Monday, November 1, 2021

Composer Profile: Laura Schwartz in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On November 6th 2021, I will conduct the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in Sacramento in a program that includes the world première of Laura Schwartz' work "Figment". Below is a brief interview with this very talented young composer. 

Christian Baldini: Laura, it will be a pleasure to conduct the world premiere of your new piece "Figment", which you wrote for the Camellia Symphony Orchestra. Tell me, how did you approach writing this piece? In your program notes you affirm that "During this piece you hear the bones of an acoustic x-ray." Could you develop further on this very intriguing idea? 

Laura Schwartz: In my process of writing Figment, I chose a few string techniques that already have a tendency towards “noisiness”. I write music that enhances the noise elements of sounds. Examples of compositional techniques I used in Figment that have noise as an integral part of their structure are the sound of the bow hairs striking the stings, the sound a very high note that gently wavers as the player changes their bow position, and the sound of a bow bouncing in a controlled an uncontrolled manner against the strings of an instrument. I consider noise to be the bones of a sound. Noise gives a listener an awareness of space and place, as the noisiness of the piece intermingles with the noisiness (mechanical hums, fans, or wind) of a performance venue. 

CB: What are some of the things you care about the most when it comes to music (both new and old)? 

 LS: In my music composition, form is a primary way I think about my taste in music. As a composer, I care about creating a piece that teaches the audience its internal logic and boundaries. It creates a sonic environment that becomes apparent through listening. For me, it is okay if the technical nuances or musical references are lost in the first or second listen. If the form is communicated, such that a sense of expectation and subversion of expectation is generated, then it is something I find musically attractive. For instance, Haydn’s String Quartet in Eb “the Joke” and Kate Soper’s “Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say” are examples that capture this characteristic for me. 

CB: You studied at UC Davis (that's how we met, when you were still an undergraduate student), and you've developed a remarkable career already. Can you tell us about some of the most important or inspiring experiences and/or people that you've had so far? What has helped you or inspired you to continue growing and excelling as an artist? 

LS: At UC Davis, the support I had from my friends Cindy, Liz, and Kristina inspired me to continue in music. All three of them, who were not music majors, would go with me to experience the Empyrean Ensemble concerts (the new music ensemble at Davis). It became known as going to see the “weird music” with Laura. It helped me understand how a general audiences can view contemporary music, what could be picked up easily in a piece, and what would be lost. For me, learning how they listened shaped the “who” in the audience I write my music for. I strive to write music that captivates non-music specialists. In my music career, the support from my family has been immense. My mother is probably the person next to myself that has heard most of my pieces live. She is not a trained musician. She is a lover of music. Having one person who is always on my team and who is willing to take notes during a performance so that she can try to understand the conceptual nature of the piece better is a wonderful blessing. I excel because I am part of a network of support. 

CB: What would you recommend to someone who doesn't know your music yet. How should they approach it? Is there anything in particular that they should listen for? 

LS: For someone who does not know my music yet, I would recommend a short exercise. You will need your favorite piece of music, speakers, and an electric fan. Play the music while the electric fan is running. The interplay between the fan noise, the wind, and your music is what I write as my music. In approaching my music, I think of it like a logic puzzle or a mystery novel. An intriguing concept is introduced at the beginning of a piece. It is both deadly serious and mischievously lighthearted. The mystery is explored and elaborated on as clues during instrument dialogues are hinted at. How do the parts fit, blend, or contrast? Are all questions that I answer throughout the piece. I would recommend listening to the instrumental dialogues and how silence is shaded through noise. 

CB: To end this brief interview, I'd like to ask you to dream of a music festival for which you'd be the artistic director. What would you program? Which guests would you invite? Which orchestras and/or ensembles would be featured? (to make it even more difficult: you'd have unlimited funds!) 

 LS: The experience that I enjoy the most from creating music festivals is creating an immersive experience for an audience. At my dream festival, I would create a 8-week site specific event in collaboration with a local marching band, a video projection studio, and an octet that was a combined saxophone quartet and percussion quartet. I would commission four composers and four video artists to create music for this open air project. Bi-monthly would be a new premiere in the same space. As an artistic director, I strive to create scenarios that pose compositional conundrums that bridge artistic disciplines. 

