Grammy-Winning Violinist James Ehnes Explores Works by Four Masters Oct. 14

September 27, 2018

Erich Burnett

man sitting in cushioned chair holding violin
Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega

This Artist Recital Series performance also features pianist Andrew Armstrong; James Ehnes to perform on Oberlin’s Stradivarius instrument.

Grammy Award-winning violinist James Ehnes will perform works by four masters with his longtime duo partner and pianist Andrew Armstrong at Oberlin College and Conservatory on Sunday, October 14.

Part of the 141st season of Oberlin’s Artist Recital Series, the 2:30 p.m. performance takes place in historic Finney Chapel.

Ehnes, long revered for his virtuosity and lyricism, also delights audiences with his utter lack of pretension with each astounding performance. He and Armstrong have set out to commemorate the 250th birthday of Beethoven in the coming year by performing all 10 of the composer’s violin sonatas in engagements around the world.

The Oberlin audience will be treated to their performance of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 1 in D Major, along with early works for violin by two other masters: Brahms’ Sonatensatz, and Corigliano’s Sonata for Violin and Piano. They will also play Ravel’s Violin Sonata No. 2, a work notable for its “Blues” movement—and the piece that concluded Ravel's contribution to chamber music.

“Sometimes I like to put together programs that are thematic, or at least show what I consider to be important interrelationships,’’ Ehnes says. “But sometimes—often—I feel like recitals are a great opportunity to present the audience with a ‘musical buffet,’ presenting great examples of the tremendous variety of music written for the violin and piano.

“This program Andy and I will play in Oberlin is one of the latter: a program that we hope showcases the great variety of masterpieces written for our instrumental combination. We hope that listeners will be intrigued by the different styles of music presented and will be inspired to further their exploration of the repertoire.”

Ehnes will perform on a recently restored “ex-Vallot” violin made by Antonio Stradivarius in 1722 and owned by Oberlin. The opportunity came about through the invitation of Oberlin Professor of Violin Marilyn McDonald, who has known Ehnes since his teen years, when he devoted summers to performing at the Peninsula Music Festival in Wisconsin and other festivals. This will be the first public performance of the ex-Vallot in nearly two decades and since its full restoration. There are about 650 Stradivarius violins in the world.

In recent years, Oberlin's Strad underwent a complete restoration in the shop of noted restorer John K. Becker, with whom Ehnes also entrusts his "Marsick" Stradivarius, which dates to 1715. McDonald recalls that Ehnes encountered the Oberlin instrument on a visit to Becker's Chicago shop. "He saw ours and played it, and he said, 'Oh yeah, I’ll play that!'"

In addition to his intensive recital schedule, Ehnes today finds himself in demand with the world’s top orchestras, among them Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York, and the London Symphony. He won a 2007 Grammy Award for his recording of concertos by Barber, Korngold, and Walton with the Vancouver Symphony for CBC Records.

A native of Canada who graduated from the Juilliard School, Ehnes has been honored by the Royal Society of Canada and is a fellow of the Order of Arts & Letters.

“The trajectory of his career has been meteoric,” says McDonald. “He’s technically at the top of the field, but what is particularly attractive about James is his warm and personal attitude toward interpreting the music.” (For a sense of the unassuming superstar’s approach to music and life, check out the Violin Channel’s game of 20 questions with Ehnes .)

Reserve Your Seats

Tickets for James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong at Finney Chapel are $35 ($30 for seniors, military, and Oberlin alumni and staff), with student tickets just $10. Get yours by calling 800-371-0178, visit, or stop by Oberlin’s Central Ticket Service in Hall Auditorium, 67 N. Main St., from noon to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

It’s also not too late to take advantage of prorated season ticket packages or Pick 3 packages to the 2018-19 Artist Recital Series, at a considerable savings compared to the price of individual tickets.

The Artist Recital Series continues with the royal family of classical guitar: The Romeros on November 18. The season lineup also features visits by the Doric String Quartet (Feb. 22), soprano Joyce DiDonato (Feb. 27), pianist Piotr Anderszewski (Apr. 3), and the Spring Quartet (Apr. 17), featuring drummer Jack DeJohnette, saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding, and pianist Leo Genovese.

In addition, opera legend Marilyn Horne will host her annual master class with Oberlin Conservatory singers on December 9.

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