Virko Baley: "An 80th Birthday Salute to the Composer"

Live at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater

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Joel Sachs Conducting Virko Baley Concert Tuesday, October, 2, 2018

Tuesday, October 2, 2018, at 7:30 pm, in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater.

Free tickets are available starting on 9/20/2018. Program notes are also available for download. 

Our October 2, 2018, performance celebrates the 80th birthday of Virko Baley, whose services to new music as a composer, pianist, conductor, and festival director can best be described as heroic. He also has a direct connection to Juilliard: an early colleague at the University of Nevada and bassoonist in Baley’s Las Vegas Chamber Players was Joseph W. Polisi, who – unfortunately for Las Vegas and Baley but fortunately for Juilliard, returned East after one year to take an administrative position at Yale that started him on the path leading to the memorable presidency of Juilliard.

About Virko Baley

Virko Baley (b. Ukraine, 1938) moved to the United States as a child, studying piano in Los Angeles with Rosina Lhevinne and Earl Voorhies, and graduating from the Los Angeles Conservatory (now the California Institute of the Arts). Settling in Las Vegas 1970, founded the composition program the University of Nevada, and founded and directed the Las Vegas Chamber Players, which presented a major contemporary music festival and grew into the Nevada Symphony Orchestra, of which he was music director and conductor from 1980 to 1995. Under his leadership the orchestra became a major force in contemporary music in America, presenting the first American performances of numerous works by Soviet composers. He also was music director NEXTET (2001-2016) and created with his colleague Jorge Grossman the annual composers’ conference at UNLV. Always in close touch with composers of Russia and Ukraine, Baley promoted them through performances and extensive writings on modern Ukrainian music. He is a frequent guest conductor internationally and has conducted most of the important orchestras of the former USSR. He has also been principal conductor of the Kiev Cameral and Producer and Music Advisor of the International Ukrainian Music Festival (Kyiv Music Fest) and its associated Marian and Iwanna Kots International Composition Competition. Virko Baley is now a Jacyk Fellow at Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute and Distinguished Professor of Music, Composer-in-Residence at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  He received a 2007 Grammy Award as recording co-producer for TNC Recordings and the prestigious Academy Award in Music 2008 from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  His music, published by Troppe Note Publishing Co., Las Vegas, appears on numerous labels.

A prolific composer, Baley has received many important commissions and awards and has recorded both his music and that of composers of the United States and the former Soviet Union. In 1989 he co-produced and composed the musical score for the film “Swan Lake: The Zone,” by the celebrated Ukrainian director Yuri Illienko. Winning two top awards, it was the first Ukrainian film ever to receive a Cannes prize. In 2013, his magnum opus Holodomor (Red Earth. Hunger) an opera about the Ukrainian famine 19320-33) was performed in a chamber concert version in Las Vegas and New York, later repeated in Kyiv. In the winter of 2019, it is scheduled to receive its fully staged premiere at the Lviv Theater of Opera Ballet in Ukraine.

Baley's Violin Concerto No. 1, subtitled "quasi una fantasia" was commissioned by Dr. W. Howard Hoffman and dedicated to the memory of his father, W. Howard Hoffman, senior. The chamber version heard tonight was premiered by the New Juilliard Ensemble and recorded by them with soloist Tom Chiu. Baley writes,

“The idea of the concerto is that of a requiem mass, a reflection on death. The first three movements are joined in sonata-allegro form spread over those movements: the Lacrymosa is the exposition, Dies irae the development and Lux aeterna the recapitulation. Although each movement is different, certain relationships exist between them. For example, movements II and III mirror each other -- darkness into light, anger into acceptance, and chaos into order -- but are still colored by a pervasive feeling of loss. The fourth movement (the coda) is a wake -- a joyful remembrance of a life well-lived and well-remembered. The other element that pervades the Concerto is its "Ukrainianism." The melos of Ukrainian folk music is evident in the intervallic and rhythmic structure of the concerto. For some time, I wanted to write a work in which the building blocks would be melismas based on folk figures (authentic and/or facsimiles). The inspiration to act on this came out of hearing Leonid Hrabovsky's Concerto misterioso for nine instruments (1977). It is a work I admire very much, and one in which is found a very original solution to the problem of abstract (non-nationalistic and non-narrative) use of ethnographic materials.”

—   Joel Sachs

Notable Reviews

Baley's Violin Concerto No. 1…had something of the same spirituality as Part and Gorecki, but with more subtle complexity and less literal repetition. The opening movement's mournful violin melody kept bleeding into the orchestra, whose delicate sonorities were dotted with vibraphone, marimba, harp, harpsichord and piano…Though European in its polish and complexity, the work provided the very feature that audiences listen for desperately: sonic images memorable enough to take home.

— Kyle Gann, The Village Voice, New York

My most vivid memory of the afternoon…[was] Virko Baley's Violin Concerto No. 1, quasi una fantasia. Conceived as a requiem, the concerto squeezes the elements of the mass into sonata-allegro form, with Lacrymosa as the exposition, Dies Irae as the development and the Lux aeterna as the recapitulation. The fourth movement stands apart as a festive wake, quoting folk figures with abandon and giving percussion-free reign.

Baley's music has been described as 'multilingual with a Slavic accent', and I can do no better. Somewhat reminiscent of the mystic minimalism of Gorecki and Part, the concerto takes almost cliched near-quotes from Kreisler and Paganini and turns them into an effectively haunting texture.

— Ken Smith, THE STRAD (September 1995)

The work communicated an inherent beauty even on the first hearing. Its lyrical and idiomatic writing for the violin and its decidedly mournful tone touched the emotions with an immediacy all too rare in contemporary music.