CB: Thank you for your time, we look forward to performing your music! 

LS: Thank you to Christian Baldini and the musicians of the Camellia Symphony for the opportunity to write a new work for your ensemble. I look forward to listening to it.

Laura Schwartz (Photo by Natalia Banaszczy)

Laura Schwartz is composer and video projectionist. Her music explores written notation as a
facilitator of a performer’s own creativity and self-formation. She blends elements of
traditionally notation scores, verbally notated scores, and illuminated manuscripts situating the
participant in a space of their own curiosity and creativity. Schwartz uses cellphones, combs, and
cut flowers to highlight everyday technologies as shapers of our lived sound environments. She
performs guided improvisations on amplified electric fans and graphing calculators.

For more information visit

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Alina Kobialka in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On November 6th, 2021 I will have the pleasure of conducting the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in the rarely performed Violin Concerto by Carl Nielsen with a wonderful soloist that I've known for many years, and with whom I've collaborated several times. Alina Kobialka comes from a distinguished musicians' family, in fact both of her parents were (her mother still is) key members of the San Francisco Symphony, an orchestra with which Alina made her solo debut at age 14, for their 100th anniversary. 

Christian Baldini: Dear Alina, it will be such a treat to collaborate with you once again. I remember fondly our previous performances with you as our soloist, whether it was the Sibelius, the Beethoven, or the Waxman Fantasy, you always bring so much to the table, so much commitment and talent, and it is always very beautiful to work with you. Tell me, how are you feeling about this upcoming concert, and what can you share with people about the Nielsen Violin Concerto? What makes it so special, and why do you think it is so rarely performed?

Alina Kobialka: I am incredibly excited for this upcoming concert and the opportunity to play with you and the Camellia Symphony again, especially with such a special concerto! I have the best memories of collaborating with you, and all those performances we did together really helped me grow and develop into the musician I am today.

The Nielsen concerto has two movements, with both consisting of a slower beginning leading into a faster section. In addition, he was quite particular about the concerto being virtuosic and dazzling without turning superficial. This turned out to be a challenge that he struggled with for quite some time, but I believe he ultimately succeeded in fulfilling his goal. 

Although the concerto is greatly loved by many musicians, it is rarely performed, as you mentioned. I believe a reason for this is because Nielsen’s music takes time to digest with all its harmonic twists and turns. A passage can seem to be going one way but then he writes something that goes a completely unexpected way. Part of the fun of his music is the more you listen to it, the more you discover. This takes time but is extremely rewarding. 

CB: You come from a very musical household, so this question might be pretty straightforward to you. As a violinist, what/who would you say have been the most inspiring experiences in your life? When did you decide/realize you would make this commitment of becoming a professional violinist? 

AK: I am very grateful to my teacher Ilya Kaler for being an inspiring and influential figure in my musical growth, as well as my former teachers Robert Lipsett, Danielle Belen, Wei He, and Li Lin.

In terms of inspiring musical experiences, I would say joining the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra really fostered my love for classical music and ultimately led to me deciding to become a professional musician. It was so special for me to play great music with wonderful and inspiring peers every Saturday. We were also so lucky to be coached by San Francisco Symphony musicians and meet incredible guest artists that would be in town playing with the SFS. Even a decade later, I often fondly reminisce that special time in my life. 

CB: Can you recall two or three examples of people that you've loved working with, and why?

AK: First and foremost, I had such an incredible time working with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. His support and guidance were so inspirational, and I often find myself thinking of his advice during my practice sessions. 

During my time at the Marlboro Music Festival, I had the immense honor of working with pianist Mitsuko Uchida. I looked so forward to every rehearsal, as she would have fun anecdotes and was such a sincere and joyful person to work with. She truly puts the music first and foremost, and I find that so inspirational. 

Finally, I had an amazing time working with violinist Vadim Gluzman. Not only is he a fantastic musician, but he is also immensely kind and quite hilarious! We performed a double concerto together, and I felt that he really brought out the best in my playing. Working with these three incredible artists has been so influential for my musical growth and development. 

