion than Beethoven’s, as its jerky, off-accent playfulness nicely sets up the intensity of the finale. Bollinger and Schumann gave it its due with, as called for, dynamic subtlety. We noticed too a stress by the performers on the playful aspects of the finale’s exposition, which otherwise reached a whirlwind of contrapuntal energy leading to an explosive coda.The only published violin-piano composition by Erik Satie (see what we did there?), the 1914 Choses vues à droit et à gauche (sans lunettes) [Things seen right to left without glasses], a send-up of Baroque suites and virtuosic playing, was his Parthian shot at all he had learned studying with Vincent D’Indy at the Schola Cantorum. Its three brief movements have titles as Dada-esque as the overall work: Hypocritical chorale (“my chorales,” he wrote in the score, “are equal to Bach’s, only rarer and less pretentious”), Groping fugue, and Muscular fantasy; the performance instructions are equally absurdist. The tune of the fugue, in particular, is dopey in the style of Peter Schickele’s creation Arcangelo Spumoni, but the working-out contains passages presaging neo-classical Stravinsky. Bollinger and Schumann kept their poker faces on and did justice to this paragon of parody, the former especially in the sound-and-fury-signifying-nothing cadenza to the Fantasy, a funhouse-mirror image of the seriousness of the Pärt that preceded and the Shostakovich to come. The Shostakovich Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major, op. 134 (1968), is not funny at all, though it is not nearly as gloomy as his last work, the Viola Sonata, op. 147… We can think of no higher praise for Bollinger’s performance than that it conjured up the fat, plummy, intense sound world of Oistrakh; yet it achieved elegant delicacy where necessary, as in the second theme of the first movement, with crunchy, biting attacks on the misterioso tremolos near the end. The central scherzo (a term one often has to use with reservation in the case of Shostakovich) was fierce, violent and scary: Bollinger put serious muscle into this movement, and while Schumann certainly held up her end, this was the violinist’s show. The finale, a passacaglia, started (after a pizzicato annunciation of the theme) expansively and built to a heady climax. Impressive in their varied textures, each player made a powerful showing in the cadenza-variations.

-Vance R. Koven, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, February 6, 2018


"...a forever young and ever refreshing contigent of A Far Cry entertained and challenged us with another outing conceived thoughtfully and executed with commitment … Holocaust survivor Mieczslaw Weinberg’s enormous oeuvre (no fewer than 26 symphonies) represents much more than recollection of immense suffering and loss. His five-movement Symphony No. 10 (1968) takes its organizing principle from the form of its concerto grosso first movement, in that solos from all of the section leaders contrast intense individual feeling with powerful larger forces. Weinberg also juxtaposes demanding modern musical language with nostalgia for older forms. Just as we thought the poor composer had wallowed sufficiently in despair, we would hear echoes of klezmer or maybe Britten’s Simple Symphony. In the midst of life we remain in death, indeed.Solo callouts: Rafael Popper-Keizer’s cello lamented with power, Robyn Bollinger theatrically ascended, virtuosic flights escaping confinement at the hands of the double basses.”

-Lee Eiseman, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, October 23, 2017


Re-visualizing Goldbergs

“That Bach composed his revered Goldberg Variations as part of his Clavier Übung (keyboard practice) series attests to his vision of the set as central to keyboard training and performance. Despite the strong keyboard identification however, the Goldbergs have been repeatedly transcribed. On Monday Robyn Bollinger, violin, Wenhong Luo, viola and Sujin Lee, cello performed Sitkovetsky’s string trio version as part of the Lifetime Learning of Newton Community Education concert series at Newton/Andover Theological Seminary’s Wilson Chapel. …. Of note was variation XVIII where the violin and viola’s abilities to bring out the held notes which open the canon made the interaction, yet the autonomy of the two voices utterly transparent. Another important variation is XXV, the longest of the set, and by far its most tragic. Here the violin leads, with the opening statement featuring two rising minor sixths. The violin’s ability to sustain its high note (admirably projected by Robyn Bollinger) proved key in evoking the sorrow and sadness that we imagine Bach hand in mind.”

