The Cello Music Collection of the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives is home to the largest archival holding of cello music-related material in the world, including some of the world’s great cellists. It is the mission of the archive to preserve and make accessible manuscript and annotated sheet music and waiting for it to be musically resurrected through the hands of a musician. On Thursday, October 3rd, Special Collections and University Archives will be hosting a cellist who has accepted the challenge of reviving three compositions, two of which have not been publicly performed in the 21st century.
Born in Kyiv, Ukraine, cellist, composer, and arranger Yuriy Leonovich immigrated to the United States with his family. His teachers include cellists Stephen Geber and Robert DeMaine, and composer James Hartway. Leonovich earned his Doctorate of Musical Arts from the Cleveland Institute of Music. His compositions and arrangements have been played in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia/Oceania. His music, including the Rusalka Fantasie, has been recorded on the Five/Four Productions label. Leonovich holds the Assistant Cello Professor position at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC.
As a scholar and performer, Leonovich is a frequent researcher and visitor to the UNCG Cello Music Collection. It is out of this relationship that Leonovich and the curator of the collection, Stacey Krim, were inspired to offer a program open to the public, featuring some of the rarely performed music in the collection. In preparing for the October recital, Krim interviewed Leonovich, asking about his research and the uniqueness of the upcoming program.
Krim: Can you speak to the value of archival research for performers?
Leonovich: I am biased because libraries have been my second home for the last 23 years. Archives are often seen as a place for the elite scholars. Most performers love to have the reader’s digest version of information handed to them. Their motto is, “just tell me what to play.” Hundreds of thousands of musicians are sitting in orchestras and ensembles of all types, waiting for their conductor or leader to tell them what to play and how to play it. Most of these performers wouldn’t know what to do with an archive.
Stacey Krim is unique in that she actively promotes the UNCG Archive, showing performers, students, and teachers the need to dig deeper. An archive is an invaluable window into the past. I think it’s important for musicians to make informed decisions based on their own findings without the middleman. Middlemen tend to use condescension and peer pressure, speaking about certain scholars at certain popular music publishers. Find an archive near you in an area that interests you, and set up a time to talk to the curator. Even then, you will learn something great.
Krim: You have chosen to perform what some would consider an unconventional selection of music for this performance. What made you choose these pieces in particular?
Leonovich: Yagling was a no-brainer for me; I love Soviet music and remember hearing the finale of the Yagling Suite performed by Antonio Meneses on a Tchaikovsky Competition LP from 1982. With regards to the other two composers, Fitelberg and Jemnitz, I had never heard of them before. Once I saw the manuscripts, I found something pleasing about how they were written, the penmanship. These pieces have been very challenging to learn, but the sonic result has been very rewarding.
Krim: Do you have any additional plans for the music and composers you have selected beyond this performance?
Leonovich: I hope to give multiple performances of these works. In the case of Jemnitz, I am involved in a major research project and I made a studio recording of this sonata. I did a smaller research project on Fitelberg and recorded his sonata, now available on my website for download. I see myself digging more into Fitelberg in the future. I will definitely play and record Yagling, but have not researched her life too much yet. Yagling died only 8 years ago.
Krim: Why do performers seem to avoid 20th and 21st century composers?
Leonovich: One of the reasons musicians avoid modern and contemporary music is because they don’t understand contemporary art. This is true across the fine and visual arts. There is often a knee-jerk reaction against the current and a tendency to embrace the classic. Within that group of people, there will be a majority that also enjoys the popular. When we talk about composers, we immediately think of “high art music.” On the other side you have the contemporary pop music, which speaks more in laymen’s terms and is music easier to understand. …think of an art gallery vs. phone pictures on social media. Both art and popular music reflect the times in different ways. Often art music is more difficult to understand, thus, more difficult to sell to an audience.
Copyright laws play a big role in why performers intentionally and unintentionally avoid music from the last 100 years. Not to go into details, but publishers are currently the gatekeepers of music, and once the composer dies or the publisher goes out of business, the music also dies. The copyright law helps that music stay dead in some cases for 150 years. Because of self publishing, it’s becoming easier to access new music.
I can say with confidence that all three pieces on this program have been dead for a long time. The version of Jemnitz I am playing has not been heard since 1933. The Fitelberg was most likely last performed in 1946.
If you are a interested in learning more about Leonovich and these compositions, or are a fan of cello music, please join us for Forgotten Composers, a Cello Music Recital Featuring Yuriy Leonovich, Thursday, October 3, 4:00 pm-5:30 pm in the Hodges Reading Room, 2nd Floor Main Building, W.C. Jackson Library. The event is free and open to the public.
Cello Sonata (1945), Jerzy Fitelberg
Cello Sonata, Op. 31, (1931, rev. 1933) Sándor Jemnitz
Suite for Violoncello Solo No. 1 (1982), Victoria Yagling
If there are any questions relating to this event, please contact Stacey Krim at 336.334.5498 or firstname.lastname@example.org.