A name with roots in Slavic mythology and a goddess of youth and springtime, “Vesna” makes quite the apt name for the musical pairing formed by percussionist Dr. Ksenija Komljenović and pianist Dr. Liana Pailodze Harron. Hailing from Belgrade, Serbia and Tbilisi, in the Republic of Georgia respectively, the two women are each accomplished, award-winning musicians in their own rights. Forming Vesna Duo in 2020, during the early days of the pandemic, the trajectory of Komljenović and Harron’s first project, a full recording of The Rite of Spring, bears almost as much diversity of tempo and energy as Igor Stravinsky’s iconic orchestral work.
Vesna Duo is:
Dr. Liana Pailodze Harron (Piano)
Dr. Ksenija Komljenović (Marimba, Percussion)
While the pace of life in the beginning of the pandemic essentially came to a halt, Drs. Komljenović and Pailodze went from contemplating in place, to committing themselves to bringing a fascinating and uncommon take on Stanvinsky’s Rite of Spring, to life. Written in 1913 originally for orchestra alongside the ballet of the same name, it is inevitable that immense curiosity bursts forth in the face of an arrangement written solely for piano and marimba. The two instruments don’t lack a tonal range or dynamic flexibility, to be sure. Still, The Rite of Spring is not only dense from a compositional perspective but also capricious in its shifting of tempo, tonality, and expressive direction through its 14 movements over two acts. One can’t help but wonder how a mere two instruments, as melodically versatile as they are, can encompass and successfully embody all of the associated moods and narrative implications connected to the ballet’s stories, with their limited set of timbres.
Though dazzling in how each of duo displays grace, poise, and an intimate connection with their instruments, the inherent question around a potential limit to musical delivery is neither unwarranted, nor completely refuted. Komljenović and Pailodze can’t materialize sound where it doesn’t exist, a fact most notably evident in the familiar opening motif of “Act 1 I. Adoration of the Earth,” typically performed by a solo bassoon. The delicacy of the notes isn’t forgotten but there’s a fundamental difference in the warmth achieved by the bars of a marimba and the warm but piercing woodiness of a bassoon’s tone. There’s also the matter of sonic behavior –– attack, sustain, decay, and release –– of which Vesna Duo are at the mercy in moments like this, as well as in sections of movements like “Act 1 VIII. Dance of the Earth.” In the former, there is a difference in the ability to deliver a sustained tone and keep the listener tied to the air of the sound and its mood. Meanwhile in the latter, Dr. Pailodze’s frenetic pacing through quick, ascending and descending notes of what would be a bustling string section, meet the demand for precision and expressive urgency but is simply hampered by lack of numbers in evoking a similar crisp but rounded richness in the fast moving melody that a group of unison strings is otherwise able to attain due to sheer numbers.
Its moments like these that could take one out of the nonetheless vibrant depths of sophisticated performance that Vesna Duo provide on this recording. That of course is a matter of whether or not a listener is hung up on demanding The Rite of Spring be framed only by the style of sounds put forth by Stravinsky. If that be the bar of success, it sits as one with unfair expectations. Where Vesna Duo most succeed, is in their unspoken chemistry, having arranged, learned, refined, and performed their finalized version of the piece over the course of a full year, with Komljenović completing the initial arrangement in just the first three weeks of the pair embarking on this journey. The performance is a masterclass in performative focus, as well as an exquisite demonstration of musician chemistry to the most natural and audibly entrancing of results.
The fullness of Vesna Duo’s artistry as a unified pair performing Stravinsky’s music comes to light through a shift in listening perspective. In the context of what these women and their instruments are capable of doing with one another, the recording makes for a thrilling listening experience. It’s a matter of not getting meticulous, an amusing and ironic ask in the face of how much fastidiousness is required by the score itself, and taking in the pure flourish of musical color that Vesna Duo paint with together. Their combined styles of sound and respective navigation of nuance for the enhancement of contrast for dynamics and individual instrumental techniques, make for an impressive performative showcase, as well as generating an exciting desire to know how they will strive to present each emotionally livened section. Unto itself, Vesna Duo’s take on the Rite of Spring, is impressive, unexpected, whimsical, and beautifully captured. It’s not a project meant for one-to-one satisfaction but that doesn’t make it any lesser of a work. The Duo’s musical potential blossoms with more and more vibrance as the work unfolds, much like the gradual but satisfying reveal of the flora in spring.
Keep up with the Vesna Duo through their official website and these social media platforms: