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Competition Report

Competition Report by Joan Champie

Chamber Music of Yellow Springs concluded its 2016-2017 season on Sunday, April 23rd, with the 32nd Annual Competition for Emerging Artists. Finalists of the Competition were Trio St. Bernard and the Vera String Quartet.

Formed in 2015, Trio St. Bernard features Sahan “Sam” Hong, piano; Brandon Garbot, violin; and Zachary Mowitz, cello. The Trio has earned acclaim for its creative and energizing performances in New York and several other states on the East coast.

The Vera Quartet was also formed in 2015. Its members are Pedro Rodriguez, violin; Patricia Quintero Garcia, violin; Ines Picado Molares, viola; and Justin Goldsmith, cello. The Quartet has performed in Germany, Canada and Korea.

Both groups displayed technical competence and musical sensitivities within the context of a well balanced ensemble.

A trio by its nature requires acute awareness of the balance between piano and strings, which represent a challenging range of tone qualities. Trio St. Bernard notably maintained an impressive balance. The piano was brilliant, delicate, or soaring, as required by the music, and the string instruments added color and dimension. Each member played with finesse and beauty.

The Trio chose an interesting but unusual selection of short works, with an Allegro from Beethoven’s Piano Trio Op. 70, No. 1, followed by “Se solen sjunker” by Berg, a tender and lyrical work which gracefully segued into a movement from Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 100, D929. Next, the fourth of Four Folk Songs for Piano Trio by Frank also was joined to Shostakovich’s brief Piano Trio No. 1, Op.8, the most modern work of their program. They concluded with a Gesange from Op.8 of Brahms, arranged specially by the Trio.

The Vera Quartet in contrast performed two major works, Bartok’s String Quartet No. 3 and String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3 by Beethoven. The stylistic demands of these two pieces amply demonstrated their musical versatility and provided a stimulating contrast for the audience. All movements of the Bartok were joined, with the four instruments having quite individual parts and the musicians playing dissonant, assertive chords with vigor and forceful energy. Reflective moments were rare. The Beethoven Quartet allowed moments for individual members to shine, and there were lovely, soaring melodies beautifully played by each instrument. The final movement was marked Allegro Molto, played with accuracy and breathtaking speed to end their performance.

The two ensembles displayed quite different approaches to their music, which was intensified by their selected pieces and individual styles. This was reflected by the firmly held and divergent opinions of the audience expressed during the interval between the concert and the judges’ decision.

Judges for the 2017 competition were Afa Sadeykhly Dworkin, James Tocco, and Jeffrey Zeigler. Following the evening’s performances, the judges announced the winner of the competition: the Vera Quartet.

The pre-concert lecture was presented by Dennis Loranger, Music Professor from Wright State University.

 

Parker Quartet Concert Report

Parker Quartet Concert Report

Review of the concert by Joan Champie

On Sunday, March 12, the Parker Quartet returned to Yellow Springs, presenting a varied and interesting program for the CMYS concert series.

Founded in 2002, the Quartet is renowned for its dynamic interpretations and polished, expressive colors. They are in demand worldwide and have appeared in the most important venues. During the summer of 2016 they played at festivals across North America, and in January 2017 they toured Europe. The Parker Quartet strongly supports new compositions and has premiered many works at Harvard University, Carnegie Hall, the Library of Congress, and Lincoln Center in New York. They have recorded for Zig-Zag Territoires, Inova Records, and Naxos, including the world premiere recording of American composer Jeremy Gills’ Capriccio, written for the Quartet.

The program opened with Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 1, Op. 12, which began with a reflective and quiet melody for violin, soon interweaving with the other voices. Restrained and sensitive playing created an atmosphere of delicacy and charm, the essence of early 19th century music. The Canzonetta had moments reminiscent of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and its exuberant playfulness. The Quartet maintained a superb balance among the instruments, performing with shared interpretation and grace. Sonorous tones began the Andante movement followed by assertive, vibrant energy in all the musicians. The first violin had passages showing brilliant technique and rich tonal quality that musically interpreted the phrases. The piece ended with a slow diminuendo into the gentle close.

