At only two decades old, violinist Simone Porter has been described by the LA Times as being “on the cusp of a major career.” The audience at San Antonio’s Laurel Heights United Methodist Church earlier this year on January 31 witnessed another step on the way as Porter gave a recital for the Tuesday Musical Club featuring Mozart, Janáček, and a mesmerizing version of Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres.”
Mozart’s Sonata in F major, K. 376 opened the recital on a sunny note. The sonata was notable for the ends of its movements, none of which concluded with a definitive resolution. In that way, Porter told me after the recital, the music “winks” at the audience a little.
Leos Janáček’s Violin Sonata was next on the program; published in 1922, the composer began work on the music earlier, during the midst of World War I. You can hear it in the score. The final movement includes a repetitive, percussive figure played by the violin that sounds curiously like a pulse. “It begins as commentary, but at the very end it repeats in unison with the piano,” Porter said. “For me, thinking about the historical context [of the music], it almost sounds like a choke or a sob, something quite dark.”
In contrast, Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” opened with furious, virtuosic arpeggiated runs. The piece is one of Pärt’s most famous, and has been arranged many times for varying instrumentation. Porter and pianist Armen Guzelimian’s treatment beautifully balanced the fury with the quieter shades of the piece that are more typical of Pärt’s work. “Performing that music is cleansing,” Porter said of “Fratres.” “I feel refreshed and grounded coming out of it. I love how Pärt can experiment with stillness and silence. Playing that for an audience almost feels like a type of secular communion.”
Porter was a busy bee this spring. In March, appeared at Aspen, and then played the Mendelssohn concerto with the Minnesota Symphony and the Indianapolis Symphony. Then there were concerts in Canada, California, and Utah, and this August, she'll play with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the famed Hollywood Bowl.
Earlier in her musical journey, Porter made two appearances on NPR’s From the Top, at age 11 and again at age 15. She said the joy in music-making on that program inspired her to continue performing for young listeners.
“The energy in those [young people’s concerts] is really wonderful,” Porter told me with a broad smile. “You get the best feedback, because the audience is so unguarded. There’s this raw enthusiasm which is unbelievably inspiring and galvanizing.”
When she’s not performing, look for Simone Porter hanging about her home base of downtown Los Angeles. And not always listening to classical music! I noted the Led Zeppelin T-shirt she wore to the day’s rehearsal, to which Porter replied, “I have eclectic tastes.” She may be “rocking out” to Mozart one moment and headbanging to Snarky Puppy the next.
Asked if there’s one piece she has her eye on to record or perform one day, Porter named the Beethoven Violin Concerto. To paraphrase the LA Times once again, she’s on her way.
Hear Simone Porter's recital on TPR's "Performance Saturday" on June 24, at 7 p.m. on KPAC 88.3 FM.