New UNCSA School of Music faculty to give dynamic fall recital debuts

The School of Music at UNCSA will present recitals by two internationally acclaimed faculty artists as part of the 2023-24 performance season. Both artists are joining the faculty this fall and are presenting their first recitals at UNCSA. Violist Jordan Bak will perform a program with collaborative pianist Polina Khatsko on Sept. 12, and percussionist Ksenija Komljenović will perform music from the piano and marimba repertoire on Nov. 28.

Both concerts will take place at 7:30 p.m. in Watson Hall on campus, 1533 S. Main St. Admission to each concert is $20 for adults and $15 for students. Both concerts will also feature a livestream component with registration at .

Bak’s recital will include Manuel de Falla's “Siete canciones populares españolas,” a collection of seven Spanish songs depicting the various stages of love; “Tableau XII” by High School Music alumnus Tyson Gholston Davis; “koʻu inoa” by Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti; Robert Schumann’s “Fantasiestücke, Op. 73”; two concert pieces by George Enescu; and a viola sonata by Arnold Bax.

 Ksenija Komljenović and Jordan Bak (Photo: Natalia Vilela)

Ksenija Komljenović and Jordan Bak (Photo: Natalia Vilela)

Recently returned from the Lake George Music Festival and a summer full of performances in the U.S. and Western Europe, Bak said that he is looking forward to exploring an eclectic and dynamic program spanning several centuries with Khatsko. 

“Polina is a beautiful musician, a wonderful collaborative partner, and has great ideas about how to sculpt every piece as a duo,” Bak said. 

On the upcoming collaboration, Khatsko said: “The main aspects that I enjoy about working collaboratively with other musicians are getting to know each other through our ‘conversations’ without words, learning from them and always continuing to grow through these interactions.   

“I heard Jordan perform at the Sphinx competition and was very moved by his passion and utmost sincerity of his playing, so I’m really looking forward to getting to know him more through our work on the upcoming program. I know it will be a fascinating and truly rewarding journey!”

“Tableau XII,” the viola solo, was commissioned by New York Public Radio for Bak, and is part of alum Davis’ ongoing series of compositions for solo instruments. 

Described as "a homesick bariolage based on the anthem ‘Hawaiʻi Aloha,’ Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti’s ‘koʻu inoa’ “creates this mesmerizing sound world,” Bak said.  A bariolage is a quick alternation of bowing on open and stopped strings.

Schumann initially composed his “Fantasiestücke” as soirée pieces in 1849. The composition is full of sudden mood changes and shifts in character. “It starts as a melancholy piece in a minor key, then shifts to a major,” Bak said. “The second movement becomes more active and takes flight; it is whimsical, playful and curious. The third movement is ‘very very lively, with fire and energy,’ Schumann wrote.”  

Gabriel Fauré commissioned the two George Enescu concert pieces Bak will be playing to challenge the technique of viola players in a 1906 competition in Paris. “It’s become a virtuosic piece for the viola,” Bak said. “It stretches melodic figures to transcendent moments among the virtuosic moments and uses gnarly rhythmic fingerings for the left hand to get you to the top limits of what the instrument can do.”

The final piece on the program will be Arnold Bax’s viola sonata from 1922 in three movements. “The sonata is a brilliant piece of music that has a beautiful open theme,” Bak said. “It’s like the piano is playing bells. The second movement is a fiery allegro, a danse macabre, and it has so many Irish styles. The third movement is so dark with so many types of harmonies and where the viola is placed in those harmonies. It comes to a catastrophic moment about two-thirds of the way through, and then the opening theme from the first movement comes back, and it changes to a dream world,” he concluded. 

Jordan Bak / Photo: Dario Acosta

Jordan Bak / Photo: Dario Acosta

Award-winning Jamaican American violist Jordan Bak has achieved international acclaim as a trailblazing artist, praised for his radiant stage presence, dynamic interpretations and fearless power. Bak has appeared as soloist with such orchestras as Sarasota Orchestra, London Mozart Players, New York Classical Players, Juilliard Orchestra and Brandon Hill Chamber Orchestra, and has performed under such esteemed conductors as Howard Griffiths, Stephen Mulligan, Keith Lockhart, Gerard Schwarz and Ewa Strusińska.

