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Miranda Cuckson, violin

Mount Gretna, PA, United States

Miranda Cuckson specializes in delighting listeners with her versatile and expressive playing of music from the newest creations to the beloved classics.

Time 7:30 PM Admission
Mt. Gretna Playhouse 200 Pennsylvania Avenue, Mount Gretna, PA 17064, United States
(717) 361-1508

There will not be a First Listen performance before this concert. Doors open at 7:00 pm.  Open Seating.  We ask you to be mindful of other people’s space, leaving empty seats between your group and others.  There will be plenty of room to spread out in the playhouse for this concert.

$20 | Buy Tickets

American violinist and violist Miranda Cuckson delights audiences with her expressive playing of a large range of music. She has in recent years been deeply and widely involved in contemporary music. Active internationally as a soloist and chamber musician, she is passionate about the creative and communicative role of the performer/interpreter in the artistic process. Her recording of Luigi Nono’s “La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura” for violin and electronics with Christopher Burns (Urlicht AV) was named a Best Recording of 2012 by the New York Times.

[tabby title=”Program”]

Partita No. 2 in d minor for solo violin, BWV 1004
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)


Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952)
Frise jaune
Frise de fleurs
Frise grise


3 Miniatures for violin and piano
Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020)

Sonata No. 8 in G Major for violin and piano, Op. 30, No. 3
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Allegro assai

Tempo di minuetto
Allegro vivace


Johann Sebastian Bach Partita No. 2 in d minor for solo violin, BWV 1004

JS Bach composed his three Sonatas and three Partitas for solo violin between 1703 and 1720 in Weimar and Cöthen. They were published in 1802 by Nicolaus Simrock, and were not widely performed until Joseph Joachim brought them into his repertoire in the mid-late 1800’s. Bach’s pieces were very much part of an exploration of solo violin writing that had been burgeoning in Germany, among composers including Westhoff, Biber, Pisendel, Walther and Vismayr.

The six Bach works are a timeless achievement in their use of the violin’s polyphonic potential (through chordal writing and implied harmonies in single-line passages), their expression of a huge gamut of emotions and characters, both exalted and earthy, and as a unified body of music linked by aspects of form and possible religious subtext. In these pieces, Bach demonstrated how to combine gravitas, liveliness, virtuosity and sheer compositional ingenuity in music for the solo violin, giving the instrument a multi-dimensionality and independent presence more associated with keyboard instruments. Whereas the partitas present sequences of Baroque dance forms such as sarabandes and gigues, the sonatas are in the four-movement, slow-fast slow-fast “sonata da chiesa” form, incorporating free-flowing preludes and brilliantly devised fugues.

The Partita No. 2 consists of four dance movements – Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue – followed by a monumental chaconne. This d minor partita was written following the sudden death and burial of Bach’s wife Maria Barbara while he was away traveling. Its opening movements, with its familiar dance forms, can be interpreted as looking back with mournful intensity at an energetic life. The Chaconne then lets forth an outcry of grief that builds and falls in gigantic waves. Its inexorable 3/4 rhythm and bass line seem to convey the onward flow of time. A chaconne is a slow dance in 3 that originated in Spain; as a musical form, it is a set of variations on a repeating ground bass. The Bach Chaconne is in three large sections, the middle one arriving as a transcendently beautiful epiphany, when the cresting waves of the d minor beginning section give way to a sublimely tender and peaceful D Major.

Kaija Saariaho, Frises

Frises (Friezes) was born of violinist Richard Schmoucler’s request, who told me his idea of combining different works around Bach’s second partita for solo violin, particularly in relation to the last part, the Chaconne. He asked me to compose a piece to be performed after Bach’s Chaconne and start it with the note that ends the movement, the D.

My piece, which I wrote in 2011, has four parts. I focused in each of them on the idea of one historical ostinato variation form, using as starting-point carillon, passacaglia, ground bass, and chaconne. There are four variations around a theme, a harmonic process, or other musical parameter.

To expand the ideas and possibilities of the instrument, I added an electronic dimension to the work. According to its character, each part has a different processing. In general, and in accordance with the score, prepared sound materials are set off by the musician during the piece. These materials are completed by real-time transformations of the violin sounds.

My aim in composing this piece was to create a rich work for violin with four very different and independent parts. The first part, Frise jaune (Yellow Frieze), is a prelude, a flexible improvisation around a constant D, colored by harmonics and the electronic part consisting of bell sounds. This part is also inspired by the idea of carillon, a continuous melodic variation.

The second part, Frise de fleurs (Frieze of Flowers), is based on a harmony created on a ground bass. Sequences of successive chords are gradually enriched before opening to achieve a more free and lyrical development.

