Anssi Karttunen, cello

Nicolas Hodges, piano


Pieces written for Karttunen and Hodges:

Pascal Dusapin:               Slackline (2015)  world première October 14, 2016

Jerome Combier:             Freezing Fields (2017) world première February 11, 2017

Fred Lerdahl:                   Duo (2017) world première April 22,  2017

Ashkan Behzadi:             Fling (2017) world première April 22,  2017

Sean Shepherd:              Aquaria (2015-) (world première to be announced)

Betsy Jolas:                     Femme le soir (2017-18) (world premiere 3 December 2018) 


Betsy Jolas:                      Quatre pièces en marge (1983) 5min

Harrison Birtwistle:            Bogenstrich (2007)  18min

Magnus Lindberg:             Santa Fe Project  (2007) 14min

Magnus Lindberg:             Moto (1991) 10min            

Ludwig van Beethoven:     Sonatas op. 102/1 and 102/2

Johannes Brahms:            Sonatas op.38 and op.99



CalPerformances, Berkeley, California 29 October 2017:


Ashkan Behzadi:                Fling (2017)  12min

Ludwig van Beethoven:     Sonata C op. 102/1 14min

Pascal Dusapin:                Slackline (2015) US première. 24min

-- -- --

Fred Lerdahl:                     Duo (2017) US première 

Johannes Brahms:            Sonata F major op.99 23min

Reid Hall, Paris, 22.4.2017:

Johannes Brahms:     Sonata e minor op.38

Betsy Jolas:                Quatre pièces en marge (1983)

Fred Lerdahl:              Duo (2017) WP

-- -- --

Ashkan Behzadi:        Fling (2017) WP 

Johannes Brahms:     Sonata F major op.99

Festival Présences, Paris, 11 February 2017:

Nuría Gimenez-Comas: j'ai perçu un vol ètrange... (2016), for cello solo WP

Jerome Combier:               Freezing Fields, for cello and piano (2017) WP 

Kaija Saariaho:                  Light and Matter, for piano trio (with Jennifer Koh, violin)

-- -- --

Kaija Saariaho:                  Friese, for violin and electronics (Jennifer Koh, violin)

Pascal Dusapin:                Slackline (2015)  24min French première

CETC of Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires 13-16 October, 2016:

Un cielo y el otro

Pascal Dusapin:          Etude 6, for piano

Pascal Dusapin:          Imago I, for cello

Pascal Dusapin:          Imago II, for cello

Pascal Dusapin:          Etude 7, for piano

Felix Mendelssohn:     Adagio from Sonata 2 D major

Pascal Dusapin:          Slackline, for cello and piano, 2016, WP

Pascal Dusapin:          Immer III, for cello

Duo Anssi Karttunen - Nicolas Hodges

With Diana Theocharidis

With Alina Marinelli and Andres Russo

With Betsy Jolas

With Fred Lerdahl and Ashkan Behzadi

San Francisco Cronicle

In Berkeley, a knockout U.S. premiere for cello and piano

By Joshua Kosman Monday, October 30, 2017

“So who is Pascal Dusapin?” asked a friend during the intermission of Sunday’s duo recital by cellist Anssi Karttunen and pianist Nicolas Hodges, as we tried to assimilate the depth and extent of the musical masterpiece we’d just taken in.

I did my best to answer her query — French composer, in his mid-60s, modernist of a certain not entirely mainstream bent — but I was struggling, and the consequent urge to self-reproach was strong. Suddenly, all the hours I’d devoted to anything except acquiring a thorough acquaintance with Dusapin’s oeuvre struck me as grievously ill-spent.

The inspiration for all of this was a four-movement piece titled “Slackline,” which received its U.S. premiere in Berkeley’s Hertz Hall as part of a program presented by Cal Performances (the work’s commissioner). To listen to this music, in Karttunen and Hodges’ eloquent, sure-handed rendition, was to feel a constant combination of surprise and confidence — every moment of the piece seemed new and unexpected, and yet it all made glorious sense.

Also, the music is surpassingly beautiful, which has not always been the case in my encounters with Dusapin’s work. But “Slackline” boasts a vivid, almost ingratiating air of immediacy, an urgent desire to engage the listener without compromise or sentimentality.

Each of the duo’s movements is briskly, unmistakably characterized in both mood and technique. The opening movement, marked “Peaceful,” grows out of a simple, easily grasped melody that serves as the substance for a long and ingenious musical essay. The discussion is by turns urgent and reflective, but always keeps the main theme — and, most tellingly, its harmonic underpinnings — somewhere in sight.

Dusapin follows this with an exuberant crowd-pleaser, a ferociously fast, unbroken stream of barrelhouse piano into which the cello makes dogged interjections without much hope of stanching the flood. The music proved so sleek and wonderful that not even a short hiatus while a patron found and silenced a ringing cell phone could diminish its luster.

