A lot of water has passed under the bridge since violinist Helen Chang Haertzen made her first solo recording, a CD of Bach’s Partitas released in 2004.
She was living in Bamberg, Germany, and playing with that city’s storied symphony orchestra. Since then Haertzen, a Bostonian by birth, has moved to the Twin Cities, joined the Minnesota Orchestra, gotten married and started a family.
But the itch to make another CD became impossible not to scratch. It resulted in “American Avenues,” a colorful mélange of music by George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber and Ned Rorem.
Recorded at Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul, the album is a collaborative project, featuring three other Twin Cities musicians: cellist Silver Ainomäe and pianists Denis Evstuhin and Oleg Levin.
Haertzen took time recently to discuss the album and the difficulties of finding quality time with her young daughter amid the bustle of her busy day (and night) job, playing in the orchestra’s first-violin section.
Q: It’s been 15 years since you made your first solo recording. Do you still listen to that?
A: No. It’s just that with playing so much music in my job, sometimes I want to listen to nonclassical music.
Q: So what do you listen to?
A: I like Patti Smith, I like rock. And I love Dolly Parton. Especially when I have a full week of classical music, I’ll listen to anything but classical. I listened to Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” just to distract myself when recording this new album.
Q: Lots of orchestral musicians are happy to stick to their day jobs, and not do outside projects. Why did you want to make another solo record?
A: I just got bored! I think an artist really needs to create, and Oleg Levin, a pianist on the album, pushed me into applying for a Minnesota State Arts Board grant. As a working mom, it’s also a stimulating challenge to do extra things, to have that extra piece of pie.
Q: Did you have a clear idea what the album would be like?
A: I wanted to make it a fun album — there’s not enough fun out there. Something that people would want to listen to while making dinner or having a drink.
Q: The new album is called “American Avenues.” Explain that.
A: When I made the album I was thinking about a day in New York City, waking up early in the morning and then the hustle begins. So I feel that’s a little like the Gershwin Preludes that open the album.
Q: There’s a Piano Trio by Bernstein in there, too. How did that make the cut?
A: Well, I wanted listeners to have a break from just listening to me all the time! So for the Bernstein piece I’m joined by my Minnesota Orchestra colleague Silver Ainomäe on cello, as well as Denis Evstuhin on piano. Bernstein wrote the trio when he was a young man, but I can already hear bits of “West Side Story” in it.
Q: There’s even rarer repertoire, too — pieces from Ned Rorem’s “Day Music.” Why are those included?
A: I first discovered that music when I was given the immense opportunity to play Jascha Heifetz’s 1742 Guarneri violin at a recital in 2001 in San Francisco. And when I picked up that violin I just knew that I couldn’t play Brahms or Beethoven on it — Heifetz was so famous for that. So I had to find something different, and it was Ned’s “Day Music” pieces.
Q: Do you enjoy the process of recording?
A: Yes, I love being in the studio, it’s a really creative environment. I had such a great engineer in Minnesota Public Radio’s Cameron Wiley; he made it even more fun. And Silver Ainomäe is cool as a cucumber; he works really well under pressure.
Q: You mentioned being a working mom. Would you be happy if your daughter became a musician, too?
A: Absolutely not. In fact, she definitely sees my violin as being time away from her. When I dress in black and go out the door, she’s old enough now to associate that with absence. She told me last year, “I just wanna play the piano for fun, Mommy.” And I said, “I’m so happy with that decision.”
Q: The new CD has just been released. Are you happy with the finished product?
A: I’m just relieved it’s done! The process has been immensely satisfying, but the next stage is really to be involved in my daughter’s life more. My favorite thing nowadays is to be with her no matter what.
Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.