Monday, July 16, 2012

Summermusic 2012: The Perfect Antidote for Heat Frustration

It’s summer and it looks like there’s another heatwave on its way (really, maybe 100° again? srsly?) but this year’s Market Square Concerts "Summermusic" is all indoors in air-conditioning. (I mention that because, with summer concerts, one often thinks they’re always outside).

Like years’ past, there are three concerts but unlike recent years where two of them were held at a beautiful, picturesque mill on the Yellow Breeches, the first and third concerts will be held at Market Square Church in downtown Harrisburg and the second one, at the Rose Lehrman Arts Center at HACC’s Wildwood Campus.

You can hear Cary Burkett’s interview with Peter Sirotin here.

In an interview last summer with Ellen Hughes for the Patriot-News, oboist Gerry Reuter talked about returning to the Mid-State for Summermusic, saying “it feels like a family reunion when we get together, not just the performers, but also the audience. We anticipate seeing people and recognize them, talking with them before and after the performances, hanging out together.”

That sense of friendly casualness extends to the performances and the music they play.

The first program of this summer’s concerts is Friday evening at 8pm, with French and German music for piano and winds and also for piano duet. Stuart Malina, music director of the Harrisburg Symphony who also loves to play chamber music with his friends and colleagues, and will join wind players oboist Gerard Reuter, a regular guest at Summermusic, clarinetist Christopher Grymes, familiar to fans of Concertante, bassoonist Peter Kolkay, who played in the Harrisburg Symphony a few seasons ago, and hornist Geoffrey Pilkington, a recent addition to the current Harrisburg Symphony whom you may recall as one of the four soloists in February’s Schumann Concert-Piece featuring the orchestra’s horn section.

Stuart will also join Market Square Concerts’ executive director, pianist Ya-Ting Chang, also a member of the Mendelssohn Piano Trio, for piano duets by Poulenc and Ravel.

The program opens with two light-hearted works by Francis Poulenc, one of the most light-hearted composers around and one famous (or infamous) for tweaking the stuffiness usually associated with classical music. Jaunty joie de vivre flourishes in the Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon and particularly in his early Sonata for Piano Duet written at the tail-end of World War I.

Maurice Ravel’s music is usually considered elegant and pristine, the exact opposite of his contemporary Poulenc. Where Poulenc considered himself a “Vulgarian,” Ravel was something of a dandy who wore impeccably tailored suits but who had a child-like love of mechanical toys and perhaps enjoyed talking with children more than he might their parents when attending a dinner party. This spirit – both tasteful and innocent – comes to life in his suite, originally written for children to play, based on tales from “Mother Goose” (or, more correctly, the French equivalent of collected fairy tales).

You can read more about Ravel's suite, here.

Beethoven’s Quintet for Piano and Winds is not heard that often, certainly not as often as his string quartets or the piano trios. In three movements, it’s a delightful work from his early years in Vienna, before Beethoven became BEETHOVEN.

Here's a classic recording of Beethoven's Quintet with members of the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics and another conductor at the piano - this one, James Levine.

= = = = =
1st Movement

2nd & 3rd Movements

= = = = =

You can read more about Beethoven and his quintet, here.

*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Our string players will show up for the second concert – Sunday afternoon at 4pm at the Rose Lehrman Arts Center of the Harrisburg Area Community College’s Wildwood campus (see? Inside and air-conditioned!) joining Gerard Reuter for Benjamin Britten’s “Phantasy Quartet” and Stuart Malina for the Piano Quartet in E-flat (Op. 87) by Antonin Dvořák.

Bohuslav Martinu in 1945
The program opens with two works for just violin and viola (it doesn’t mean the other musicians are late) – a set of three “madrigals” by the Czech composer, Bohuslav Martinu written shortly after World War II; and one of a collection by the American composer, Augusta Read Thomas, called “Rumi Settings,” inspired by a poem of this Persian poet of the 13th Century about music and inspiration – this one, “Suspended and Graceful,” as she described it “like a pearl from the ocean floor.”

Martinu composed his madrigals (a term he used for several short pieces though this set is also known as “Duo No. 1 for Violin and Viola”) for violinist Joseph Fuchs and his sister, violist Lillian Fuchs shortly after they met in 1947. Here’s their recording of all three of them, made in the early-1950s which excuses the sound-quality. But what an interpretation – and, after all, the people who inspired the work and first played it!
= = = = =

= = = = =

Hard to imagine this was one of many works Martinu composed while recuperating following a near-fatal fall from a balcony the year before, landing on concrete some ten feet below. Born in what became Czechoslovakia, he fled his homeland following the Nazi invasion in 1941, settled first in Paris and then left for the United States when the Nazis took control of Paris. Plans to return home were foiled by the Communist take-over after the war, though in 1956 he moved to Switzerland where he remained until his death three years later.