— Esther H. Weinstein, MUSICAL AMERICA (July 1988)

Performance Information 


New Juilliard Ensemble

Joel Sachs, founding director and conductor, 26th season


Peter Jay Sharp Theater

Tuesday, October 2, 2018, at 7:30 pm

  • Stella Chen, violin
  • Alvin Zhu, piano
  • Regine DE Vera, narrator


Four Studies on Darkness (2018)

Sunbin Kim (b. Korea, 1990)

  • Black, red and black
  • Rust, blacks on plum
  • Green divided by blue
  • Black on grey

World Premiere, commissioned by NJE

Agos (2017)

Josefino Chino Toledo (b. Manila, Philippines, 1959)

  • Text: Joi Barrios-Leblanc

Regine DE Vera, narrator

World Premiere


Mirror of Stars (2010)

Akira Nishimura (b. Osaka, Japan, 1953)

  • Alvin Zhu, piano

First performance outside Japan

Violin Concerto No. 1, “Quasi una Fantasia” (1987)

Virko Baley (b. Ukraine, 1938)

I. Lacrymosa

II. Dies Irae

III. Lux Aeterna

IV. Agon

Stella Chen, violin

An 80th birthday salute to the composer

Virko Baley: Violin Concerto No. 1, "Quasi una fantasia" (1987)


The New Juilliard Ensemble

The New Juilliard Ensemble, led by founding director Joel Sachs and in its 26th season, presents music by a variety of international composers who write in the most diverse styles. The ensemble appears annually at MoMA’s Summergarden and was a featured ensemble four times at the Lincoln Center Festival. It has premiered some 100 compositions. In 2009, N.J.E. collaborated with Carnegie Hall’s Ancient Paths, Modern Voices festival; in 2011, with Carnegie’s Japan/NYC festival; in 2012, with its Voices from Latin America festival, and in 2014, its festival UBUNTU: Music and Arts of South Africa. A highlight of the 2013-14 season was a collaboration with the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Bicentennial Celebration with the U.S. premieres of works by Magnus Lindberg and Judith Weir. It has also participated in collaborations with London’s Royal Academy of Music and the Franz Liszt Music University in Budapest. 

Concerts N.J.E.’s 2017-18 regular season included music by John Woolrich, Gerald Barry, Raminta Šerkšnytė, Akira Nishimura, Mauricio Kagel, Giya Kancheli, Shuci Wang, Liu Sola, Salvatore Sciarrino, Kolbeinn Bjarnason, Alejandro Cardona, and Jonathan Dawe.

The New Juilliard Ensemble performs in Juilliard’s Focus festival; recent Focus festivals have included: China Today: A Festival of Chinese Composition (2018); Our Southern Neighbors: The Music of Latin America (2017); Milton Babbitt’s World: A Centennial Celebration (2016); and Nippon Gendai Ongaku: Japanese Music Since 1945 (2015). The 2019 festival, entitled “On the Air,” is a salute to the European and Canadian broadcasters who have commissioned some 8000 compositions and broadcast them.

Joel Sachs

Joel Sachs, founder and director of the New Juilliard Ensemble, performs a vast range of traditional and contemporary music as conductor and pianist. As co-director of the internationally acclaimed new music ensemble Continuum, he has appeared in hundreds of performances in New York, nationally, and throughout Europe, Asia, and Latin America. He has also conducted orchestras and ensembles in Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, El Salvador, Germany, Iceland, Mexico, Switzerland, and Ukraine, and has held new music residencies in Berlin, Shanghai, London, Salzburg, Curitiba (Brazil), Newcastle-Upon-Tyne (U.K.), Helsinki, and the Banff Centre (Canadian Rockies).

On November 5, Dr. Sachs will give a faculty recital in Morse Hall, featuring Charles Ives’s rarely heard Piano Sonata No. 1. He also plays the program on Saturday, October 13 at St. John’s Smith Square, London, as part of a year-long American music festival, and at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne on November 22.

One of the most active presenters of new music in New York, Dr. Sachs founded the New Juilliard Ensemble in 1993. He produces and directs Juilliard’s annual Focus! Festival and has been artistic director of Juilliard’s concerts at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) since 1993.

A member of Juilliard's music history faculty, Dr. Sachs wrote the first full biography of the American composer

Henry Cowell, which was published by Oxford University Press in 2012. He often appears on radio as a commentator on recent music and has been a regular delegate to Netherlands Music Days and other international music conferences.

A graduate of Harvard, Dr. Sachs received his Ph.D. from Columbia University. In 2011, he was made an honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard University for his work in support of new music and received the National Gloria Artis Medal of the Polish Government for his service to Polish music. In 2002, he was given Columbia University’s Alice M. Ditson Award for his service to American music.

Stella Chen

Stella Chen, a native of Palo Alto, California, has performed with the London and Lausanne Chamber Orchestras, Welsh National Symphony Orchestra, Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, Medellín Philharmonic Orchestra, and Boston Youth Symphony, among others. Recipient of Harvard’s Robert Levin Award to “an extraordinarily gifted undergraduate musician,” she was also the top prize-winner at the Tibor Varga competition (Switzerland) and the youngest-ever prize-winner at the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition for Young Violinists, which is held in various countries. Chen has presented recitals at venues including the Kennedy Center, The Greene Space at WNYC/WQXR (which was broadcast live on WQXR), and Juilliard. She graduated from the joint Harvard/New England Conservatory Program; at Harvard, she majored in psychology. She is now a C.V. Starr doctoral fellow at Juilliard, studying with Li Lin, Donald Weilerstein, and Catherine Cho; former teachers include Itzhak Perlman and Miriam Fried. 

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