As a recitalist and chamber musician, he has been heard at some of the world’s greatest performance venues including Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Wigmore Hall, Jordan Hall, Merkin Concert Hall, Princeton University Concerts, Perelman Theater at The Kimmel Center, Elgar Concert Hall and Helsinki Musiikkitalo.

Before joining the UNCSA Music faculty as assistant professor of viola, Bak was a faculty member of Bowling Green State University in Ohio and served as a visiting artist and ambassador for Music Masters in London. Bak was only the third violist ever to earn the Artist Diploma from The Juilliard School, where he was awarded the prestigious Kovner Fellowship.

Ksenija Komljenović, a winner of the International Percussion Competition in Luxembourg, is a percussionist, educator and composer. She is the first woman from Serbia to achieve a Doctor of Musical Arts in percussion.  

 Ksenija Komljenović / Photo: Antek Olesik

Ksenija Komljenović / Photo: Antek Olesik

Komljenović holds degrees from the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami; Illinois State University; and the Faculty of Music in Belgrade, Serbia. Her compositions and arrangements are published by Bachovich Music Publications. Before joining UNCSA, she taught for four years at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. She spent her summer giving master classes throughout Poland, working with students and recording. 

Komljenović started out with ballet and piano but soon fell in love with the rich, earthy qualities of the marimba, an instrument that requires a great deal of physicality from its players. 

“Marimba is really like a love child between the piano and nature,” Komljenović said. “It’s a wooden instrument; there is something so ancient, beautiful and natural about it. There’s something so special. It is so physical. It’s almost like a musical dance behind the instrument. I can't explain why I have an affinity for it — it’s like a taste that you love, and you don’t know exactly why.” 

One of the hallmarks of Komljenović's career is her devotion to contemporary and chamber music, as well as her commitment to fostering intercultural collaborations. She has formed outstanding chamber ensembles, such as Vesna Duo and PNEUMA, which bring together exceptional performers from five countries. With a creative spirit and a thirst for innovation, she enriches her ensembles' repertoire with daring arrangements that blend classical, contemporary, jazz and folk music. One of Komljenović's notable achievements is her arrangement of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" for marimba and piano, featured on Vesna Duo's debut album. The rendition received high praise from critics and experts.  

The program will be “a rhythmic expedition through diverse soundscapes,” she said. 

Komljenović plans to perform the Chaconne from Bach’s Violin Partita No. 2, BWV 1004, which she has transcribed for the marimba. Also on the program is a piece by Armenian jazz and folk composer Tigran Hamasyan. “I take every chance I can to explore his music,” she said. 

Other pieces on the program include music written for other instruments by Arvo Pärt and “a wonderful new piece for snare drum written by Viet Cuong that uses a hair comb and debit card. It’s super fun,” Komljenović said. 

More physicality will be called for on Emmanuel Séjourné’s “Attraction.” “He wrote a piece for marimba and vibraphone, and like a rock musician playing two keyboards at the same time, you have one hand on one keyboard and one on another,” Komljenović said.

“I hope to bring fresh perspective on what a percussionist can be, and I plan on having some surprise guests,” she said. 

About the School of Music

The School of Music at UNCSA combines intensive individual study under artist faculty with a variety of performance opportunities, presenting more than 200 recitals, concerts and opera productions each year, including collaborations with other UNCSA arts schools and a guest artist series. In addition to its undergraduate and graduate programs, it houses one of the nation’s only four-year residential arts high school programs. The School of Music is also home to the renowned A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute, a tuition-free, graduate-level professional training ground for exceptional young vocalists. 

UNCSA School of Music alumni have gone on to perform with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Nero String Quartet, Giannini Brass, Camel City Jazz Orchestra, and Metropolitan and Chicago Lyric operas, among many others. Prominent alumni include: violist Richard O'Neill, member of the renowned Takács Quartet; acclaimed tenor René Barbera; Broadway veteran T. Oliver Reid; Lachezar Kostov, associate principal cello of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; Broadway music director Mary-Mitchell Campbell; New York Philharmonic violinist Lisa Kim; violinist and Beyoncé collaborator Jessica McJunkins; Elizabeth Sobol, president & CEO of Saratoga Performing Arts Center; jazz vocalist and composer Becca Stevens; saxophonist Eddie Barbash, formerly with the house band for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”; Nia Imani Franklin, composer and Miss America 2019; and the Dan River Girls (Fiona Burdette, cello; Ellie Burdette, double bass and voice; and Jessie Burdette, viola).

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August 29, 2023