But wait, there’s more! The whirlwind is followed by an eerie boneyard of long-held string harmonics and spare, translucent harmonies, and then a celebratory finale launched by a series of chiming piano chords reminiscent of Messiaen. By the time “Slackline” had run its nearly 25-minute course, audience members felt we had been through a landmark experience — and wanted nothing more than to hear the piece again.

Even if nothing else on the program matched that exhilarating high, the partnership of Karttunen and Hodges turned out to be equally alluring in both new and old music. They led off with the U.S. premiere of “Fling,” a short curtain-raiser by the Iranian-born composer Ashkan Behzadi that turned out to be an entirely sculptural collection of musical gestures — tone clusters, string effects, tiny bursts of sound — arranged in compellingly abstract combinations.

The program also had promised a commissioned world premiere by Sean Shepherd, but that was replaced at the last minute by Fred Lerdahl’s Duo for Cello and Piano. In its U.S. premiere, this emerged as a 15-minute dialogue of restrained good manners, in which musical ideas were traded back and forth with genteel consideration but not much force.

The older composers were, unsurprisingly, Beethoven and Brahms, each represented by his final Sonata for Cello and Piano. Karttunen and Hodges gave both works performances of impeccable, if slightly austere, mastery, most appealingly in the slow movement of Beethoven’s D-Major Sonata, Op. 102, No. 2.

Joshua Kosman is The San Francisco Chronicle’s music critic.

San Francisco Classical Voice

Anssi Karttunen’s Modernist Cavalcade

BY DAVID BRATMAN , October 31, 2017

Cellist Anssi Karttunen and pianist Nicolas Hodges, frequent recital partners, came to Berkeley’s Hertz Hall on Sunday, October 29, for a concert featuring the kind of music they like best: extremely new compositions written for themselves to play. There were three of these, all first U.S. performances, and all proving that the spirit of 20th-century modernist composition is alive and active.

The centerpiece of the program, in placement and length as well as heft, was Slackline by the French composer Pascal Dusapin. It’s in four movements and lasted about 25 minutes. It’s more contemplative than the compulsively driving music for which Dusapin became known, and more severely modernist, but it did not lack activity nor interest. A movement titled “Peaceful” featured slow-moving and continuous, mostly chordal, declamatory lines for cello over chromatic tinkling in the piano. Another, “Calm (and relieved),” approached the same spirit through harmonics and deep throbbing pizzicato. These movements were separated by “Feverish … impatient,” sounding at times like the same thing sped up about tenfold. It was fast, jagged, and irregular, but it was still meditative in spirit. Lastly, the instruction “Exuberant (but not extravagant)” translated to nervous rumbling. I found value in this strong and shifting music.

The other two new works were briefer. Ashkan Behzadi is an Iranian composer now living in the U.S. His Fling is seven minutes of Webernian pointillism. Assorted and varied cries, sobs, pops, knocks, warbles, and long slow glissandi for the cello, over accompaniment that drifted to the far ends of the keyboard, were fun to listen to but didn’t seem to add up to anything or go anywhere.

The Duo by Fred Lerdahl, a senior American composer who’s Behzadi’s composition professor at Columbia, came between the other two in nature as it did in length. It featured active, chromatic cello lines of varied character. Some double stops were low and rich like Dusapin’s, others bright and tangy. Fast passages brought Karttunen’s closest approach to traditional, intense cello tone. The piano part, irregular and disconnected from the cello, tinkled like Dusapin’s and ran out to extremes of high and low like Behzadi’s. Some of the chords had distinctly Debussyan harmonies.

These three works were interleaved with two of the most dignified classics in the cello and piano repertoire, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 5 in D, Op. 102, No. 2, and Brahms’ Sonata No. 2 in F, Op. 99, both reflective works from dates approaching their composers’ later years. The performers brought the same spirit to these pieces as they did to their new music.

Karttunen played these classics with bent notes and a rough and varied texture, especially in the Beethoven. To Brahms he brought a basso profundo tone, even on high notes. These features were akin to styles he used elsewhere in the program. So was his fondness for dramatic left-hand gestures when playing on open strings. To Beethoven’s Adagio he gave a stringiness typical of Baroque music, and with an equivalently light emotional level, contemplative as in the Dusapin but without the full passion and sobbing pauses sometimes heard in this movement.

Hodges gave Beethoven and Brahms the same hard-punching, heavily chordal performance that he did elsewhere whenever the opportunity arose. His clear playing felt subsidiary to the cello throughout, but it held the platform steady.

There was one horrifying interruption to this concert. In the middle of Dusapin’s “Feverish” movement, the players abruptly stopped to let a ringing cell phone get out of the sonic right of way. That’s particularly regrettable from a small audience whose members really wanted to be at this concert of austere music. But the fact that the mood resumed afterwards without rupture confirmed that the event was more of an intellectual than an emotional experience.