CB: Why would you say performing music is important? What does it bring or add to our everyday lives?

AK: Music is such a wonderful and essential form of expression. We encounter it all the time, whether it be at concerts, in movies, or even in the elevator. It can touch people in wonderful and mysterious ways, and it adds so much value and color to our everyday lives. For myself, I find it immensely therapeutic and grounding to take my violin out of my case and play, rain or shine. 

CB: What would be your advice for young musicians? What was helpful to you? How do they stay motivated, on track, and always in a growth mindset?

AK: I would say to be critical but also remember that we are only human. Self-compassion is an important skill to have, both with music and life in general. Mistakes are inevitable, and sometimes they will be the most valuable experiences we draw on. 

I would also say play for and collaborate with other musicians when possible, attend concerts and masterclasses, and most importantly, enjoy the ride. Even if this doesn’t end up being your profession, learning music can really change a person’s life for the better.

CB: Lastly: what are three or four things that people should listen for in the Nielsen Violin Concerto? What would you say to someone who has never listened to a work by Nielsen?

AK: In the Nielsen concerto, be ready for some fun harmonic twists and turns! In addition, he wrote this with a Neoclassical melodic structure, so see if there are any melodic lines that you can grab onto and listen for in future sections. For someone who has never listened to a work by Nielsen, I would say the elements I mentioned above also apply. Many of his works contain unusual tonal structures, and it is always quite an interesting journey for both the listener and performer. 

CB: Thank you very much for your time Alina. I very much look forward to our performance on November 6!

AK: Thank you so much, Christian! I can’t wait!

Alina Kobialka (courtesy photo)

Alina Kobialka has been praised as a remarkable violinist due to her beautiful
tone, effortless precision, and musical maturity beyond her years. After her first guest
solo appearance with orchestra at the age of ten, she has toured and performed with many
ensembles throughout the world. The San Francisco Classical Voice described her as a
“jaw-droppingly assured” soloist, who “made present and future converge.” The Las
Vegas Review Journal wrote, “Watch for her name. She appears to be bound for

Alina began her studies at the age of five with Li Lin. She continued on to the
San Francisco Conservatory Preparatory Program, where she studied with Wei He.
Leaving San Francisco at age 16, she attended the Colburn Music Academy in Los
Angeles, where she studied with Robert Lipsett and Danielle Belen. Most recently, Alina
graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music with her Master’s in Violin
Performance, under the tutelage of Ilya Kaler.

At age 14, Miss Kobialka made her solo debut with the San Francisco Symphony
at their 100th Anniversary Reunion Concert in Davies Symphony Hall, where she has
since returned three times as a soloist. Soon after, she was featured live on the nationally
acclaimed radio show NPR’s From the Top. Since then, Alina has performed with
various American orchestras, including the Las Vegas Philharmonic, ProMusica
Chamber Orchestra, California Symphony, the Colburn Academy Virtuosi Orchestra, and

In 2015, Miss Kobialka made her performance debut in Asia with the Macau
Youth Symphony for their New Years’ Concert. She returned in 2016 to tour Japan with
the Kagawa International Youth Orchestra, and in 2017 to perform in the Shanghai
International Arts Festival gala concert.

Alina was awarded second prize as the youngest competitor of the 2017 Elmar
Oliveira International Violin Competition. Other competition accolades include being a
laureate of the 2016 Irving M. Klein International Competition and receiving the Grand
Prize at the Mondavi Center National Young Artists Competition.

Recent concert highlights include performing with world-renowned conductor
Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony and making her debut with
Vadim Gluzman and the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra. She also performed a guest
artist recital at Southwestern University in Texas and Brahms Double Concerto for Violin
and Cello with the California Symphony.

An avid chamber musician, Alina has been an artist at the Marlboro Music
Festival for the last few years. This past summer, she had the great honor of performing
with acclaimed pianist Mitsuko Uchida. Other celebrated musicians she has worked with
include pianist Jonathan Biss, violist Kim Kashkashian, cellist Peter Wiley, and violinist
Scott St. John. Future concerts include embarking on a Marlboro National Tour and
returning to the Marlboro Music Festival next summer.