Musicians: Karen Bentley Pollick

“I began piano lessons at age five and practiced on a Steinway that my father was restoring. Four years later I was handed my first violin at elementary school and received music lessons from the trombone teacher, who was the band director. I then took lessons from Heidi Yenney, who lived around the corner from my home in Palo Alto and was a member of the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra. I soon entered into their training orchestra Super Strings and continued to work my way up in the ranks, playing string quartets with my violist sister Heather and other members of our youth orchestra. We had a competitive comraderie that provided many opportunities for performing solos, chamber music and orchestra, and coaching with visiting soloists and string quartets. I started teaching violin at 12 under the tutelage of my violin teacher Jenny Rudin and enjoyed developing the young talents within a structured community that encouraged lateral learning. I studied with Camilla Wicks in San Francisco when I turned 15 and was especially inspired by the accomplished Norwegian students that passed through her studio.”

Karen Bentley Pollick, another great violinist/violist, who, by the way also is an accomplished pianist (and even does them simultaneously as you’ll see) is a very strong fixture in contemporary music performances across the globe. While most of what she does is new music these days, she has also written her own cadenzas for Haydn and Mozart violin concertos in earlier years, and has also played in crossover situations with the likes of Dave Matthews, Evanescence, and even Barbra Streisand. In September of 2011 she’ll be performing the world premiere of a brand new work, the Piano Trio by Samuel Carl Adams, with TwoSense (Lisa Moore & Ashley Bathgate) in New York.

Karen gave us her thoughts on the new work. “Sam creates miniature jigs and elfin dances that shift rapidly from triple meters to quintuplet subdivisions. He cleverly utilizes unisons between violin and cello in the lilting triplet passages to delineate the structural pillars of the trio. Sam’s background as a jazz bassist and pianist is evident in his harmonic vocabulary that creates a kinetic and buoyant composition. The dynamism and intricacy of his writing evolves from motoric riffs into a Beethovenian fury in the piano texture.”

Karen also spoke about some of her most fascinating performances caught on tape. I asked her about my particular favorites:
Dan Tepfer‘s Solo Blues for Violin and Piano: “Dan studied astrophysics and is a leading jazz pianist of his generation. We met in Brno, Moravia where we were both performing at the American Spring Festival. When we met at the breakfast buffet on the first morning he told me about a piece that he had composed for the Carnegie Recital Hall debut of a violinist/pianist friend. When I returned to the US, I performed Solo Blues for the first time within two weeks. A year later we filmed the piece in my living room in Alabama. Learning this quirky and well-crafted composition required much repetitive drilling to isolate the different tasks that activate previously untapped regions of the brain. Perhaps it is similar to playing organ in terms of multitasking. Solo Blues is an ingenious piece in four contrasting sections that exploit an array of simultaneous activities and coordination.”

Phillip Ratliff‘s Vulcanalia for Violin and Percussion: “Vulcanalia is originally a musical score for five dancers from the Alabama Ballet, with choreography by Roger Van Fleteren depicting the love story between Vulcan and Aphrodite. We have performed it dozens of times al fresco at the base of a cast-iron statue of Vulcan overlooking the skyline of Birmingham, Alabama from Vulcan Park. Our audience was primarily comprised of children attending “Class On The Grass” to learn about the history of the steel industry in the Pittsburgh of the South. Phillip Ratliff is the composer of Vulcanalia as well as the Director of Education at Vulcan Park. He met individually with me and percussionist Graham Dalton to brainstorm motives and textures. During our first session, I rolled tape and sightread a few sketches that Phillip had written out, modifying and improvising on the kernels of ideas he suggested. I am fascinated with the parameters of the violin as a percussive instrument, especially when playing alongside a battery of percussion that includes a brake drum to simulate the sound of an anvil on a forge. I have been encouraging composers to integrate the chop that the Turtle Island String Quartet pioneered. Each composer I work with has devised their own version after I demonstrate the principles of the chop. Phillip took the chop to a new level by integrating pitched and non-pitched elements with chanting in Latin and adding ethereal vocals accompanied by harmonics. The next incarnation of Vulcanalia will be a violin concerto.”

Brian C. Moon‘s Duetto con Bobik for Violin and Electronics: “A stray Beagle/Bassett hound dog showed up on my doorstep in Alabama shortly after Hurricane Katrina during a drought and 105 degree weather. I revived him with food and water then noticed that he was hobbling about using only three of his legs. He arrived on the very same day that my longtime collaborator Ivan Sokolov arrived from Moscow to rehearse with me and cellist Dennis Parker from Louisiana. Sokolov [aka ‘Vanya’] stayed for 10 days, during which the dog remained on our front porch. The day before he returned to Moscow, I asked Vanya to name the dog, who has since been called Bobik, meaning Russian for ‘Fido’. Bobik became a vital part of my family for almost five years until we moved to Colorado in June, and he lasted only 48 hours at the high altitude, as his lungs had been weakened by pneumonia last November. We had a wonderful life together with Bobik filling the role of practice coach. He loved the violin and howled for the first 20 minutes of practicing every day! Perhaps he was awakening my primal nature through his howling and calibrated his song to A440. Our Duetto emerged when I was recording a violin/piano duo of Brian’s at my house, and as we were warming up Bobik was stalking a strange bug in a corner of the living room. He is a very expressive dog with a different greeting for every person and situation. Brian recorded the ‘growling at the bug’ sample, and the ‘joy of the tuning’ sample. I followed up with several subsequent sessions on my Sony PCM-D50 and shared them with Brian a month later. For example, every first Wednesday in Alabama the emergency sirens sound at 10:00 am. I opened the outside door ajar to incite Bobik into a plaintive song with the sirens. On another occasion when I began my practice session, he entered to assume a balletic pose in first position before vocalizing as a coyote baying at the moon. As he was tuned to A440, there was no need for pitch modification during the assembly of the entire piece using the iPhone application “I Am T-Pain”. In August, I performed our Duetto in a canyon at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, Colorado. It was wonderful to hear his voice resonating throughout the canyon and I realized then how deeply he had carved his way into my heart during our quality time together.”

Charles Norman Mason‘s METAMAN: “METAMAN is a collaboration between University of Miami composer Charles Norman Mason and video artist Sheri Wills from RISDI. Mason composed the music with electronics and midi violin, then presented the recording to Sheri to add a visual component. She included me as a live component within the visual field by filming directly onto my body clad in a flowing white outfit. I planned to wear my wedding garb, which inspired Sheri to include lace in the film to create a wedding dress that decorates my body as the imagery emanates from the floor to the top of the background. We filmed the world premiere at the Birmingham Museum of Art in March 2010, and were intrigued by the effect of the reflection of the imagery from the wall onto the floor. The visuals and the electronics are all synchronized. When I am performing METAMAN I avoid stealing a glance at the video that includes motion filmed from a moving train. The first time we did a dress rehearsal with the video, I noticed strobe light splashes of green and purple and realized the need to focus on the violin and music to avert vertigo.”

Karen Bentley
Official website


4 thoughts on “Musicians: Karen Bentley Pollick

  1. Reblogged this on The Glass and commented:

    I posted this interview with Karen Bentley Pollick back in September 2011 when the TwoSense gig was supposed to happen and they were premiering the Sam Adams Piano Trio–The concert is happening tonight at Bargemusic!
    Wed, June 20th, 8 PM
    Fulton Ferry Landing
    Brooklyn, NY 11201

  2. Pingback: TwoSense ~ The Barge Rocked Further « The Glass

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