American violinist Miranda Cuckson kicks off Embassy of France’s Fusion program


Violinist Miranda Cuckson. (Richard Anderson/Richard Anderson)
January 26

The concert series at the Embassy of France has been reborn. On Friday night, the new cultural attaché, Catherine Albertini, appointed in 2012, introduced the first concert of a program called Fusion, intended to promote young French and American musicians in a spirit of international cooperation. While Quatuor Eclisses, a quartet of French guitarists, was slated to perform at the Phillips Collection on Sunday, American violinist Miranda Cuckson and pianist Yegor Shevtsov took the stage of the embassy’s auditorium. The series is presented under the aegis of France Musique, the French public radio station, which may broadcast these concerts in the future.

Cuckson’s program likewise highlighted the interchange of compositional ideas between France and the United States. The foundation of this 20th-century program was Claude Debussy, represented by his extremely late violin sonata, given a gauzy, subdued performance that suited Cuckson’s elegant, ribbon-like tone, which Shevtsov never overpowered from the keyboard. Only on some long, high notes did Cuckson’s shivery vibrato contribute to a slightly nervous, papery sound, as if one could poke a pencil through it.

Two sonatas by American composers, both influenced by Debussy, followed it. Steven Mackey’s sonata, a Library of Congress commission from 1996, came off as an eccentric mix of jazzy ostinati and country-fiddle twang. Aaron Copland’s 1943 sonata, written in memory of the composer’s friend, a lieutenant shot down in the Pacific, had a more neoclassical, elegiac sheen.

Cuckson’s technique was challenged most by, and shone most brightly in, the unaccompanied “Anthèmes 1,” composed by Pierre Boulez as the required etude for the 1992 Menuhin Competition in Paris, a stumper for super-virtuosos. Ricocheted double-stops, rapid shifts of bow position, half-hair/half-wood bowings, glissandi in harmonics, extensive sections in pizzicato — all sounded not only accomplished but musical. Only the opening work, Samuel Barber’s “Allegro agitato,” seemed a little tortured, partly the fault of the work and partly that of the performers.

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Downey is a freelance writer.

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