When the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra’s (JPO) Special Spring Concerts open at The Linder Auditorium on 28 October, a rather unusual composition will have its Johannesburg premiere, Karen LeFrak’s Gravity.
As her official bio states, LeFrak is a ‘native New Yorker, composer and author who has created vibrant, moving musical scores that have been presented in prestigious concert halls across the globe’.
She is also an ardent champion of musical and literary education for children and has received wide accolades for her children’s books published. LeFrak has introduced children to the worlds of music, dance, and dogs in her four acclaimed books, Jake the Philharmonic Dog, Jake the Ballet Dog, Best in Show, and Sleepover at the Museum, which was named a 2020 International Literacy Association CBC – Children’s Choice Title.
Gravity is one of LeFrak’s over 270 compositions and it will be interesting to follow the JPO performance of Gravity by soloist Georgy Tchaidze on piano under the baton of LeFrak’s Music Managing Editor, Daniel Boico who is a much-loved conductor of the JPO and the Artistic Director and CEO designate of the Free State Symphony Orchestra in Bloemfontein. ‘His innate musical sensitivity paired with a keen ear and deep musicianship have produced exciting performances with orchestras in the US, Europe, Central and South America, Africa and Asia,’ says the JPO about Boico.
Writing under the pen name The Cross-Eyed Pianist for Meet The Artist, pianist and writer Frances Wilson recently interviewed LeFrak about her compositions and her view on developing a young classical music environment.
LeFrak considers that the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians are to encourage aspiring composers to learn the rules of composition, but not to be afraid of breaking them or to rework what one has already written in the composition process. She believes that some of the best results come from the willingness and openness to change a modality, a harmony, or a melodic line, which can lead to some unexpected and wonderful surprises.
On what can be done to grow classical music’s audiences, LeFrak feels that parents and teachers should play classical music often at home, and in schools. Children have the capacity to absorb and comprehend these complex sounds, and should be introduced to the beautiful, diverse, and individual sounds of every instrument.
Additionally, she tells the Crossed-Eyed Pianist: ‘I find it easiest to write for piano, the instrument I am personally most familiar with. Most of my pieces begin with piano and then I am frequently inspired to orchestrate them, often adding just one wind instrument or arranging the melody for a string ensemble or full orchestra.’
On her favourite pieces and the works she is most proud of, LeFrak says explains that:
‘While Pavlovsk, Sleepover at the Museum, Gloriosa Trio, and the New Yorker Trio have had many repeat performances, I really love my early piano miniatures which were written so that my future grandchildren would someday know about my musical passions, especially of composition. But truthfully, I really am proud of every piece. Like one’s children, you love them all.’
Her definition of success is very simple, ‘I consider success a personal satisfaction when I listen to one of my pieces played, recorded, or performed live, and still like it! This holds true regardless of whether or not an audience is present.’
LeFrak will not be present at the Johannesburg concert, but one thing is sure, the JPO will do her composition proud with their wonderful interpretation of orchestral work. It will be a fitting performance to celebrate the opening up to a live audience again, something that has been much-missed by in the Joburg calendar.
Concert 1 of the JPO’s special spring concert takes place on Thursday 28 November at 19:30 and features conductor Daniel Boico and soloist Georgy Chaidze on piano. The concert features Karen LeFrak: Gravity, Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto no 1 in b flat minor, and Antonin Dvorak: Symphony no 8 in G major, Op.88.
Concert 2 of the JPO’s special spring concert takes place on Thursday 4 November at 19:30 and features conductor Justus Franz and soloist Ye-Eun Choi on violin. The concert features Mozart: Marriage of Figaro: Overture, Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, and Beethoven: Symphony no 3 in E-flat major, Op.55 Eroica.