By Elena Urioste | From the July-August 2020 issue of Strings magazine
On March 17, my brilliant pianist-composer husband, Tom Poster, and I made the rather ambitious (and, it should be noted, jet-lagged) decision to record and share one music video for every day we would spend in isolation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We named the project #UriPosteJukeBox, a portmanteau of our last names plus a nod to a more old-timey method of enjoying music, and decided that it would be our method of keeping our minds and fingers sharp during this period of unemployment, when we might have otherwise lost the motivation to practice regularly. We asked our virtual following what they might like to hear in the coming weeks and were flooded with requests, from the erudite (Mozart and Messiaen) to the less so (Britney Spears and “Itsy Bitsy Spider”).
Our first few episodes drew a much wider audience than we were anticipating, and we soon found ourselves on a transatlantic call into BBC Radio 3’s In Tune, rhapsodizing about Tom’s medley of “Come on Eileen/Toxic/Baby Shark.” Another incredible twist to the project involved one of our dear friends and champions, Victoria Robey OBE, reaching out to ask if we might use #UriPosteJukeBox as a vehicle to introduce new works that we would commission through her generous support. We launched #UriPostePremieres on April 15 with the brilliant British composer Mark Simpson’s “An Essay of Love”; other coronavirus commissions include works by Clarice Assad, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Huw Watkins, Donald Grant, and Jessie Montgomery.
The following are a few personal highlights from (at the time of writing this) the past 45 days of #UriPosteJukeBox. [The project ended June 12, day 88.]
The Overlooked Gem: “Midnight Bells”
Arranged in 1923, Fritz Kreisler’s ridiculously charming transcription of a racy waltz duet from Richard Heuberger’s 1898 operetta Der Opernball is an inexplicably underappreciated bonbon. Its sumptuous surges and waves of nostalgia whisk us straight back to turn-of-the-century Vienna, and the fun of trying to outdo Kreisler’s own rhythmic liberties and delicious slides is reason enough to waltz into this work.
The Old Warhorse: Franck Sonata, IV. Allegretto poco mosso
Oddly enough, before recording the final movement of César Franck’s famed sonata for the JukeBox, I had only performed this work once in all my recital-playing years. Franck wrote this sonata as a wedding present for the violinist Eugène Ysaÿe; being newlyweds ourselves, it was actually quite sweet for Tom and me to explore this work—a springtime stroll together but apart, much like the whole world at the moment. We also contemplated (and decided emphatically against) following in the decades-old but evidence-defying tradition of slowing down to half-speed when the theme from the previous Recitativo-Fantasia movement is reprised; it is exponentially more exhilarating in the finale’s quicker context!
View this post on Instagram
Franck Sonata – IV. Allegretto poco mosso • Dear violinists and pianists: we will not in any way be offended if you opt to skip past today’s offering! 😜 Regardless, just wanted to mention a couple odds and ends about this well-worn, well-loved staple for piano and violin… . Oddly enough, we have never performed or even read this work together — so this is actually our Franck Sonata debut! In fact, I’ve only ever played it once in concert, upon returning from three weeks in Barcelona doing pretty much everything BUT playing the violin. Franck wrote this sonata as a wedding present for the violinist Eugène Ysaÿe; being newlyweds ourselves, it was actually quite sweet to explore this canon — a springtime stroll together but apart, much like the whole world at the moment. . Secondly, we present our take on this movement with one pressing question: why does everyone slow down to half-speed at this spot? It was so exciting to do what’s written that I totally skidded through my second phrase and I DON’T EVEN MIND!!!!!!!! . Full video on @youtube — link in bio. #UriPosteJukeBox
The Brand-New Masterpiece: “An Essay of Love”
A couple weeks into JukeBox, our extraordinary friend Mark Simpson (who enjoys stellar parallel careers as a clarinetist and composer) sent us a sketch for a new piece, wondering if we might be interested in including it on our series—little did he know that we were simultaneously dreaming up a sub-project to introduce a handful of lockdown-inspired world premieres!
Mark writes about his vibrant, wild work: “‘An Essay of Love’ was written during the worldwide COVID-19 lockdown. I was touched to see so many musicians from across the globe respond in various ways to keep their practice alive whilst the performing and entertainment industries were completely shut down. Others have used this period as one of introspection and reflection, as a time to ask more searching questions: What does it mean to be alive? Why perform? What purpose does music have in this world? I wanted to try to bridge the gap between these two states and try to reflect on a way we might try to write and perform during a period of such untold sadness and pain.”
