Italian violinist Francesco D'Orazio's played an arresting program this weekend that was one of the few musical events in Cleveland not involving carols or Santa Claus. Although D'Orazio plays a widely varied repertoire, he is particularly noted for his performances of modern music. The hour-long concert without intermission was intense, and the Transformer Station, seating about forty people, proved an ideal location. It is a former electrical substation from the turn of the 20th century originally intended to provide electricity for Cleveland streetcars. Remnants of its industrial past remain, with chains, pulleys and hooks still suspended from the ceiling. It has been resurrected as a small privately owned art gallery, associated with the Cleveland Museum of Art. D'Orazio's concert was sponsored by the CMA performing arts series.

© Francesco D'Orazio
© Francesco D'Orazio

Luciano Berio's Sequenza VIII is one of a series of works the composer created for virtuoso instrumentalists, plus one for voice written for Berio's then wife, Cathy Berberian. Francesco D'Orazio was one of Berio's favored performers of the 1976 violin work, which pushes the violin to extremes of technique and sounds. It is alternately harsh and driving, very soft and fluttering, with an improvisatory sense, but returning always to the notes A and B upon which the initial music is based. D'Orazio's performance, from memory, was extraordinary in its elucidation of the works structures amid the complexity. The Berio was exemplar of the rest of D'Orazio's performance: committed, technically brilliant and musically communicative.

Although the Berio Sequenza was the one bona fide masterpiece on the program, the rest of the repertoire had considerable interest. Salvatore Sciarrino's Capricci (1975) were patterned on the 19th-century caprices of Nicolò Paganini. D'Orazio played nos. 1 and 4, both of which were quiet and featured extensive use of harmonics, lending an otherworldly sense to the music. No. 4 used the technique of eerie multiple-note upward glissandos.

Ivan Fidele's Suite Francese II (2010) is one of a set of suites based on Baroque dance suites. The second suite is in two parts, the first with sharp attacks on dissonant intervals. Although not stated as such, the rhythm referenced the sarabande, with its sensuous poise and dignity. Although dissonant, the music was lyrical, ending with upward movement to a pianissimo close. The second part was mostly one line, heavily ornamented with cadenza-like passages. The music was quiet to the point of inaudibility, but later became intense with a very fast, very loud climactic moment, and suddenly ending on a single very soft pitch.

Raw, (2005) by Nicola Sani, used many of the same extended techniques as the Berio work, ending with wild arpeggios and a diminuendo to a closing very high note. Luciano Chessa (b. 1971) was the youngest composer represented on the program, with two short movements, Sarabanda e Corrente from his 1987 Partita. The Sarabanda seemed based on the style, if not the harmonies, of Bach's solo violin partitas. The Corrente was playful, a dance-like stream of notes, occasionally dotted rhythmic patterns.

American Curt Cacioppo, whose 2015 Elegy was written for D'Orazio. Inspired by Shakespeare's Hamlet, Elegy was overtly lyrical, with long austerely romantic phrases and a few lively passages interspersed. Haunting pianissimo trills closed the work, but with a surprising very loud single pizzicato note at the end.

Based on a dream-like novel, Michele Dall'Ongaro's La Musica de E.Z. (1999) was based on a motivic pattern of a few notes, greatly developed, sometimes passionate, other times more lyrical. The intensely virtuosic work tested even Francesco D'Orazio's prodigious skills.

D'Orazio played two brilliant encores: a short work by Michael Nyman, a rondo that was a cross between one of Bartók's Hungarian folksong arrangements and an American hoedown; and a Bach sarabande that D'Orazio somehow made seem as modernist as the rest of the program.