Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Survey: Zuill Bailey & Robert Koenig's Recital, Nov'09

For those of you who attended the recital Tuesday evening, November 17th, at Whitaker Center with Zuill Bailey and Robert Koenig, please take a moment and fill out our short survey and let us know what you thought:

Click Here to take survey

I've adjusted the "other comments" field if you'd like to add something: they should be 400 characters or less to be able to fit. If there's more you'd like to say, you can write a comment to THIS POST (see COMMENT link, below).

But still, 400 characters or less - that's more than you get to twitter!

Thank you, very much!

- Dr. Dick

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Brahms & Friends

There are two works by Brahms on the program with cellist Zuill Bailey and pianist Robert Koenig, this Tuesday at 8pm at Whitaker Center as Market Square Concerts' season continues. (You can read more about the concert, here.)

Brahms wrote two cello sonatas, the first finished in 1865 and the second in 1886. The second one, Op. 99 in F Major – the same key as his 3rd Symphony which he'd written three years earlier – is usually considered the “brighter” of the two, compared to the E Minor Sonata, Op. 38, which is darker in sound, mostly because of its concentration in the cello's lower, darker register.

It must have been a very contented summer when he wrote the F Major Cello Sonata that concludes Zuill's recital. That same summer, Brahms also composed his 2nd and 3rd Violin Sonatas, plus the 3rd Piano Trio.

And while modern audiences regard the F Major Cello Sonata as “brighter” and cheerier, it didn't exactly meet with much success at the beginning.

Arnold Schoenberg wrote that the opening of the sonata – with its arching cello melody over strong tremolo chords in the piano, very similar to the opening of the F Major Symphony – was “indigestible” to the Viennese audience when he was a teen-ager. (Schoenberg, a budding cello-player himself, loved Brahms' music and much of his own early music – before Verklärte Nacht – shows Brahms' spell.)

Even one of Brahms' closest friends, Theodore Billroth, “confess[ed] the first movement was somewhat dubious to me... But you always know the right way to the purely musical.” He liked the 2nd Violin Sonata much better. Billroth had also had problems when Brahms played through his new 4th Symphony a couple of years earlier.

This 2nd Sonata was written for the cellist in Josef Joachim's string quartet, Robert Hausmann.

(This photograph taken with Brahms and cellist Robert Hausmann probably dates from the 1890s when Brahms was past 60. The woman behind the piano is Maria Fellinger: she and her husband were close friends of Brahms: it was something of a habit that the composer would eat Sunday dinner with them almost every week. The painting on the easel, by the way, is a portrait of Clara Schumann.)

Brahms often took to a musician's sound, not so much to the instrument. It was how the musician played the instrument and how the two components sounded together that was more important than what the instrument could do.

This was not unusual in Brahms' life. Hausmann would prove instrumental in the creation of another work which probably began life as a cello concerto. But while Brahms might have had reservations about pitting the cello against a modern symphony orchestra (keep in mind, there were few cello concertos in the repertoire then and most of those fairly light in texture: Dvořák's was finished eight years later), his reason for turning this into a concerto for both cello and violin may have had more to do with his old friend Joseph Joachim.

They'd been estranged for a few years (you can read about their life-long friendship, its ups-and-downs and more about how the Double Concerto came about in this post I wrote last year) and had he written a new concerto for someone in Joachim's quartet that wasn't Joachim, it might have been looked upon as one more slight to overcome.

After the first run-through of the concerto with the composer at the piano and playing it for Clara Schumann, Brahms remarked “Now I know what has been missing from my life these past few years: the sound of Joachim's violin.”

With that sound back in his ear, Brahms began sketching a new violin concerto, but the public reaction to both the 4th Symphony and now the Double Concerto stifled him and so he destroyed it, along with sketches for not one but TWO additional symphonies, even a second Double Concerto – all consigned to the flames because of his insecurities.

Clara Schumann didn't think the Double Concerto had much of a future. Even his good friend Billroth had called it “sterile.” Brahms, feeling terribly old-fashioned, was beginning to think perhaps he'd written himself out.

After he had decided to retire from composing at the age of 57, Brahms was coaxed back to writing again by the sound of another musician who had captured his imagination: clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld for whom he wrote a trio and a quintet, both in 1891, and a few years later, published two clarinet sonatas with him in mind. When the Clarinet Trio was first performed, Robert Hausmann was the cellist.

While Brahms wrote only two sonatas for the instrument, the cello often got a lot of his finest tunes: all you have to do is think of the third movement of his 2nd Piano Concerto or the opening of the slow movement of the C Minor Piano Quartet.

But Brahms did NOT write the other cello piece of his that's on Zuill Bailey's program, ending the first half of the concert – well, not as a cello piece. A much earlier work than the 2nd Cello Sonata, the Scherzo or “Sonatensatz” (literally, Sonata Movement) in C Minor was originally written for violin and piano but like the 3rd Violin Sonata also works well when transcribed for the cello and who's to argue against a persuasive performance?

When he introduced himself to Robert and Clara Schumann in late September, 1853, Brahms was just 20 years old. In October, the Schumanns' friend Josef Joachim, already a close friend of Brahms, came to town for a performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto and Schumann's own Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra. Robert was going to conduct.

