Sunday, January 22, 2012

Miranda Cuckson

Miranda Cuckson is an American violinist, violist, and teacher known for her lucid and translucent performances of contemporary works.  She is also known for her stunningly precise technique.  Her extremely fine, silken sound is often and uniquely juxtaposed against angular, rugged, and muscular music which she champions.  However, her tastes are famously eclectic and her repertoire very broad.  She has played complete Beethoven sonata cycles as well as – on the opposite side of the spectrum - music by Luigi Nono (La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura) for violin and electronic tape.  She is largely responsible for bringing the music of a single person - Ralph Shapey, well-known but cantankerous Chicago composer - to the general public’s attention.  Cuckson’s career has taken her to the most famous concert venues in the U.S., Europe, and China, including Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, the Library of Congress, and the Berlin Philharmonie.  Anthony Tommasini, one of the most regarded music critics in the world at present, has described her playing this way: “Miranda Cuckson is a brilliant young performer who plays daunting contemporary music with insight, honesty, and temperament.”  (I should point out that her surname is often mispronounced: it is COOKSUN and not COXSUN.)  She first began to study violin at age 5, having arrived in the U.S. from Australia with her parents while still a very young child.  At the age of nine, Cuckson began her studies at Juilliard and went on to receive her BM, MM and DMA degrees there as well.  She studied with Dorothy DeLay, Shirley Givens, Robert Mann, and Felix Galimir, among others.  She made her recital debut in Carnegie Hall in 2003 playing an all-American program, and her concerto debut there in 2010 playing Walter Piston’s Concerto No. 1.  Precisely because she champions contemporary music, she has in recent years been a greatly sought-after advocate in that area of music performance.  She has also given numerous premieres of solo and chamber pieces, some of which have been written expressly for her.  Her father is composer Robert Cuckson and she sometimes plays his works, including several he has written for her.  This year, on February 3, she will perform a new work (at the Library of Congress) by Harold Meltzer, which was commissioned for her by the McKim Fund in honor of Fritz Kreisler.  The McKim Fund is tied to the late American violinist Leonora Jackson – Jackson played what used to be Joseph Joachim’s violin for many years but retired at age 36 and died in obscurity.  Cuckson’s first CD recording was a disk of concertos by Erich Korngold and Manuel Ponce with the Czech National Symphony, on Centaur Records.  She subsequently made four recital CDs of 20th-century American music for Centaur: disks of music by Ralph Shapey (a two-CD set), Donald Martino and Ross Lee Finney.  In 2010, Vanguard Classics released her CD “the wreckage of flowers”, comprising violin and violin/piano music by Michael Hersch, with pianist Blair McMillen.  Upcoming releases include solo and duo works by Anna Weesner and a disk of microtonal solo violin pieces. She directs the concert series nunc (previously called Transit Circle), which she founded in 2007.  Among the many organizations Cuckson plays with in New York are counter)induction, Sequitur, ACME, Talea Ensemble, Astoria Music Society, and the ISCM.  She was the founding violinist of the Momenta Quartet, with which she played for three years.  As of 2005, Cuckson has been teaching violin at Mannes College and also teaches classical violin to students of the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.  She is on the faculty at the Composers Conference at Wellesley College and has given numerous master classes and workshops for both performers and composers, at schools such as Peabody Conservatory, Manhattan School of Music, and Temple, Cornell, Columbia, Yale and Princeton universities.  Since 1996, Cuckson has been playing the Bazzini Guadagnini, the one from 1742 (there are two Bazzini Guadagninis – the other one is from 1758.)  As were Eugene Ysaye and  Jascha Heifetz, she is a devoted tennis fan.  YouTube has several videos of her, one of which is here.

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