In a total change of affect, the HELIX SPIRAL for string quartet by Augusta Read Thomas celebrates a DNA replication experiment. The Parker performed the first and third movements of the piece. The first movement, LOCI, portrays the location of a gene, a DNA sequence, or a position on a chromosome. Novel effects were produced by the use of pizzicato (plucked strings) and also using the wooden, reverse side of the bows. Lengthy passages of pizzicato for separate instruments or for ensemble work created a delightful and unique impression of precise, fleeting entities. The kaleidoscopic range of combinations produced a capricious and effervescent image of the LOCI. SPIRAL, the third movement, was lyrical and innovative with harmonies and melodies portraying the life force and the DNA molecule’s potential for the development of all living things. Beautifully played by the Quartet, this composition merits a large public awareness of its concepts.

Continuing the exciting variance of the night’s program, Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Op. 73 provided a third insight into the string quartet repertoire. As with most Shostakovich compositions, this work balances introspective, sombre sections with tongue-in-cheek, comic contrasts. At times the themes interlock and a definite impression of progression or development carries the listener. His music is never static but moves in unexpected, almost startling ways. The Allegretto movement was technically challenging and masterly performed. The Moderato showed especially brilliant violin playing, and all the instruments played with precision and great warmth. Extremely soft passages provided contrasts to the forceful energy. The Allegro began with harsh, dissonant chords played by all four and then the solo violin soared above this with a yearning melody. Repeated series of these abrasive chords contrasted with the lone melody, and the movement ended abruptly with a surprising finality. The fourth movement Adagio opened with two contrasting statements, a low funereal unison and a high, delicate grieving melody. The opening theme continues with a long melodic line eventually fading away. The final movement began with a lyrical theme beautifully played by the cello, a contrast to the force and anguish of the previous movements. Other themes emerged and then the music slowed to a dying ember as the violin quietly played eerie harmonics. Shostakovich masterfully combines unpredictable intervals, contrasting moods, unusual chords and creative rhythms to produce refreshing, memorable music worthy of many repeated listenings.

The Parker Quartet presented a satisfying program with the variety of selections, each one played with devotion to the composer’s intent. Particularly notable was the refined ensemble playing and excellent balance of the group throughout the evening.

Charles Larkowski gave the pre-concert lecture with examples of melody and rhythm demonstrated on a keyboard.

Calmus Ensemble Concert Report

Calmus Ensemble Concert Report

Review of the concert by Joan Champie

The Calmus Ensemble presented a memorable evening of vocal music on Sunday, January 22, for the third program in the Chamber Music of Yellow Springs 2016-2017 concert season. This program was a stimulating change from the predominately string ensemble offerings, and the large audience reflected this novelty.

Members of the Calmus group are graduates of the prestigious St. Thomas Church Choir School in Leipzig, Germany, and this background was evident in their unified interpretations of the music. The program was entitled “All the World’s a Stage.” To commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the selected pieces were based on the plays of Shakespeare or, in the case of the Sonnets, quoted them verbatim. Composers ranged from Orlando Gibbons of the late 16th century and Henry Purcell of the late 17th century to contemporaries such as Ralph Vaughn Williams of the early 20th century. As a result, there was a range of styles and effects: traditional harmonies and melodies, or dissonances and more angular melodies. Of special interest were the four selections of “Full Fathom Five” from The Tempest, with composers across a 300 year span of musical compositions. Songs were inspired by the plays Twelfth Night, a Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cymbeline, the Tragedy of Othello, as well as by Sonnets 3, 18, 54 and 75.

The five members of the Calmus Ensemble sang as with one voice, always with exceptional balance and intonation. They approached each song with the appropriate spirit for the words. Songs from the Midsummer Night’s Dream were especially notable for their effervescent charm and whimsical effect, whereas the song “Come Away Death” from Twelfth Night was appropriately somber, dark and haunting. In solo passages, each singer demonstrated a rich, round tone quality, and together they maintained an elegant and pure sound. Using little to no vibrato, the vocal quality was evident. Many of the modern compositions had vocally challenging elements: close harmonies, dissonant chords to resolve (or not!), unusual intervals for singing. All were accomplished with musical skill and facility, seemingly effortlessly. The long soprano solo was beautifully sung with even a repeated large interval maintaining grace. The counter tenor’s unique vocal quality added special resonance to the quintet, and his solo was lyrical and lovely. Each member had moments to shine individually, but most memorable were the flawlessly warm, controlled, absolutely fine sounds of the group as a whole. Singing of this quality is a great and rare pleasure for the listener.The audience’s enthusiastic response to this excellent program prompted an encore, and the group responded by singing a five-part Bach Fugue. Each voice had a technically challenging and intricate line to unite in the Fugue, and the ensemble sang with breathtakingly wonderful skill and beauty. This ended the evening in a joyous, full-voiced romp.

