Q & A with Eric Funk
The following is a question and answer exchange I had with the composer Eric Funk. After recording his ‘Vili: Concerto for the Violin Alone’ it seemed appropriate to retrospectively understand the origin of the composition for my records, as well as share it with others.
Nato: Remarkably, with few exceptions, this concerto is technically feasible! How well did you understand the limitations and range of the violin upon constructing the work?
Eric: My training in composition and orchestration with my principle mentor, Tomas Svoboda, was comprehensive. This solo concerto for violin alone is my third concerto. The 1st ‘In Memoriam Anton Webern’ for violin and chamber orchestra is a comprehensive reach into idiomatic techniques. The 2nd, for violin and orchestra, is more of a straight ahead three movement highly virtuosic work, a real barn-stormer show piece with little extended technique but full compass in range and usual ‘asks.’ My understanding of the violin is deep. The solo concerto has many theoretical elements, theoretically possible but it remained to be seen if they were actually doable. That’s why I wrote it for Vilmos, knowing that shoulder-to-shoulder we could determine if any changes were necessary. A few places were troublesome. We tried alternatives but 100% returned what I had composed.
Nato: Some composers invent musical devises when writing for the violin: Tartini’s creative use of the trilletto/trill, Paganini’s left-hand pizzicato, Bartók’s violent snap pizzicato are all fine examples. Is there any devise you may have invented for this work?
Eric: The double stop opposite direction glissandi was one of those inventions, theoretically possible. I heard the sound in my mind’s ear. Accomplishing it would be the problem (which you achieved nobly, BTW).
Nato: What are some of your favorite violin works for violin alone?
Eric: Locatelli ‘Labyrinth,’ Bach solo sonatas and partitas, cadenzas from Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Bruch, Schnittke violin sonata, Gubaidulina ‘Rejoice’… This is a harder question for me to address. I don’t listen so often anymore, so much music to get to the page.
Nato: And what are a few of your favorite concerti, violin or otherwise?
Eric: Penderecki was working on his [violin concerto] for Isaac Stern when I was studying with him. That has sentimental value for me. The Barber, Korngold, Wieniawski, Stravinsky, Berg, Schoenberg Vln concerti; Lutoslawski, Shostakovitch, Duttilleux cello concerti…
Nato: It’s incredible that a composer could create anything novel with the concerto form (which you have indeed done). How did the idea of a concerto for a single instrument come into fruition?
Eric: I had heard a solo recital Vili did when he was in town as soloist for a Mendelssohn Symposium. During that recital there were numerous places where he was alone, sans piano. It was there that I noticed advanced bowing techniques and subtle gestures that changed the timbrel properties of his violin. I began hearing a concerto where the solo artist was playing the solo part and orchestra accompaniment simultaneously (while he was still performing some other work. The music in my head over rides what he was doing). Afterwards I approached him with the concept to seek after his interest. He seemed curious and interested. He returned to Budapest. Five days after his return the concerto arrived at his door. It came to the page very quickly.
Nato: The whole concerto, especially the finale and the cadenza of the first movement, showcases complex rhythmic writing. Is there something fundamentally American about these jazzy rhythms? What inspires this?
Eric: I was originally trained as a percussionist. I put myself through school playing jazz piano. Add those two ingredients to my intensives with Svoboda (Czech), Veress (Hungarian), and Penderecki (Pole) and the impact of Eastern European folk rhythms and you see my twisted amalgamation emerge. Complex rhythms live in my imagination. Cantilevered phrases abound as well. Since I was composing for a Hungarian violinist it seemed natural to go into this ‘voice.’ Veress, a close personal friend and colleague of Béla Bartók, exposed me to the folk music he and Bartók had researched and transcribed. Shifting agogic accents and passionate gestures at varying dynamic also influenced my writing, part of the music within me.
Nato: Finally, the use of glissando is a devise you introduce in the very first measure, and it goes on to become a motif, really, for the entire work. Is there something you could say about choosing this musical gesture?
Eric: I’ve found glissandi to be beautifully fluid, akin to some Asian languages where upward or downward slides change the meaning of the same word. Also they send to destabilize the ‘ground’ and flip the work into the air. Music as a sound sculpture needn’t be pinioned but can stand untethered in the ether. Glissandi are a principle motive in this concerto, the lift, the drop, the question, the answer, the intimate sigh of a human being.