The rehearsal had been a disaster, Schumann sometimes getting so engrossed in the music he stopped conducting. The concert was a fiasco (only later would they realize it would be the last time Schumann would conduct in public), but the next night there was a special party for Joachim in which he was given a new violin sonata written just for him by a committee of friends.

On Schumann’s suggestion, the thematic tie that binds the work together was a motive based on what Joachim called his “life motto” – Frei aber einsam, “Free but lonely” – turned into the musical pitches F, A and E. Consequently the work is known to history as “The F.A.E. Sonata.”

Among the guests at the party was Bettina von Arnim, who'd been a friend of both Goethe and Beethoven and who was the widow of the collector of the folk tales known as “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” (the Youth's Magic Horn). She was there with her daughter Gisela von Arnim from whom Joachim was recently “free (but lonely).” In what must have been a rather awkward moment, Gisela, dressed in a peasant costume, presented Joachim with a gift basket of flowers in which they'd hidden the copy of the sonata. Sight-reading it with Clara at the piano, he was supposed to guess the identities of each movement's composer. He figured it out quite easily: Albert Dietrich, a close friend and associate of Schumann’s, wrote the first movement; Schumann himself, both the Intermezzo and the Finale; and Brahms, the Scherzo. Brahms' share of the piece was the only movement from this composite work that would survive in the repertoire.

- Dr. Dick

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photo-credit: Zuill Bailey's photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cellist Zuill Bailey Returns to Harrisburg on Nov 17th

Not too many years ago, Central Pennsylvania was introduced to Zuill Bailey as part of the "Next Generation Festivals" that Ellen Hughes organized with pianist Awadagin Pratt through WITF with support from numerous schools, contributors and organizations across the region.

Since then, he's performed on some other stages you may have heard of, like the Kennedy Center, Alice Tully Hall, the 92nd Street Y, not to mention also Carnegie Hall.

He has gotten great reviews around the country, like"Bristles with rare virtuosic fire" - Chicago Tribune; "Nothing short of transcendent" - Buffalo News; and from Lima, Peru's El Comercio, "One of the premier cellists in the world."

Announcing that Zuill Bailey has just been signed to an exclusive contract with Telarc Recordings, the company's president, Robert Woods, commented: 'Zuill's musical talent is world-class, and he is a delightful throwback to artists who possess charisma and entertain an audience while being true to music in every way."

Joined by pianist Robert Koenig, Zuill Bailey will be playing works by Stravinsky, Mendelssohn and Brahms on Tuesday, November 17th, at 8pm on the stage of Harrisburg's Whitaker Center.

The program opens with Claude Debussy's Cello Sonata, one of the last works he composed but a work that is, despite his illness and the time he wrote it in (surrounded by the bad news of World War I), full of humor. It's not what we normally think of with Debussy and his "Impressionism" - it's actually a very spare work, Neo-Classical in style.

Given the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn this year, if one needs an excuse to program his music, his 2nd Cello Sonata concludes the first half of the program.

From the classically-lined works of Debussy and Mendelssohn, then, the concert concludes with two full-blooded Romantic works by Johannes Brahms: an early work, the Scherzo he wrote for the F.A.E. Violin Sonata (arranged here for cello and piano) and a fairly late piece, his 2nd Cello Sonata in F Major, Op.99. (I've written more about these pieces, here.)

In this video, a TV interview from WUSA in Washington DC, he talks about his cello, made in 1693 by Matteo Goffriller and formerly owned by Mischa Schneider of the Budapest String Quartet. It's an instrument that was 17 years old when Bach wrote his cello suites. Then he plays the Prelude to the G Major Suite by Bach.

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Here's another video, this one from Telarc, promoting Zuill's most recent recording "Russian Masterpieces" which was released earlier this year. He talks about the influences of the great cellist Rostropovich and the music of Tchaikovsky (his Mozart-inspired "Rococo Variations") and Shostakovich (his 1st Cello Concerto). Based on the little clip of the Shostakovich I heard in this video, I plan on adding this disc to my own collection: it's a very dramatic, incisive work and I think he hits everything just right in his approach to it, both musically and emotionally.
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As Ellen wrote to concert-goers on the e-mailing list:

One of my first acts as new director of Market Square Concerts was to arrange for Zuill Bailey to come to play his cello in Harrisburg. I'd met him when he played chamber music in WITF's former Next Generation Festival, and I was impressed, not only with his phenomenal strengths as a musician, but also with his ability to communicate that music visually. He's a fabulous argument in favor of attending live performance because of his communicative gifts as well as his musical ones.

I hope you will be able to come to his concert on Tuesday, November 17 at 8 at Whitaker Center. His accompanist is Robert Koenig, much sought-after as a collaborative pianist with a following of his own. They'll be playing sonatas by Debussy, Brahms and Mendelssohn, and you can find out more about it at our website, marketsquareconcerts.org.

Tickets are $28 and are available at the BOX that night or in advance at 717 214-ARTS. For this concert we are able to offer $5 tickets for college/university students and faculty. School-age students are free.

A lot of people want to know how to pronounce Zuill's name. It rhymes with cool!

- Ellen

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I'll second that! Hope to see you there!

- Dr. Dick