The pre-concert lecture was given by James Johnston.

David Piano Trio Concert Report

David Piano Trio Concert Report

Review of the concert by Joan Champie, followed by the program notes:

The David Trio appeared on Sunday evening, October 23, for the second program of the Chamber Music of Yellow Springs concert series. Composed of piano, violin, and cello, the David Trio made its debut in 2004 with a prize-winning performance. Since then it has appeared in venues throughout Europe and the Americas, and has made recordings for the Stradivarius label. Members of the Trio are Claudio Trovajoli, piano; Andrej Bialow, violin; and David Cohen, cello.

The concert opened with Notturno in E flat Major, Op. 140 (D897) by Schubert. Written in the last years of his short life, the Notturno is a jewel of grace, melody, and delicacy. It began with gentle, arpeggiated chords for the piano, soon joined by the violin and cello playing a song-like duet. This reversed to the strings playing arpeggios while the piano carried the melody. Delightful Schubertian phrases maintained the quiet, meditative peace with only a brief martial section. To this listener, there were moments when the tonal strength of the piano seemed to exceed the string sounds.

Arensky’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op, 32, followed the Schubert with a complete change of affect. Written 100 years later than the Notturno, the composition had a forceful, dissonant style. Initial solemn minor passages for piano evolved into a thunderous cascade of all the instruments. Intricate parts requiring technical proficiency were well played and formed the impression of active aggression. Intervals of lyrical playing by the violin and cello were a welcome respite to the exuberant energy of the composition. All three instruments produced a greater range of dynamics than had been required by the Notturno. The second movement of the Arensky was a scherzo expressing lighthearted whimsy, and the unexpected playfulness was accentuated by pizzicatos in the violin and cello. The ensemble’s interactions were crisp and sensitive, and at all times they were united in a single conception of the piece. However, at times the balance suffered when the piano, with its enormous capacity for sound, eclipsed the violin and cello tones. A piano, by its very nature, creates a potential for imbalance, which should be monitored at all times. The final movement started fortissimo with all three instruments playing forcefully. Later there were lyrical passages and rich tones until the almost violent conclusion of the work.

The Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50 by Tchaikovsky concluded the program. Although Tchaikovsky had been reluctant to compose a piano trio, having said that “the timbre of the instruments will not blend,” he eventually completed the score for this work. It has become an acclaimed favorite. There are only two movements, each one essentially a theme and variations. This again was assertive music, with all the instruments united in forceful playing. Violin and cello played with radiant lyricism in the four-note yearning theme, and the group played with great expression and dynamic contrasts. The piano was precise and elegant, showing a dazzling technique and crystalline clarity. Balance again was weighted on the piano, despite valiant efforts by the violin and cello. Particularly notable was a long unison passage for the strings, played with excellent intonation and lovely tone quality. The second movement was described as Allegro risoluto e fuoco, which aptly described the energy and unrelenting forcefulness expressed by the players. Surprisingly, the movement ended with a solemn and mournful melody, rhythmically fading into silence.

The enthusiastic audience was rewarded with an encore: a brief and mischievous scherzo by Beethoven….a delightful way to end the evening.

