Department of Music

Saleem Ashkar premieres new works by Wang Lu and Eric Nathan at Tonhalle Düsseldorf’s Schumannfest

Professors Saleem Ashkar, Wang Lu, and Eric Nathan collaborated in a three-concert series in Düsseldorf, Germany in June 2023

Professor Saleem Ashkar curated a three-concert series at Tonhalle Düsseldorf’s Schumannfest in Düsseldorf (Germany) in June which featured works from Robert Schumann’s world—music by Robert and Clara Schumann, Brahms and Mendelssohn-Bartholdy—alongside three new commissions including Professor Wang Lu’s “Wave Field“ for piano quintet, and Professor Eric Nathan’s “Dream Scenes” for piano trio, and a new piano work by Robert Coleman. The new works responded to Schumann’s music in various ways. These “Skyline” concerts took place in three venues atop some of the tallest buildings in Düsseldorf, with stunning vistas of the city.

Professor Nathan joined Ashkar for rehearsals in Berlin and Düsseldorf and to attend the festival. 

Performers included violinists Boris Brovtsyn and Daishin Kashimoto, violist Amihai Grosz, cellist Claudio Bohórquez and mezzo soprano Christina Bock. 

Wang Lu writes about her “Wave Field”: 

“This piece is based on continuously intertwined wavy lines between the string quartet and piano. The layers of melodic threads complement and extend each other, creating a multidimensional, floating and elastic harmonic field. The work is dedicated with great admiration to Saleem Abboud Ashkar.”

Eric Nathan writes about his “Dream Scenes”:

“Dream Scenes is written in homage to composer Robert Schumann. Schumann’s music has long been important to me. I grew up playing his Kinderszenen (Scenes of Childhood) on the piano return to it often. Schumann’s music speaks intensely to me about the experience of life, often through a focus on some of life’s most fleeting moments – a sudden turn of emotion, an impromptu daydream, or a treasured memory.

As I began composing this piece, I thought of Schumann’s practice of juxtaposing, and transitioning between, music of dramatic contrasts. We find this in the striking changes of character in his music, moving between the fiery, mischievous music that he often ascribed to his alter-ego, Florestan, and the dreamy, introspective music that he credited to another of his musical personalities, Eusebius. Even within a single phrase, we find ourselves shuttled between distantly related harmonies, connected by threads of counterpoint.

My trio takes inspiration from Kinderszenen, a collection of short character pieces, but instead of evoking commonplace scenes of childhood, it imagines the fantastical realms of dreams, where things may not always make logical sense, but are nevertheless wondrous, deeply felt experiences. Throughout the work, I quote and reimagine a few favorite fleeting moments from Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 2, using them as building blocks for my own music.

Dream Scenes is structured in four movements of contrasting character: I. Dreaming, yearning; II. Playful, dancing; III. Floating, spacious; IV. Freely, rustic. The third movement returns to the same scene as the first, yet we find key elements have fundamentally changed. The second movement tosses around a quote from Schumann’s trio in a series of adventures and the fourth reworks one of Schumann’s phrases in the guise of a folk song, as if coming from some distant, imagined realm.

Dream Scenes was co-commissioned by Tonhalle Düsseldorf and Royal Danish Library. It is dedicated to Saleem Abboud Ashkar.“