Thursday, April 16, 2009

What do you do when you're in Rome?

If you're composer Lisa Bielawa, you'll be writing a new composition, whatever other Romans may be doing.

In 1884, Claude Debussy won the Prix de Rome, one of the most important and influential honors to be granted to young French artists. Before him, Hector Berlioz won the prize in 1830, where he put the finishing touches on a little something called his Symphonie fantastique.

Rome was always a destination for creative artists, whether it was painters, writers or musicians. In fact, in 1905, the United States got into the act, establishing our own version of The Rome Prize at the American Academy of Rome.

And it was announced today that Lisa Bielawa has received this year’s Rome Prize in Musical Composition. And she will be writing a new piece that has been commissioned by – drum roll, please – Market Square Concerts of Harrisburg PA which will be premiered at the February concert of the 2009-2010 season.

Here’s the official press release which you can also read here, and also find out about three premieres she has coming up in the next few weeks along with a new CD coming out in May!

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April 16, 2009—New York, NY—The American Academy in Rome announced today that Lisa Bielawa is a recipient of the 2009 Rome Prize in Musical Composition. Established in 1894 and chartered by an Act of Congress in 1905, the American Academy in Rome is a center that sustains independent artistic pursuits and humanistic studies. Annual Rome Prize fellowship winners are selected through a national competition, and travel to Rome to refine and expand their own professional, artistic, or scholarly aptitudes. The Academy's Rome Prize winners are at the center of a multi-disciplinary environment, where artists and scholars are encouraged to work collegially within and across disciplines.

This September, Ms. Bielawa will join 14 other artists (working in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Design, Historic Preservation and Conservation, Literature, Musical Composition, or Visual Arts) as well as 15 scholars (working in Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and early Modern, or Modern Italian Studies) for a year-long fellowship at the Academy, located on the Janiculum, Rome's highest hill. While there Ms. Bielawa will compose an extended work for the Brooklyn Rider string quartet and herself as vocalist. The piece, which has been commissioned by Market Square Concerts in Harrisburg, PA, will be modular, performable at different lengths and in different venues and contexts, with or without vocal sections.

Composer-vocalist Lisa Bielawa was born in San Francisco into a musical family. She played the violin and piano, sang, and wrote music from early childhood. Ms. Bielawa moved to New York two weeks after receiving her B.A. in Literature in 1990 from Yale University, and became an active participant in New York musical life. She began touring with the Philip Glass Ensemble in 1992, and in 1997 co-founded the MATA Festival, which celebrates the work of young composers. Ms. Bielawa takes inspiration for her work from literary sources and close artistic collaborations. The New York Times describes her music as, "ruminative, pointillistic and harmonically slightly tart," and Time Out New York praised her "prodigious gift for mingling persuasive melodicism with organic experimentation."
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Join us in February 20th, 2010, for another world premiere with Market Square Concerts and hear Lisa Bielawa’s brand new (and as yet unwritten) work which she and the Brooklyn Rider will perform at Market Square Church along with Philip Glass’s 5th String Quartet, Schubert’s “Death & the Maiden” Quartet as well as works by members of the Silk Road Ensemble.

I'll be telling you more about this concert and the up-coming season in future posts - not to forget SummerMusic 2009 this July as chamber music returns to the Mill - so just because the season is "ended" with the Guarneri Quartet doesn't mean there's nothing going on here till the Fall...

- Dr. Dick

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lucy Miller Murray's Big Day

“If I knew then what I know now, I probably never would have said ‘yes’...”

A couple of years ago, when I talked to Lucy Miller about getting Market Square Concerts started 25 years earlier, she figured it would just be a few concerts at the church (hence the name), she'd put up a few signs and – the classical music version of “Field of Dreams” - the audience would just show up.

Fortunately for us, she didn’t, she did - and they did, too.

Lots of hard work and perseverance, a book-worth of program notes and thousands of page turns later, she made up her mind it was time to retire. But the problem was finding someone willing (or naive enough) to take on the concert series so it would survive. Fortunately, Ellen Hughes said “yes” as well, and Lucy stepped down after founding Market Square Concerts 27 years ago, having turned an idea for presenting local concerts of chamber music into a nationally recognized treasure with world-class artists making regular appearances in Harrisburg.

The current season was the last one she had planned, including the world premiere of the Violin Sonata by Philip Glass and ending with another Farewell, a performance by the Guarneri Quartet during their Farewell Tour, one of the last performances they will give.

And so it seemed appropriate to have a celebration for her at a special dinner following the concert.

You can read about the concert and some of those unexpected things that can happen at a live performance in an earlier post, here.

At the start of that concert, Ellen and Market Square Concerts Board President James Cowden presented Lucy with a Proclamation from the Office of Harrisburg’s Mayer, Stephen R. Reed.

(The text is added below; see photos: (1) top, Lucy addressed the crowd after the concert, wearing an Egyptian ring that sparkled before she spoke; (2) at right, James Cowden joining Lucy & Martin Murray.)

