Violinist Gregory Fulkerson is an eclectic artist who champions new music, particularly that of American composers. "I do a lot of contemporary works, because that's where you find American music," he said.
Acutely aware of his artistic origins, Fulkerson calls himself an American violinist. "If I had to, that's how I would sum myself up. Since 1980, when I won the (Rockefeller International Violin Competition), I've brought an American slant to my music."
Fulkerson comes to Utah on Monday to close out the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City's current season. He'll be playing his trademark blend of works that will include pieces by Niccolo Paganini and Eugene Ysaye, as well as Donald Erb's Sonata for Solo Violin and J.S. Bach's monumental Partita No. 2 in D minor.
On the faculty at Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, Fulkerson believes that American music, whether it's by Charles Ives or Aaron Copland or even Paul Creston or Phillip Glass, has certain common characteristics that mirror the American spirit. "We like a warm, rich sound, a lot of energy and things spelled out for us." And that definition certainly fits the Erb sonata.
Erb wrote the work in 1994 for Fulkerson as a present, since the violinist had played several of Erb's pieces in the past. "It's really a major statement (for violin)," Fulkerson said. "It's a 15-minute-long piece, and it keeps your attention, which is not easy for something written for solo violin."
He added that the sonata is in four movements, and each movement is distinctly different from the others: The first movement is a dissonant but expressive elegy. The second movement scherzo is an energetic piece, in which the composer has the violinist do different things throughout, such as singing along with the violin and using a chopstick at one point. The third movement is hauntingly spare and abstract. The finale is an earthy blues-inspired piece that's extremely dissonant. "Don calls this 'gut bucket blues.' The style is a 12/8 blues with a lot of grunty sax. It won't sound like that, but it'll be reminiscent of it."
The Erb will be bookended by three excerpts from Paganini's Caprices, op. 1 (nos. 13, 17 and 24) and Ysaye's Ballade, op. 27, no. 3. "The music in the first half of the program exploits the violin, but with the virtuosity integrated into the music — you can't separate them."
The second half of the recital will be devoted to a single work — Bach's profound D minor Partita. "This is the reverse order of what's usual in programs. There's going to be a rockin', sockin' first half, but in this case, the transcendent experience is better at the end."
The majority of Fulkerson's recitals are focused on works for solo violin, and he admitted that there aren't too many recital programs that will keep the audience's attention from beginning to end. "I've done some programs of solo Bach. They're wonderful in their own way, but they don't give you the same kind of enjoyment a more varied program gives."
Fulkerson also said that performing contemporary music at a recital can be problematic. "Playing new music always presents difficulties, but I've had quite a lot of success with Don's piece. The intensity of a live performance is totally compelling, and people will find their way into it."
If you go . . .
What: Gregory Fulkerson
Where: Libby Gardner Concert Hall
When: Monday, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $15 general, $5 students