Dennis Loranger, who wrote the program notes, also provided the pre-concert lecture.

submitted by Joan Champie

 

Program Notes

Franz Schubert, Notturno in E-flat

Franz Schubert is surely best remembered for his songs and song cycles. Any lovers of nineteenth century music will be familiar with the thrilling introduction to his Erlking, and that song’s masterful depiction of the terrified boy, the clueless father, and insatiable specter that stalks them. And just as memorable is his song cycle, The Miller’s Beautiful Daughter: how the cheerful, folk-songlike introduction leads to the singer’s broken heart at the cycle’s conclusion.
Many feel that Schubert’s chamber music, while not as famous as his songs, is as moving, as powerful, and as significant as his vocal music. Chamber music was certainly an important part of his development as a composer. He first began studying music as a violinist, and would perform string quartets and other chamber music with his family. He was so taken with this genre that by his late teens he had put in the effort to compose seven string quartets, works not necessarily of professional caliber, but nevertheless important apprentice work. And, although he spent most of the 1810s writing songs, he returned to chamber music in the 1820s, composing such lauded works as his Quartet in D minor—so called “Death and the Maiden” after his song that provides the theme of the second movement—and his String Quintet in C Major, generally considered one of the finest works in the chamber music repertory.
The Notturno may be not be as familiar to audiences as those other works, but it is a fascinating moment in Schubert’s compositional career and an attractive work in its own right. Scholars believe Schubert began working on the Notturno in 1827 during the time when he was working on his two Piano Trios. He may have been inspired to write for this ensemble for social reasons; he had become close friends with three musicians who happened to play respectively piano, violin, and cello. And Schubert may have originally intended the Notturno to serve as the slow movement of one of those Piano Trios; since he cast the piece in E-flat he could have reasonably fit it into either. But the Notturno seems to have gotten away from Schubert, to have grown so large that it could not fit comfortably into the already substantial expanse of either the Trios it was intended for. Left in manuscript, the work was published posthumously in 1845, its original title “Adagio” replaced by the publisher with the more evocative “Notturno.”
But, while the Notturno is large, it is not slovenly. Indeed it has a perfectly transparent form. The opening of the work features the piano strumming some lovely chords that accompany a beautiful song-like duet between the violin and cello, who in turn then accompany the piano’s version of that same theme.
The next section opens with a strident, march-like duet between the strings, while the piano accompanies them with a flurry of arpeggios. The section gradually fades back in volume, with the violin and cello trading off that section’s motive, and then leading back into another statement of the opening theme.
The fourth section repeats the march theme, while the fifth section repeats the opening theme, the piano now accompanying the tune with ornamented figures, and that theme slowly fades away into a timeless atmosphere that recalls the placid stasis of the opening.


Anton Stepanovich Arensky, Piano Trio No. 1, Op.32

Anton Arensky’s life was all too short. He was born in Novgorod, Russia, in 1861 to a musical family. He shone early on: the Russian composer and teacher Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was so confident of the younger composer’s musical skills that he enlisted the twenty-year old Arensky’s help in the preparation of scores and performances. After Arensky graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory he was immediately recruited by the Moscow Conservatory to teach harmony and counterpoint. While professing these disciplines he also wrote numerous original works including the very successful opera, A Dream on the Volga. Unfortunately, Arensky suffered from dual addictions to gambling and alcohol, and after a bout of tuberculosis in 1906 he died, not yet 45 years of age.
The Piano Trio no.1 in D minor is one of Arensky’s most famous works, and is generally considered one of his most successful longer pieces. The first movement is written in a relatively straightforward sonata-allegro form, with an opening theme that surges quietly over the undulating piano accompaniment, and a second theme that evokes a lyrical operatic duet. The development shows off Arensky’s considerable compositional invention.
The second movement is a scherzo, whose whimsical and light-hearted emotional effect provides a startling contrast to the somber third movement, an elegy to the Russian cellist Karl Davïdov. Davïdov had been a mentor to Arensky while the young musician was studying in St. Petersburg, and Arensky seems to have poured his heart out in the composition of this movement. The fourth movement serves as a dramatic summary of the whole work, and refers back to themes from the first and third movements.
Listeners might be interested to learn that there is a recording of the Trio featuring Arensky on the piano part, performing with Jan Hrimaly, violinist, and Anatoly Brandukov, cellist. The sound quality of this recording is sketchy at best, but through the racket of the medium we can hear Arensky and his colleagues playing the work at surprisingly fast tempos, tempos that stop being surprising and become simply incongruous in the elegiac third movement. Whether that tempo comes from the limits of the medium or from Arensky’s own wishes is impossible to know, but the recording provides a tantalizing glimpse into performance practices at the turn of the last century.
Although Arensky had studied with Rimsky-Korsakov, the older master’s influence might not be apparent in the D minor Piano Trio. In fact Arensky’s piece sounds more like the work of another Russian master, a fact that did not escape Rimsky-Korsakov’s attention. After Arensky’s death, the older composer provided a pocket biography of the younger man’s work and life, and concluded by saying, “In his youth Arensky had not escaped entirely my own influence; later he fell under that of Tchaikovsky. He will soon be forgotten.”
Well, every composer’s crystal ball has a cloudy spot, especially when it is directed towards that composer’s own influence, and certainly Arensky’s reputation is not out-sized in our own time. Nevertheless, we can be thankful this lovely work escaped Rimsky-Korsakov’s baleful gaze and came down to us as an elegiac memorial for both the original dedicatee and its own, dead-too-soon composer, Anton Arensky.


Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Piano Trio in A minor

Tchaikovsky was a lucky man in his friends and patrons. Perhaps one of the most important of these friends was the pianist and composer Nikolai Rubinstein. After Tchaikovsky graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1865, Rubinstein secured a position for the young composer at the newly opened Moscow Conservatory, and provided him with lodgings. Not content to serve as employment agent and landlord, Rubinstein also put him in contact with the publisher Pyotr Jürgenson, and with Nikolay Kashkin, a newspaper critic who published favorable articles on Tchaikovsky’s compositions. And finally, Rubinstein also provided entrée to Moscow society; within a few months of his arrival in the metropolis, Tchaikovsky was a man about town.
Despite all these benefits Tchaikovsky was not completely appreciative of Rubinstein’s efforts on his behalf, nor was his career untroubled. Though he was securely housed in Rubinstein’s house, he was not well-to-do, and he had a fraught relationship with his students, who were unappreciative of his often demanding pedagogy. Worst of all, though his compositions were gaining him some attention, real success seemed to elude him. Finally, Rubinstein, whatever the generosity of his spirit, had a foul temper, and often visited his protégé with towering fits of rage.
Despite the complicated nature of their relationship, they remained close, and Tchaikovsky dedicated several works to him, including the Piano Trio in A minor. One of the most important of these works was his Second Piano Concerto, written in 1879. Besides the dedication, the concerto is significant because of the orchestration of the andante movement in which Tchaikovsky uses a concertino group of piano, violin, and cello. When Rubinstein died in 1881, Tchaikovsky apparently felt that ensemble would serve as a fitting group for a memorial for his friend.
Tchaikovsky, however, was a neurotic man, and could do nothing without considerable dithering. In 1880, when his patron Nadezhda von Meck asked him to write a piano trio he quickly demurred:
You ask why I have never written a trio. Forgive me, dear friend; I would do anything to give you pleasure, but this is beyond me … I simply cannot endure the combination of piano with violin or cello. To my mind the timbre of these instruments will not blend … it is torture for me to have to listen to a string trio or a sonata of any kind for piano and strings.
Despite this avowed antipathy for the genre, and perhaps under the influence of Rubinstein’s death, Tchaikovsky soon decided that he could after all write something for piano trio. In letters to von Meck, he suggested that he was “experimenting” with the ensemble. By January of 1882, he had completed the score. At that time he wrote again to von Meck:
I can say with some conviction that my work is not all bad…but I fear I may have arranged music of a symphonic character as a trio, instead of writing directly for the instruments.
History has come to the conclusion that the work is indeed “not all bad,” and is actually a startlingly original work. It consists of two movements. The first is in sonata allegro form, while the second is an extensive set of variations on a hymn-like, memorable little tune. The variations are written in a variety of styles: a waltz, a fugue, a mazurka, a sweet little tune in the penultimate variation.
The last variation opens with a vigorous dance, featuring brilliant scale passages in all the instruments. But the party soon comes to an end, the music grows more soulful and dramatic, and then concludes with whisper.

–Dennis Loranger, Lecturer in Music, Wright State University.

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