View this post on Instagram
We are humbled, grateful, and completely over the moon to present the first of our UriPoste Premieres, @marksimpson732’s ‘An Essay of Love’. Mark is one of the most extraordinary musicians of our time, combining stellar parallel careers as composer and clarinetist. @tom_poster and I have been privileged to share a stage with him many times, most frequently in Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, and we have regularly been blown away by his own dynamic, mesmerizing music. Among the last concerts Tom and I played before this lockdown were two performances at @wigmore_hall with our @kaleidoscopecc, of which Mark is a central part. He is a wonderful man and a dear friend to us. About ‘An Essay of Love’, he writes: . “An Essay of Love was written during the worldwide COVID-19 lockdown. I was touched to see so many musicians from across the globe respond in various ways to keep their practice alive whilst the performing and entertainment industries were completely shut down. . Others have used this period as one of introspection and reflection. As a time to ask more searching questions. What does it mean to be alive? Why perform? What purpose does music have in this world? I wanted to try to bridge the gap between these two states and try to reflect on a way we might try to write and perform during a period of such untold sadness and pain. . In Robert Frost’s poem ‘Too Anxious for Rivers’ the search for and exploration of the Ultimate Truth resonated with these sentiments. The only thing that counts is ‘the essay of love’, the Impetus that moves the world and man. . This piece is also a celebration of the love between Tom and Elena, and a belated wedding gift to them.” . Heartfelt thanks to @robey_victoria OBE, who has made possible the commissioning of our five #UriPostePremieres, which we’ll be releasing on #UriPosteJukeBox at five-day intervals from now on! cc: @booseyandhawkes @intermusicaltd @bbcradio3 @premierpersonalpr @gramophonemagazine @the_strad_ @stringsmagazine @violinist.com_ @theviolinchannel
The Stroke of Arranging Genius: “3+ Little Birds”
Among our hundreds of requests was one from the insanely talented, impossibly lovely Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who asked if we might arrange some Bob Marley for him as a 21st birthday present. Having settled on the song “Three Little Birds”—whose optimistic message feels all the more poignant these days—Tom thought it might be fun to incorporate some other celebrated birds into his arrangement, expertly weaving in snippets of bird-related works by Casals, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Saint-Saëns, Vivaldi, Messiaen, and Vaughan Williams. All of Tom’s arrangements are strikingly brilliant in their voicing, textures, and poignancy, but this one, from early April, is perhaps one of his most inspired: a dreamy reinterpretation of a classic tune, sprinkled with some of classical music’s most beloved birdsongs.
View this post on Instagram
Today’s #UriPosteJukeBox post is a belated 21st birthday present for the impossibly lovely @shekukannehmason, who asked if we might arrange some Bob Marley for him. Having settled on the song Three Little Birds — whose optimistic message feels all the more poignant these days — we thought it might be fun to incorporate some other celebrated birds into our arrangement… so alongside this Bob Marley classic, we’ve hidden seven other composers’ pieces inspired by birds and birdsong. How many can you spot? 🐦🐥🕊
The Merits of Mainstream: Disney Medley No. 1 (Alan Menken era)
Tom and I had many requests from our tinier fans, family members, and scholarly musician friends alike for all manner of Disney songs. Faced with an embarrassment of riches to choose from, we decided the best plan was to group them by era. For our first Disney medley, debuted in April, Tom expertly wove together three classics from Alan Menken’s soundtracks for Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid (all of which I spent many, many hours bopping to on my Fisher-Price cassette tape player decades ago). The scores to these films are undeniably rich, nuanced, and objectively beautiful; it’s no wonder these songs have won the hearts of listeners of all ages and eras.
I admit to having as much fun working out the styling element to each day’s videos as recording the music—as we’re currently isolating at my parents’ home in Maryland, we have a treasure trove of costume choices available: old gowns from my teenage years, neon T-shirts for our various ’80s hits needs, and scrunchies galore. For example, to outfit ourselves for the Disney medley, I just barely squeezed myself into an early-aughts iridescent Jessica McClintock number in order to assume a generic Disney princess vibe; Tom fared slightly less glamorously as a homemade version of Sebastian the Crab in all-red sweats with a scarlet exercise band tied around his head (antennae, obviously).
The greatest joy, though, is hearing from people around the world about the smiles, catharsis, and moments of escapism the JukeBox has provided. Tom and I feel intensely lucky to be able to have music, woven into the very fabric of our beings, to keep us connected to each other, to the wider word, and to a feeling of optimism at a time of such uncertainty.
View this post on Instagram
We are over the moon and under the sea to present our first #UriPosteJukeBox Disney medley! That’s right — first. We’ve had a lot of requests – including from our (very much adult) siblings – for all manner of Disney songs, and faced with such an embarrassment of riches, decided the best plan was to group them by era. Forthcoming installments will include early Disney classics, and some recent favorites for our tinier viewers, but today we travel back to the early 90s (yesssssss!). Tom has expertly woven together three classics from Alan Menken’s scores for Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid, all of which I spent many, MANY hours bopping to on my Fisher Price cassette tape player. I wonder which era was more annoying for my parents: that one or right now? Tom is *obviously* styled as Sebastian the crab — complete with Theraband “antennae” — and I’m going for a generic, ethnically ambiguous Disney princess vibe, made possible once again by early-2000s Jessica McClintock.
What Elena Urioste Plays
“I am intensely lucky to be playing an Alessandro Gagliano, made in Naples in 1706, on generous loan to me from Dr. Charles King through the Stradivari Society—I celebrated my 10th anniversary with ‘Alex,’ as I refer to my violin, this past October! The bow I’ve been using to make all of our #UriPosteJukeBox recordings is an Isaac Salchow, formerly owned by my beloved mentor Joseph Silverstein: I think of him every time I set it to the strings.
“And speaking of strings, I’m not great about changing them regularly under normal circumstances, so suffice it to say that I am currently playing on an embarrassingly old set of Pirastro Evah Pirazzis with a gold Oliv E (my go-to combo for as long as I can remember). My case is a rather battered Gewa shaped model, covered with Intermission (my music and wellness co-venture with Melissa White) stickers to disguise the scuff marks!”