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VC INTERVIEW | Sean Lee Discusses Performing Schumann's Arrangement of Paganini's 24 Caprices

On January 27, violinist Sean Lee and pianist Peter Dugan will be performing the 24 Caprices at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, for the first time in its 52-year history


The Violin Channel recently discussed the project with violinist Sean Lee.

Your interest in Paganini’s music is very inspiring. You created an educational YouTube series, “Paganini POV,” utilizing modern technology to share a unique perspective on violin playing, and you were a top prize winner at the Paganini Competition. Can you tell us more about your fascination with this composer?

Thank you! Initially, I viewed the music of Paganini as a means of furthering technique and learning repertoire that could entertain and impress. But as I spent more time especially with the Caprices, while continuing to explore and perform the music of many other composers, I found that the technical innovation in Paganini's music really serves as a pathway to a truly unique expression. It leaves a much deeper imprint than I realized for a long time.


In the past year, you have been working on Paganini's 24 Caprices arranged by Robert Schumann with pianist Peter Dugan, releasing videos on a regular basis. What led you to this musical adventure?

I didn't know that these arrangements existed until several years after my initial study of the Caprices! I was listening to various recordings of the Caprices out of curiosity and came upon a recording of this arrangement by surprise. I was thrilled because I love Robert Schumann's music, but also because of the idea of one great composer collaborating with another great composer's work in this way, leaving the original violin parts unchanged — I don't know if another example like this exists.


How different is it to play the 24 Caprices with piano accompaniment?

Having more colors and harmony to inspire the ear is a source of musical energy and inspiration. Plus, there are some Caprices, for example, Caprices 20 and 21, where Robert Schumann's direction completely changes the feeling of the Caprice because harmonically, he goes quite far out, beyond the harmonies that the solo violin part would naturally imply.


Your former teacher, Ruggiero Ricci, made the first solo recording of the 24 Caprices in 1947 and you also play on a violin that was originally made for him in 1999 by David Bague. Can you tell us about this?

I think of Mr. Ricci often, spending so much time with the Caprices. Beyond all of the knowledge he shared with me, passing on this violin to me is one of the greatest gifts I ever received! It's a special and beautiful instrument. The first time I performed the complete 24 Caprices, I wished so much that I could call him, but he had passed away a few years earlier. I hope that a part of him knew that I would do it eventually, and playing his violin made me feel like he's still with me on the journey.


On January 27, you will be performing the 24 caprices with Peter Dugan at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, for the first time in its 52-year history. Can you tell us more about this performance?

We're excited to perform this great music, and it's an honor to be the first ones to perform them for this historic organization! Given the nature of the unusual compositional pairing, it's chamber music on two levels — not only in the collaboration between Peter and I, but in the collaboration between Robert Schumann and Niccolò Paganini.


What would be your advice for every violinist learning Paganini’s 24 Caprices?

It's important to realize that as a performer, Paganini overwhelmed audiences with expression and imagination. The Caprices are an incredible contribution for musicians — although they're supremely difficult, their compositional quality and craft make it possible to keep working on them without tiring of them musically! So getting into the spirit of that musical creativity is key.





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