-Dinah Bodkin, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, May 4, 2016


Creating a Northeast American Sound

 “Amy Beach’s Piano Quintet in F-sharp Minor, Op. 67 stood as a focal point of the first half of the bill, introducing violinists Robyn Bollinger and Grace Park, violist Scott Woolweaver, cellist Aron Zelkowicz, and pianist Vivian Choi. …… The technical prowess of the Allegro vivace impressed, supplying moments of precision and impeccability from Bollinger, leading into an energized fugal section that brought the quintet to a close.” -Rachael Fuller, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, September 25, 2017


 Night Scenes Span Centuries

“The helpful printed notes from Chameleon treasurer/annotator Gabriel Langfur reminded us that although most of Bloch’s output is not specifically Jewish, his melodic inspiration often derives from ancient if not explicitly Hebraic sources. His serene Violin Sonata Sonata No. 2, Poème Mystique, apparently reflects awakening from barbiturate-infused sleep. After two outings from violists, Robyn Bollinger’s outgoing play on a 1778 Gagliano violin electrified the air.” -Lee Eiseman, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, October 2, 2016


A Far Cry Ascending

 “Prior to his and Mozart’s more Beethovenian efforts, Haydn’s symphonies largely resembled the Italian sinfonia. In the Symphony No. 22 in E-flat major, Hoboken I/22, this becomes apparent in the first movement, which functions much like a prelude. As its later name Philosopher would suggest, the work is moderately paced. Marked Adagio, it was turned by the Criers almost Andante, which, along with the tick-tock of the strings, evoked a prudential, zenlike feeling. The second movement was probably the highlight of the work, as AFC played with great energy, in part thanks to the charismatic influence of the first violin leader, Robyn Bollinger. Overall we heard a textured and unified conception.”

-Daniel Kurganov, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, September 14, 2016


“Known for its artful programming and world class players, the Chameleon Arts Ensemble offered the Sunday afternoon Shalin Liu audience a Father’s day tribute to one of the fathers of the Western canon: J.S. Bach. With a shifting number of players, the ensemble brought us works of this prolific parent and three of his sons: Wilhelm Friedemann, Johann Christian, and Carl Philipp Emanuel. …After the ranks returned for J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major, Boldin and Bollinger made a wonderfully emotional concerto pair.”

-Nate Shaffer, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, June 21, 2016


Chameleon Reveals Bach the Colorist

“Concerto No. 5 followed, in which the keyboard is famously freed from its role as continuo to emerge as soloist. Bach is said to have used this work, and in particular the spectacular cadenza at the end of the first movement, to showcase a new harpsichord he had just obtained. As though repeating his predecessor’s gesture, harpsichordist Sergey Schepkin introduced us to his double-manual made by William Bennett after an experimental harpsichord of Heironymus Hass (a contemporary of Bach) that features an extra set of strings an octave below the others with their own sounding board. With the stop pulled, the instrument has a larger range than the typical modern grand piano, and produces a surprising organlike sound.Robyn Bollinger, violin, and Deborah Boldin, flute, were front and center with strongly virtuosic playing, tender and expressive, nicely balancing the harpsichord, allowing the piece to work as a triple concerto. Directly behind them, Rafael Popper-Keizer’s cello was solid, supportive and uplifting. It is hard to capture in words the eloquence of the concertino gradually hushing its vivacity to focus the ear and allow the ethereal sounds of the harpsichord to become audible. Schepkin pulled out the stops for the cadenza, which erupted in a cascade of notes, shaped by slight pauses followed by waves of sound to create a three-dimensional fountain of splendor that nonetheless remained intimate, almost private, like the inspiring wellspring of some incomprehensible noumenal realm. The ensuing slow movement seemed to contain but also to translate the wild excess of inspiration into a tender style galant, violin and flute in a hypnotic lament of pinks and pastels, the harpsichord gently but implacably impelling, like the flow of time. The gigue fugue of the third movement felt at once solar and wistful, evoking the mystery of earth and dance at the height of summer, the harpsichord’s sudden fits of sound indicating secret sources of water and fertility.

-Leon Golub, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, December 6, 2015