The third part, Pavage (Paving), is inspired by transformations of a source material by a mathematical process where a frieze is a filling of a line or a band by a geometric figure without holes or overflow, as in paving. But I do not work in the sense of perfect symmetry – as with the cobblestones of a patterned ground – rather to create continual metamorphosis, in the sprit of some M. C. Escher’s images, though less consistently.

The last part, Frise grise (Gray Frieze), is like a strange procession, solemn, fragile, but at the same time resolved. The idea of passacaglia is here realized with slow triplets, the constant accompaniment of the left hand pizzicati on three strings, while the melody is evolving on the fourth, which is not part of the accompaniment. The thematic material evolves, descending slowly from E, the highest string, to G, the lowest. The music finally reaches the initial D, double-stopped, restoring us to the beginning.

The titles are inspired by the mathematical ideas mentioned above but also by Odilon Redon’s painted friezes, which I saw recently in an exhibition dedicated to his work – especially the Yellow Frieze, Frieze of Flowers, and Gray Frieze.

Krzysztof Penderecki, 3 Miniatures for violin and piano

The Polish conductor and composer, Krzysztof Penderecki, is considered one of the great pillars of the 20th Century and Modern periods of classical music. Throughout his distinguished musical career, he has been awarded top prizes such as the Prix Italia, an Emmy Award, and even a Grammy. His works range from orchestral ensembles to those for television. Notably, in film scoring, his String Quartet was even featured in the 1973 movie “The Exorcist.” This piece, Three Miniatures for Violin and Piano was composed in 1959, a year after graduating from the Academy of Music in Kraków.

As one of Penderecki’s early compositions, Three Miniatures for Violin and Piano, is made up of 3 brief pieces that showcase and demonstrate many of the groundbreaking orchestral and ensemble effects that make up his later works such as Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960) and the St. Luke Passion (1966). Among these extended technique sounds are the slides of glissando, large, quick leaps of “portamento,” variations in vibrato, punctuated pizzicato, and rapid tremolos. In the first piece, appreciate the affections evoked by the violin’s use of playing on the bridge or tailpiece with the incorporation of “sul ponticello.” The second piece is for solo violin and uses large chords, trills, and harmonics. The final piece broadens the sounds used even more by extending the technique of the piano as well. Known as “string piano” the strings inside the body of the piano are played with one or both hands of the pianist.

Ludwig van Beethoven, Sonata No. 8 in G Major for violin and piano, Op. 30, No. 3

Sandwiched between the stormy grandeur of the 1st, and the 9th sonata’s monumental sweep, the more subtle merits of Beethoven’s 8th sonata for violin and piano (1802) are all too often overlooked, for unlike its nearest neighbors in the ten work cycle, the 8th is a largely cloudless piece, well-nigh free from epic stress and strife – and this notwithstanding its being written as its composer fought against despair at his impending deafness, the very nadir of his life. Yet despite its merry nature (or more properly speaking, really because of it), the 8th in its own way addresses the composer’s terrible crisis, and is every bit as bold as its more famous and more strident brethren. It is a statement of positive spirit, dauntlessly optimistic in the face of blight, and too of the succoring effect of art; a glowing moment of respite between two works masterful and deep, the 8th Sonata does not so much deny life’s essential difficulties as allow us to rise above them for a time, through music.

One way the 8th Sonata achieves its bright, uplifting bent is by the suppression of a traditional, central slow movement in which worldly cares might impinge, casting darkness on the general luster; there is instead an elegant and stately Tempo di menuetto in its place, a work of leisurely, courtly grace. This movement separates a pair of jovial allegri, the first of which, marked Allegro assai, presents the listener with a kaleidoscope of jaunty figures that its composer, like a merry tailor in his shop, sews into a perfect, sunlit whole; the last, a pert Allegro vivace, rounds off the sonata with a scherzo-like, utterly charming effervescence. This finale is one of those rare moments in music that manages, with its flashing ‘folk-fiddle’ arpeggios, to be simultaneously rustic and virtuosic, and makes an entirely uplifting, fitting finish to a care-defyingly optimistic work.

Bach note by Miranda Cuckson, Saariaho note by the composer, Penderecki note by Joe Schaefer, Beethoven note by Carl Kane

[tabby title=”About Miranda and Aaron”]

Miranda Cuckson

She recently premiered a new violin concerto written for her by the Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas, with its co-commissioning orchestras: the Suntory Festival and Tokyo Symphony with Ilan Volkov, the Staatsorchester Stuttgart with Sylvain Cambreling, and the Orchestra of Casa da Música in Porto with Baldur Brönnimann. She also gave the world premiere of Mexican composer Marcela Rodriguez’s Violin Concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico and Sylvain Gasançon, and the New York premiere of the Violin Concerto by Michael Hersch with Ensemble Échappé and Jeffrey Milarsky.

