Saint-Saëns wrote the piece for a virtuoso.
The composer’s “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso,” performed by junior Tova Forman in last month’s Concerto/Aria Competition, was meant to test the limits of both instrument and musician. Fingers fly across the strings, stunning the audience with swift, intricate bow strokes and dramatic shifts between fiery enthusiasm and tender musicality.
“It’s one of the most difficult violin pieces that has won the concerto competition,” Professor of Music Melissa Knecht said. “She did a very, very expressive job. The slow, melodic sections were gorgeous, and the fast sections were impeccable.”
Camille Saint-Saëns composed the piece in 1863 for his friend, the then-19-year-old virtuoso, Pablo de Sarasate, who frequently performed the piece on his European concert tours. Forman, who was a finalist in the Howard Department of Music 2018 Concerto/Aria Competition, said she looks forward to performing the piece with the orchestra in their March performance.
Forman had actually planned to perform the piece at the competition a year before, but an injury her therapist termed “double crunch,” which involved a pinched nerve in her neck and shoulders as well as inflammation in her arms, pushed the performance back a year. The injury forced her to stop playing for more than a month.
During that month, Forman said she focused on cognitive memory.
“During that time, I would just think about the Saint-Saëns,” she said with a laugh. “That’s really good actually — memorizing it without having the muscle memory — because then you really have it cognitively memorized. I could totally feel myself playing it if I concentrated enough, even though I was just sitting there…I could even feel, ‘Oh, that went wrong; I lost my bowing right there,’ and I’d go back and do it again…I got to think about how I actually would want it to sound if I could play it that way.”
Although it was a challenge not to be able to play, Forman said it did not affect her positivity.
“My violin is part of who I am, but it was just nice to have it confirmed that when I can’t even play my violin, I don’t feel as though I’ve lost part of my identity. I was just as happy in some ways,” Forman said. “I think some people play violin every day and not know what to do with themselves if they don’t play.”
The judges placed seven performers out of the 26 who auditioned, and five of them will play in the orchestra’s two performances this semester. Holleman said the greatest challenge is rehearsing. Forman said it was difficult for her to determine the appropriate volume at which to play, as violin can easily be overwhelmed by an orchestra.
“I think Dorothy DeLay said there are two dynamics that a solo violinist can use: forte and fortissimo,” Forman said. “You don’t have much space to get really quiet because the orchestra’s going to bury you or you’re going to sound as though you’re scared of playing. You want at least a color change, even if you can’t dynamically alter what you’re doing.”
Forman majors in classical studies, with minors in accounting and music. She teaches music, plays at a retirement home, and performs for various gigs. She also serves as one of the concertmasters for the orchestra.
“She’s always positive in rehearsals when I see her,” Holleman said. “It’s always an uplifted, positive attitude.”
Although she came to Hillsdale with a strong musical background, Holleman said he has seen Forman mature even more as a musician during her time at the school. He gave Knecht the credit for that, as he noted that at every competition, there is at least one winner from Knecht’s studio.
“Dr. Knecht is phenomenal,” Holleman said. “She was able to take an advanced player and continue to advance her.”
Knecht agreed that Forman exhibits strong musicianship.
“Sometimes students with strong musical ideas are not willing to listen to another opinion,” Knecht said. “But she listens to me, and we find out what will work best with her personality. She’s very malleable that way, but strong-willed as well.”
She said Forman is a “wonderful person in every way.”