Incidentally, among Martinu's students (particularly at Tanglewood) were Alan Hovhaness and... uhm... well, Burt Bacharach (probably not a name you were expecting to see, here).

A better known Czech composer is Antonin Dvořák who, really, needs no introduction to American audiences and who, coincidentally, also spent some time in the United States teaching and composing, most famously his last symphony, From the New World and the 'American' Quartet.

Here is a performance of the opening movement of Dvořák’s Piano Quartet (not to be confused with the more famous and much more frequently performed Piano Quintet) with members of the American Chamber Players:
= = = = =

= = = = = =
(Contrary to the photograph in the “video,” there is no flute in the piece.)

In addition to Stuart Malina and Gerard Reuter, the performers for the second concert will include violinist Peter Sirotin who is (in addition to everything else) also acting concertmaster of the Harrisburg Symphony this coming season, cellist Fiona Thompson, principal cellist of the Harrisburg Symphony (she recently performed Strauss’ Don Quixote with the orchestra) and a member of the Mendelssohn Piano Trio, and violist Michael Stepniak, Dean of Shenandoah Conservatory,  and frequent recording collaborator with the Mendelssohn Trio.

*** ***** ******** ***** ***

The final concert of the series – next Wednesday, the 25th, returns to Beethoven – again, from his first years in Vienna – but also includes an early work by a well-known composer and a late work by an almost unknown composer.

Three movements from three different string trios – works Beethoven composed between finishing the Quintet for Piano and Winds (see Program #1) and beginning the String Quartets, Op. 18 – will be part of a slightly different approach, performed in collaboration with Lucy Miller Murray’s poem, Sonata, recited by Cary Burkett, WITF’s Arts & Culture Desk and former Classical Air host.

Here are two of the string trio movements - works that Beethoven thought, at the time, were among the best he'd written so far - with classic performances by the Grumiaux Trio:
= = = = =
The scherzo from the Trio, Op. 9 No. 1 (up to 2:38)

The 2nd Movement from the Trio, Op. 9, No. 2 (up to 4:48)

= = = = =

Richard Strauss may be well known for his symphonic poems and his operas, less so for his chamber music. His father was one of the great orchestral horn players in Germany who loved Mozart but hated Wagner’s operas, though he was acclaimed for his performances in them. Not surprisingly, his son grew up with an aversion to Wagner which you can hear in his decidedly Mozart-inspired Horn Concerto No. 1, written when he was 17 for his father. But before he started sounding like the Richard Strauss we know, he also went through his Brahms Phase.

When he turned 20, Strauss was just branching out professionally as Hans von Bülow’s assistant conductor in Berlin. He’d just made his conducting debut (somewhat unexpectedly) in Munich and had heard the rehearsals and world premiere of Johannes Brahms’ 4th Symphony.

That might have something to do with the sound of the Piano Quartet he composed at that time. Here’s an ensemble called “Ensemble Raro” performing the first movement. A rare work indeed, there are not many performances available on-line through You-Tube that I could choose from (looking for live performances with good sound).

= = = = =

= = = = =

However, you might want to check out this recording of it on the Centaur label with the Mendelssohn Piano Trio – Peter Sirotin, Ya-Ting Chang and Fiona Thompson – and violist Michael Stepniak who will be joining them for this Summermusic performance.

One of the fun things in programming something like this series is finding repertoire for various combinations of instruments and musicians, not just standard sonatas and string quartets that would more normally be programmed during the regular season.

Not to mention exploring different and sometimes unfamiliar repertoire.

Certainly, if you know Beethoven's music, hearing unfamiliar early works like the string trios or the Quintet for Piano and Winds will still find you on familiar turf. Even though Strauss' Piano Quartet may not be recognizable as the mature Strauss, at least you know a little of what to expect.

For many in the audience, Bohuslav Martinu might be a discovery. But I know we're dealing with little known composers if they've come up with someone I've never heard of before. In fact, I wasn't even sure what century Erkki Melartin belongs in: 19th, 20th or was he still alive?

Erkki Melartin (1875-1937)
Such is the curse of being Erkki Melartin, a major composer in Finland who would be, no doubt, a lot better known if it hadn't been for Jean Sibelius, a powerful compositional voice who overshadowed every other composer from Finland before or since. In fact, probably only Einojuhani Rautavaara has succeeded in escaping Sibelius' shadow on the international scene.

The String Trio you'll hear on this third concert was written in 1927 - around the time Sibelius's compositional career came to a close - and may sound more out of the Brahmsian Tradition than we might expect. He comes by this naturally: aside from studying with the same teacher who taught Sibelius, Melartin also studied in Vienna with Robert Fuchs, a good friend of Brahms and who, like most lesser Viennese composers at the end of the 19th Century, sounded like pale imitations of Brahms.

Naturally, I couldn't find any recordings of Melartin's String Trio on-line, but this last movement from his last completed symphony, written a few years earlier, might give you an idea what to expect.

- Dick Strawser

No comments:

Post a Comment