Miranda made her Carnegie Hall (Stern Auditorium) debut in Walter Piston’s concerto with the American Symphony Orchestra. She appears in concert halls large and small, schools and universities, and informal spaces. Venues have included the Berlin Philharmonie, Teatro Colón, Suntory Hall, Library of Congress, Miller Theatre, Guggenheim Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, Strathmore, Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music, and the Marlboro, Bard, Lincoln Center, West Cork, Bridgehampton, Portland, Music Mountain, Sinus Ton and Bodensee festivals.

Her ongoing engagement with older music includes all the concerto and sonata repertoire and the solo works of JS Bach. She has performed the complete cycle of Beethoven Sonatas with pianist Thomas Bagwell. She has collaborated in concert with composer-performers Michael Hersch, Huang Ruo, Vijay Iyer, Nina C. Young, and Philip Glass. She frequently works both with emerging young composers and with a slew of celebrated composers from around the world.

She has released ten lauded albums. Her most recent album – solo music by Wolpe, Carter and Ferneyhough (Urlicht AV) – has been praised by Brian Ferneyhough and added to her varied discography. For her first CD, she recorded the Ponce and Korngold concertos with the Czech National Symphony, on Centaur Records. She subsequently was awarded grants from the Copland Fund (four times in a row) to pursue her interest in 20th-century American violin music and record works by Ross Lee Finney, Donald Martino, and Ralph Shapey.

She is founder/director of Nunc, a member of AMOC (American Modern Opera Company), an artistic advisor at National Sawdust, and member of counter) induction. She was the founding violinist of the Argento Chamber Ensemble, American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) and Momenta Quartet.

She is continually engaging with various forms of art. She has performed the Barber Concerto with the New York City Ballet, Stravinsky Duo Concertant at BAM with the State Ballet of Georgia, and Stravinsky Concerto for the Balanchine centennial.

Miranda studied at Juilliard, starting in Pre-College when she was nine, through her DMA degree (with some years away from school between her college degrees). She was a Starr Fellow and won Juilliard’s Presser Music Award, and the Richard F. French Prize for her doctoral dissertation on Ross Lee Finney, his violin works and his folk music background. Her teachers included Robert Mann, Dorothy DeLay, Felix Galimir, Shirley Givens, Fred Sherry and the Juilliard Quartet. Now a sought-after teacher herself, she is on faculty at the Mannes School of Music/New School University, college and prep divisions.

She is a US citizen and her parents, both musicians, are of Austrian/English and Taiwanese origin. Please visit Cuckson’s website for more information.

Aaron Wunsch

Pianist Aaron Wunsch enjoys a multifaceted career as a performer, presenter, and educator.  He has performed on concert stages throughout the US, Europe and Asia, including in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Duke’s Hall in London, at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland and as soloist with symphonies in the US and China. Lauded for his “masterful” chamber music performances (Hartford Courant), he has appeared at the Norfolk, Bowdoin, Sarasota, Great Lakes and Yellow Barn chamber music festivals, collaborating in performance with cellist Lynn Harrell, clarinetists Charles Neidich and Anthony McGill, violinists Miranda Cuckson and Jennifer Koh, and the Miró and Parker Quartets, among others.  He has worked closely with many renowned composers, including Thomas Adès, Nico Muhly, and Kaija Saariaho and has performed new works by Saariaho and John Adams during Tanglewood’s Festival of Contemporary Music. 

He studied at Yale University (B.A., cum laude), the Mozarteum in Salzburg (Fulbright Fellowship) and at The Juilliard School (M.M. and D.M.A.). He was formerly Assistant Professor of Piano at William Paterson University and is currently the Director of Keyboard Studies and Piano Curriculum at Juilliard, where he teaches piano literature, graduate studies, chamber music, and directs Juilliard PianoScope, the Piano Department’s performance series. He gives piano master classes and lectures at conservatories and universities in the U. S., Europe, and Asia, and he was 2010 Visiting Professor at Shanghai Normal University. His awards for written work in musicology include the Henry Hart Rice Prize and the Richard F. French Prize. His principal teachers in piano included Peter Frankl, Karlheinz Kämmerling, and Robert McDonald, and he also worked with Andras Schiff, Jerome Lowenthal, and Claude Frank; his history and theory studies were with Allen Forte, Robert Morgan, L. Michael Griffel, and Maynard Solomon.

He is Artistic Director of both the acclaimed Music Mondays concert series in New York City ( and Co-Artistic Director of the Skaneateles Festival, in the Finger Lakes (