The Classical Station’s Interview with Avlana Eisenberg

Interview with Avlana Eisenberg

by Bethany Tillerson (photo credit: © Kate Lemmon)

An alum of Yale University and the University of Michigan, Avlana Eisenberg is an internationally-recognized force in musicianship. As the recipient of both a Browne Irish Award for Excellence in the Performing Arts and a Fulbright Fellowship, Eisenberg was an assistant conductor at the Paris National Opera and was listed among Glamour’s “Top Ten College Women of the Year”.

Host Naomi Lambert was honored to get the chance to speak with her about the release of her new album, a new arrangement of pieces composed by William Grant Still.

Eisenberg: This is the very first recording of  William Grant Still’s works in their orchestral form. The genesis of this project actually dates back to the mid-nineties, when the violinist soloist on this album, who also happens to be my mother, was sent a number of short pieces by William Grant Still, as she was trying to determine what to put on an all-American violin-piano album.[…] Once we discovered how many works there were that had not been recorded for orchestra, we decided to explore what pieces would fit nicely with these violin works.

Eisenberg was effusive in her admiration for Still’s music, and for how many different styles he incorporated into it.

Eisenberg: There was this wonderful combination of freshness because it was new, but also because he incorporates these blues and jazz idioms. Also, it’s very accessible; he does use classical forms, but in really innovative ways, and the way he writes for the orchestra is quite ingenious. The dialogue between the instruments and how the orchestra fits into the solo violin line is really quite masterful. 

Eisenberg also spoke about the experience of collaborating with her mother, violinist Zina Schiff, and working with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

Eisenberg: I think we may be at our best when we are working collaboratively and musically.[…]I knew “Summerland” and “Quit Dat Fool’nish” because those were pieces that she had already recorded, the violin-piano version. So my vision of these pieces is so tightly wrapped in hers. It’s also a beautiful way to feel even closer with her and to really feel like we have a shared project.

With an orchestra like [the RSNO], there’s no rehearsal period. You go in for the first session, the red light is on, and you’re recording from the start. And I never worked with this group, but I still remember the very first moment of rehearsal. We started with the Violin Suite because that has the largest orchestra. That very first downbeat is double forte, loud for the entire ensemble, and different orchestras can interpret that differently. Still helps us out by writing majestically. And I remember that moment of this full, beautiful, supportive, majestic sound, and from that moment I knew it would be a total pleasure to work with this group. They were fantastic. And every instrumentalist brings their A-game and they are so professional that, remarkably, in such a short period of time and with no rehearsal period, they can pull off anything. It’s really quite remarkable.

Throughout the interview, Avlana Eisenberg is enthusiastic about her opportunity to work with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and is open to working with her mother again in a conductor-soloist manner. Still: Orchestral Works is a great arrangement of jazz-infused orchestra pieces backing Zina Schiff’s violin.

Naomi Lambert’s full 10-minute interview with Avlana Eisenberg premieres August 28th. Please give it a listen on The Classical Station’s Preview! program to learn more about Eisenberg’s thoughts on William Grant Still and her work with the RSNO. Eisenberg’s album Still: Orchestral Works is available to listen to on The Classical Station.