After the concert, a special dinner and tribute for her was held across the Square at the Hilton. David McCorkle took even more photographs, some more of which I’ve posted here:

(3) Long-time friends and Market Square Concerts supporters listen to Lucy's remarks.

(4) Pianist Peter Orth, who gave the very first recital with Market Square Concerts and returned frequently, performing again in the 20th and 25th Anniversary seasons, sent Lucy a bouquet of 27 white tulips, one for each year.

(5) Lucy Martin Murray holding the Mayor's Proclamation, standing with her husband Martin in Market Square Church.

(6) The Guarneri Quartet’s violist, Michael Tree, with Lois Lehrman Grass.

(7) The Guarneri Quartet’s 1st Violinist, Arnold Steinhardt, with Marion Alexander, Tom Pheasant & Lucy.

Here is the text of Mayor Reed's Proclamation, saluting Lucy Miller Murray after her 27 years of involvement with Market Square Concerts:

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Office of the Mayor
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania


Amongst the most well-respected and loved local musicians and leaders is the inimitable Lucy Miller Murray, the founder and director of the Market Square Concerts series, who is today lauded as she retires after twenty-seven years of dedicated service to that organization; and

Lucy Miller Murray has received both national and international acclaim for the Market Square Concerts organization and under her leadership, the Market Square Concerts series has been recognized throughout the United States and the world as an innovative and successful phenomenon in the world of chamber music; and

Though she’s been helped by a dedicated Board of Directors, Lucy Miller Murray has achieved much of her success single-handedly, having concerts held throughout the Greater Harrisburg Region for the past twenty-seven years and having put the City of Harrisburg on the “chamber music map”; and

Appropriately and accordingly, Lucy Miller Murray is herein lauded as her retirement is celebrated on this day with a fantastic and memorable dinner at the Harrisburg Hilton; now, therefore be it hereby designated and

That Sunday, April 5, 2009, be declared


In and for the citizens of the City of Harrisburg, Capital of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, with all citizens urged to recognize and appreciated the important contributions that have been made to the City of Harrisburg and the surrounding region by this dedicated woman.

Set Under My Hand and Seal This
Eighteenth Day of February, Annum
Two-Thousand and Nine

Mayor Stephen R. Reed
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Ellen meanwhile has been very busy not just making sure everything ran smoothly this season but getting next season ready to go - and I'll be telling you more about the new 2009-2010 Season shortly. There will also be up-coming posts about SummerMusic 2009 with the return to the Mill in July by the Fry Street String Quartet, Stuart Malina, Odin Rathnam and Gerard Reuter.

And here's to Ellen Hughes, the Director of Market Square Concerts, and the next fifty years!

- Dr. Dick

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Guarneri Quartet, Indivisible

Sunday afternoon’s performance at Market Square Church by the Guarneri Quartet, one of their final performances on their grand farewell tour and the conclusion of Market Square Concerts' current season, proved the difference between a live concert experience and listening to a recording, perhaps even hearing a recording made at this concert. The unexpected can also add to this experience.

Market Square Church had been packed for its Palm Sunday service and the church was again packed a few hours later to hear the Guarneri Quartet play Haydn, Kodaly and Ravel (not a connection, necessarily: I’m just saying). Looking down from the choir loft, I counted room for maybe 12 more people just before the concert was to begin at 4:00.

A moment later, Ellen Hughes, the current director of Market Square Concerts, walked up to the raised platform where the stands and chairs were set up for the quartet to apologize that there would be a slight delay: many people were still trying to get their tickets and that they’d run out of programs, if anyone would care to donate theirs to the cause.

This was also the last concert planned by the founding director of Market Square Concerts, Lucy Miller Murray, “retiring” (if that is conceivable) after 27 years of being the Patron Saint of Chamber Music in the Harrisburg Area. And so it was appropriate to begin by having James Cowden, President of the Board, read the proclamation from the Mayor’s Office that April 5th, 2009, was “Lucy Miller Murray Day” in honor of her dedication to the arts in our community and especially to her 27 years with Market Square Concerts. And so the concert began with a standing ovation and the sense that, in many ways, this too was an Event.

Ellen then announced that there would be a further delay because, as it happened, the quartet’s second violinist, John Dalley, was delayed in traffic due to a tie-up around an accident on the highway and had not yet arrived! 3/4's of the quartet then came out for an impromptu Q&A, a.k.a. soft shoe and tap-dance to wile away the time.

There were jokes made that Dalley had just called them and he was fine, “just leaving Pittsburgh a few minutes ago.” Someone in the audience asked how many players in a string quartet.

Arnold Steinhardt told the touring musician’s nightmare. The quartet had decided early in their career not to travel as a Group of Four. Teaching in Maryland, they frequently flew from Baltimore to Boston and Washington. Rather than buying a ticket in advance, Steinhardt said he would get on Eastern Airlines’ shuttle plane, write a check for the stewardess and all would be well. He handed her the check but she said “This is the wrong amount.” He countered, “No, it’s the right amount for the shuttle to Boston.” She responded, “Yes, it IS the right amount for the shuttle to Boston but this is the shuttle to Washington, D.C.”

