Throughout the year, the Kitt School of Music hosts a variety of shows that highlight professors and other faculty members as part of their Faculty Artist Series. NAU bands often perform alongside the instrumentalists, allowing them to share their musical backgrounds.
On Sept. 11, musicians Steven Moeckel and Nathan Arch performed a series of violin sonatas in Kitt Recital Hall that demonstrated influential pieces from the classical violin repertoire.
Moeckel has acted as professor of violin at NAU for 3 years, although he has played since he was 8 years old. Coming from a family of musicians, he said he always knew he would earn a living by performing classical music. By 19, he had served as concertmaster — or first chair violin — for the Ulm Philharmonic in Germany. He later attended Indiana University and quickly earned the position of concertmaster at the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, where he played for eight years. He briefly joined the Santa Fe Opera and appeared as concertmaster of the Phoenix Symphony from 2007 to 2020.
Arch first picked up the trumpet in elementary school before moving to the French horn. He never intended to play the piano professionally but learned the instrument through lessons offered at his school. When Arch enrolled in college at ASU, he insisted he was only good at music and math and chose music as a major. Now, Arch has a master’s degree and a doctorate in collaborative piano.
Although he has served as a staff pianist for NAU since 2021, he works primarily as the director of music for a Presbyterian church in Mesa, Arizona, where he plays the organ.
“Luckily, as a pianist, other musicians always need us for their performances, so I was never afraid of finding work,” Arch said.
Monday night marked the first time Moeckel and Arch performed together on stage. The two musicians prepared a collection of three sonatas — a musical composition written for the violin and an accompanying keyboard instrument — considered staples of classical violin.
“They’re gorgeous pieces,” Moeckel said. “They’re so different and so unique and yet so important in the repertoire, and I loved playing them. I was really interested in Nathan. This was our first collaboration as dual partners, and I thought, ‘Let’s see what we do with these standard pieces together.’”
Moeckel and Arch began the recital with “Sonata No. 2 in D Major, Op. 94b” by Sergei Prokofiev. This sonata consisted of four movements.
The piece began somewhat calmly but quickly increased in tempo and energy, building tension as the sonata progressed. However, the tension was intermittently relieved by quieter, slower moments. Moeckel and Arch demonstrated expertise over their instruments as they played, moving seamlessly between the sonata’s loud, fast sections.
The violin and piano complimented each other well — almost as if they were speaking.
Upon finishing the first sonata, Moeckel and Arch received an extended round of applause from the audience. Members of the crowd stood to cheer as the two musicians exited and re-entered the stage during the moment of praise.
At a brief intermission, the audience — consisting of NAU faculty, students and families — took the opportunity to speak with each other about the performance. A few minutes later, Moeckel and Arch returned for the second half of their performance.
The recital continued with one of César Franck’s pieces, “Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano,” which Moeckel described as an extremely romantic piece.
Moeckel wrote notes in the recital’s program for the audience, giving insight into each of the songs they would play. He said each of the four movements of this sonata was written with an abundance of “lushness and melodic structure.” He also noted this is the most famous and commonly performed concerto.
The romantic themes were clear as Moeckel and Arch played, with this sonata much slower than the last, transitioning between movements more gracefully. The two instruments continued to blend seamlessly and at times, seemed to mimic each other as they emphasized the same notes.
For the third and final piece of the evening, the pair performed “Carmen Fantasy, Op. 25” by Pablo de Saraste.
This concerto is a “dazzling array of pyrotechnics for the violin,” Moeckel said, and it is widely considered one of the most difficult pieces to play on the violin.
Although he first learned the piece when he was 16 years old, Moeckel said, he still practiced vigorously to ensure his performance was perfect for the recital.
“Anytime I play something, especially as difficult as Carmen, I spend hours working on it to get it up to that performance level,” Moeckel said. “It’s one thing to be able to play things, but then the next level is playing it in front of people when nerves are involved.”
This 15-minute piece is fast, but the fifth movement was especially demanding as it moved incredibly quickly between notes on the scale.
Arch said the technicality required to perform de Saraste’s piece was particularly rigorous and required extra practice.
“I’m good at learning music quickly, but when it’s as involved and difficult as the recital last night, it takes extra time for sure,” Arch said. “Steven and I rehearsed a handful of times at his house in Phoenix and then two other times in Flagstaff. To mentally prepare, I’ve found that just playing on stage as often as possible gets you used to the feeling.”
As the final piece came to an end, the two musicians received a standing ovation from the crowd. The applause lasted long enough for Moeckel and Arch to exit and re-enter the stage three times before they took their final bow.
Ensuring his audience has a good time is Moeckel’s favorite part of performing live, he said.
“Sometimes in the classical music field, we get a little bit too far away from the entertainment aspect because we have to spend so much time learning these things, and then an audience gets to hear it once,” Moeckel said. “The entertainment aspect is so important and that’s why I really love to play pieces that I know people are going to enjoy.”
As a professor, Moeckel wishes to translate that same entertainment factor to his students. He said he hoped these three sonatas inspired his students to dive further into the world of concertos.
“I’m bringing my 25 years of performing to the school and to the students who haven’t necessarily been exposed to these particular pieces,” Moeckel said. “For me, it was very important for the students to go, ‘Oh my gosh, we need to listen to recordings of Prokofiev,’ or ‘I want to play Cesar Franck.’”
Arch is taking a short break from big performances, but he will continue to perform at student recitals throughout the semester. Moeckel will perform at the Abby Fisher and Friends Faculty Recital alongside Abby Fisher, Emily Hoppe and Eric Lenz on Oct. 2 in Kitt Recital Hall. The Kitt School of Music will also host classical recitals throughout the semester open to NAU students.