On Dec. 4 at the Horning Theater in the Delaplaine Fine Arts Center, the first Sonata Smackdown took place. James Tung, adjunct Professor and violinist, and Dr. John Wickelgren, pianist, performed sonatas by Johannes Brahms and Sergei Prokofiev.
Tung and Wickelgren have been performing recitals with one another for over ten years; however, the Sonata Smackdown was the first live performance they held since the pandemic.
A sonata is a composition for an instrumental soloist, often with a piano accompaniment, typically in several movements with one or more in sonata form. In this case, the piano accompanied the violin.
Upon entering the theater, visitors were greeted by the sight of a grand Steinway and Sons Piano as they patiently waited for the show to begin. The recital had a great turnout as almost the entire theater was full.
In the first part of the program, the audience was treated to Sonata for Violin and Piano No.1 in G major, Op.78 by Brahms which contained three parts: Vivace ma non troppo, Adagio and Allegro molto moderato. There was a brief 10-minute intermission between the first and second half of the program. The second half contained Sonata for Violin and Piano in D major, Op.94bis by Prokofiev which contained four parts: Moderato, Scherzo: Presto, Andante and Allegro con brio.
The audience was enraptured by the masterful compositions. Even the ladybugs, one of which landed on Tung’s suit jacket, enjoyed the performance as they seemed to fly to the music.
“I want the audience to enjoy themselves. In the digital age, I want people to gain an appreciation to attend performances live as it is an unmistakable experience,” Tung stated. “The whole shared experience: spontaneity, the trip to the theater, the dinner beforehand, the conversations before and after the performance...I think it is something that more people should be willing to take the time to do.”
Both Tung and Wickelgren were grateful to all those who attended the event. Some people even traveled from outside of Mount St. Mary’s University to see the performance. Rachel Perine (C’25) attended the recital and said, “It was really interesting to see how synchronized [Tung and Wickelgren] were. They were keeping tempo within different progressions.”
At the end of the show, Tung and Wickelgren took a poll to see who ‘won’ the smackdown even though Wickelgren commented in the beginning that there was a “juxtaposition of styles” when comparing Brahms and Prokofiev and that there really was “no winner” of the Sonata Smackdown. Wickelgren also noted that these compositions were on Tung’s bucket list of sonatas to play together live.
In the end, the audience overwhelmingly picked Prokofiev due to the fast-paced style which had a higher degree of liveliness and complexity.