And of course, Steinhardt had to be in Boston to join his colleagues for an 8:30 concert.

So the stewardess made some calls and they quickly whisked Steinhardt, hurrying under the belly of the plane and under the bellies of various other planes to reach the Boston shuttle which was now being held for him. He made it, they took off and he arrived in Boston with a half-hour to spare.

And so, in the midst of this conversation with Michael Tree and Peter Wiley joining in, John Dalley appears from the side door at 4:22 to announce the concert has been canceled, we can all go home. (No stuffy group of classical musicians, this!) His colleagues joined him to go “backstage” to get their instruments. And at 4:30, the concert began.

It could not have been planned to open with a Haydn quartet nicknamed “The Rider.” And I’m thinking “how do you get off the road and start playing ten minutes later without warming up?” You would never have known.

Since the church does not have lights you can just flash to announce the end of intermission, the quartet's return to the stage-area led to a scramble for seats. On the downbeat of the Ravel, the church’s chimes rang out the half-hour. It had been assumed the concert would be over by now, if all had gone according to plan. But not much had, so far, and so the quartet immediately stopped, waited for the chimes amidst the laughter, and then began again.

But it occurred to me the chimes would continue to ring at 5:45 and 6:00 and the Ravel was about 30-35 minutes long. So I asked Newman Stare who was sitting with me in the choir-loft – he’s the church’s volunteer sound guy – if there was a way to turn off the chimes. He said he’d go check and disappeared down the steps. Fortunately, he managed to find the head custodian, Jim Quigley, who went into the basement room where he could disable the chimes.

And a good thing, too: looking at my watch, the Ravel ended right at 6:00:12 which meant the final beat of the quartet might also have coincided with the chimes, a fine performance ruined and instead of cheering, everybody would have laughed.

There was a standing ovation – a real one, not just the standard one – cameras flashed (including mine) and there was an encore. It didn’t sound familiar to me, though I recognized a couple of motives that sounded like Late-Beethoven (particularly the C-sharp Minor Quartet) but I knew it wasn’t an excerpt. Mendelssohn had composed his Op. 13 quartet when he was 18, inspired by the Late-Beethoven Quartets (then new), so I assumed it was the slow movement – gorgeously played – from that.

But no. Michael Tree told me backstage it was Mozart – Mozart!?! – from his Quartet in F Major, K.168, written when he was 17, some 50 years before Beethoven's quartet...

Autographs were signed – someone brought Steinhardt's “Indivisible by Four” to have the author sign it – and I met some students from Susquehanna University (my old alma mater), string players who had come down from Selinsgrove to hear the concert and take part in this Event.

The first time I heard the quartet live was in the early-70s (they had been together maybe 8 or 9 years then). The first time one of these students had heard them was 2 years ago and now they heard them after they’d been playing together for 45 years (Peter Wiley, the New Guy, had joined them in 2001, replacing his teacher, David Soyer, the original cellist, and the only personnel change in that long history).

The magic – all the extraneous experiences aside – was still in the playing. As often as they may have played these pieces (the Kodaly was on their latest recording), everything still sounded as fresh and exciting as if they had come to it just recently and wanted to give us their sense of enthusiasm for this music. But there is an intangible quality to quartet playing that you cannot learn or teach. Rather than sounding like four fine musicians who get together to play great music, they sound like a single organism and, for us, well worth the wait for 1/4 of it to arrive.

- Dr. Dick
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Photos: Top - Guarneri Quartet publicity photo w/John Dalley, Michael Tree, Arnold Steinhardt and Peter Wiley.
2nd - Martin & Lucy Miller Murray with the official Proclamation from the Office of Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed (photograph by David McCorkle)
3rd - 3/4's of the Guarneri Quartet - Arnold Steinhardt, Michael Tree & Peter Wiley - with Ellen Hughes (photograph by David McCorkle)
4th - Ellen Hughes backstage after the concert with the complete quartet: in score order, Arnold Steinhardt, John Dalley, Michael Tree and Peter Wiley (photograph by Dick Strawser)
5th - the Guarneri Quartet taking a bow after the Ravel (photograph by Dick Strawser)
6th - Michael Tree & Arnold Steinhardt signing autographs with members of the audience and Martin Murray (Steinhardt is holding a copy of his book Indivisible by Four) (photograph by Dick Strawser)
7th - Four from Susquehanna University (photograph by Dick Strawser)
8th - a publicity photo from Arnold Steinhardt's website with Michael Tree, original cellist David Soyer, John Dalley and Arnold Steinhardt
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The Guarneri Quartet's appearance with Market Square Concerts was sponsored by Pennsylvania Retina Specialists
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please note: this was not intended to be a review and the opinions expressed are those of the writer.