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Modern, melodic, storytelling in music

Sophia Jani and violinist Teresa Allgaier
Tonda Bardehle
Violinist, Teresa Allgaier (left), and composer Sophia Jani.

Can one instrument fill up a concert hall? How about a Texas-sized one? And can it be both up-to-the-minute modern and appealingly melodic?

Yep, Yup, and Yess!!! German composer and honorary Texan (she's the composer-in-residence for the Dallas Symphony) Sophia Jani teamed up with violinist Teresa Allgaier for a new album, "Six Pieces for Solo Violin," just released a couple of weeks ago.

It's brand-new, a bit old-fashioned, and brimming with music that sounds like campfire stories from a seasoned storyteller.

I caught up with Jani to talk about the new release, how it came about, and switching gears from full orchestra to a single instrument.

Says Jani, "I wrote it over the course of three years, from late 2020 to '23," taking advantage of pandemic isolation. "We had a lot of time on our hands, and [we were] available to meet once a week and get to know the instrument and find our sound."

One thing they did was to re-tune the violin for some of the pieces. Like Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, they tuned the strings to different notes, so familiar fingerings made unfamiliar pitches. "I was interested what would come out, because it's a new riddle," she says. "Writing for the violin, you're restricted in terms of what's possible, and if you have a different tuning you can do other things. We landed on a tuning we really liked." The result is "Scordatura," which you'll hear using the audio player above, or through the YouTube link embedded below.

As the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's composer-in-residence, she writes for big symphonic forces, but also has a great time writing for smaller groups and even this one instrument. "That's the great pleasure of a composer; you have all these different sizes of ensembles. I would say that's almost as important for a new piece as your own inspiration: for whom you write."

The new album, played with brio, mischief, and passion by Teresa Allgaier, is proof — six new pieces sure to please audiences for a good time to come.

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Barry Brake is a composer, jazz and classical pianist who has been a part of San Antonio's music scene for decades. You can find his musings and musical exploits online here: http://barrybrake.com/