Redwood Violin debuts with student orchestra
When the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra presents their prerecorded virtual concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, there will be lots of unusual music on the program by little-known composers, including a woman contemporary of Mozart’s, two Black composers and an arrangement of Scott Joplin’s last published work, “Magnetic Rag.”
But a unique piece will highlight a trio of local talents, brought together by serendipity, for the debut performance of the Redwood Violin, a one-of-a-kind fiddle created by luthier Andrew Carruthers of Santa Rosa.
Through the curves and acoustics of the Redwood Violin, Carruthers has tried to paint a portrait of Sonoma County, paying tribute to its redwood forests and apple orchards, its talented artists and crafts people. His vision for the instrument is to embody the principles of the Go Local movement, with as much of it as possible made either by himself or another local artist, from local materials.
“It’s a way to show, especially in this pandemic, that you don’t need all this exterior commerce,” he said. “The only non-local things are the strings and the steel for a few metal parts. Everything else grew out of the ground right here. That’s kind of an amazing thought.”
Although he normally sells his hand-carved instruments to serious music students across the country, the internationally known luthier decided to use the Redwood Violin to promote local music education programs, such as the Santa Rosa Symphony Institute for Music Education, the umbrella organization of the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra.
Aaron Westman, music director for the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra, served as the glue that joined the three collaborators: luthier, violinist and composer. In the video recording of the concert, the Redwood Violin is played by the orchestra’s gifted co-concertmaster, Aeden Seaver of Petaluma, who is premiering a short but alluring work by the orchestra’s 17-year-old cellist, Gwendolyn Thalia Przyjazna of Cotati.
It doesn’t get much more local than that.
Przyjazna’s spirited and energetic piece, Concertina for Violin and Strings, is just 4 minutes long but covers a lot of emotional ground, from the strings’ quiet chorale in the beginning to the entrance of the violin, which climbs into the upper register for a brief climax, then settles back down. The piece ends with a wistful, dreamy chord. The performance marks the first time Przyjazna will have a work she’s composed performed in public.
“It ends in a really reflective mood,” Przyjazna said. “The last chord says, ‘I’m glad this happened, but I’m a little sad that it’s over now.’”
Westman was pleasantly surprised by the resulting recording.
“There are a couple of moments that gave me goose bumps,” he said. “To see all these pieces come together this year, when we couldn’t even play a live concert … the kids are really inspiring.”
A “soaring, ecstatic melody”
When she started writing the piece back in April 2020, initially for viola and piano, Przyjazna was feeling nostalgic for her life before the pandemic. Making and writing music helped her cope with the emotional toll of the past year.
“One morning, I just woke up and I had a soaring, ecstatic melody in my head,” she said. “The piece is optimistic and strong and speaks to the fact that I never stopped creating music.”
Przyjazna wrote most of the piece in one morning, she said. She added the violin cadenza after Westman asked her to arrange it for the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra, which is made up of violins, violas, cellos and bass.
“I think arranging it was actually harder than writing the original,” she said. “Suddenly I had five different instruments instead of just piano to write for, and I learned I can’t translate every note directly.”
A season like no other
When the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra started meeting last October, Credo High School junior Aeden Seaver had returned to the group after taking a break.
Even before the Redwood Violin entered the picture, Westman said he already had Seaver in mind as the soloist for Przyjazna’s piece.
“He’s very expressive and physically a great violinist,” Westman said. “He gets a big, bold, bright sound. He reminds me of a professional colleague of mine who is a wonderful, natural musician.”
Seaver started playing the violin at age 6 and has performed with various Santa Rosa Symphony youth orchestras since he was 11. After taking an American Music class at Credo High, he has also started to play jazz, blues and rock on his acoustic and electric violins. He also busks on the sidewalks of downtown Petaluma with a friend who plays the flute.