It is an unusually cool and windy Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day Weekend as I sit down to write my first 2019 Fran’s Corner. The calendar says it is late spring in Vermont as I try to focus my thoughts on the 45th Season of Manchester Music Festival that begins in just over 6 weeks. Procrastination and some lack of inspiration have led me to reread my very first Fran’s Corner Blog written in early July 2018. The paragraph introducing my corner perch was short and I think it sums up my “raison d’être” as well as any new one I might write now so I will paraphrase it a bit and include it below to reintroduce myself.
“I am excited to share my thoughts about MMF’s coming Concert Season. My hope is to increase your joy in the music you will be hearing each week by highlighting a few works on each program, giving some biographical information about the composers, writing a bit about the cultural and political world in which they lived, and giving some insights into the music itself.”
I ramble, as you may already know, but what is a blog’s thrust if not to expound freely with the hope of informing and entertaining a reader? So off I go on my MMF 2019 journey. Please join me as I travel through several centuries and many styles of chamber music and beyond. Feel free to write to me about what you might want to read in addition to my comments about the highlighted works for each week.
I must immediately share my excitement about the Opening Concert on July 11th. We will hear the premiere of American composer, Christopher Theofanidis’ Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet. It is the first work commissioned by MMF! This commission was made possible by the generosity and underwriting of the James H. and Irene M. Hunter Charitable Trust.
Theofanidis has so graciously written to me with first comments about his work that I shall share below. He will be adding more thoughts for my June Fran’s Corner and again for the week of the Premiere. I am so grateful to have his words about the Quintet, rather than my speculations about the work. Here is what Theofanidis wrote as a brief introduction to his Quintet in his friendly e-mail that I received yesterday:
Hi Fran - this is a meaningful project to me for a number of reasons. One is that it brings me back in touch with Alex Fiterstein, who I knew when I was teaching at Juilliard about 20 years ago. He was a force then and now, and this piece and it’s writing for clarinet in particular, owes something substantial to the sound-world of his I know. The fact that it is also a work centered around the string quartet is meaningful to me. The pieces that have been my ‘deepest dives’ in my output so to speak have involved string quartets.
There are three movements, and the piece lasts around 20 minutes. It has something of a psychological arc. The first movement is titled, The war in heaven, and alternates between a volatile and fast musical language and a music which is slower, more pained. Their materials come together in dialogue throughout the movement. Its core centers around an existential psychological battle in a way.
The second movement, Aria for a lost beauty, takes place in the spiritual aftermath of the first- remembering a time of beauty before the crisis, but with a great sense of longing. There are extended passages in this movement with just the string quartet alone, though the clarinet is still very integral to the ‘voice’ of the aria.
The third movement, Fire and magic, moves on from this opening two movement grouping but has in it a sense of running- maybe away from, maybe toward something which is not entirely known.
I so look forward to his next installment! And here are a few words from Alexander Fiterstein, the clarinetist performing the Quintet with the Ariel Quartet. He had just recently opened the score and wrote:
“I will not be rehearsing the quartet until close to the premiere. What I can say is that I am a big enthusiast of Chris Theofanidis’ music. I first met him and played his music nearly 20 years ago in New York City. The premiere will be a surprise (as it always is with a brand new work)…I can say that there are some beautiful melodies and the clarinet and strings seem to be in sync throughout the work.”
As I look at the first program, and indeed all the programs, I note how wonderfully Adam Neiman has crafted the season. I am immediately struck by the diverse instrumental settings that each chamber concert will present. Chamber music is the perfect genre or vehicle for the exploration of instrumental timbre. A small ensemble allows vast opportunities to hear the voice quality of an instrument both as an integral part of a group and as a solo voice.
The first concert on July 11th offers three pieces that showcase different instruments. The melodic woodwind voice of the clarinet, the mellow string warmth of the viola and the wide range of possibilities that the percussion instrument, the piano, offers. YES! The piano is a percussion instrument! If you doubt me, look it up on Google!
My detailed comments about the Schumann Piano Quintet in Eb Major and the Brahms String Quintet in F Major that features a second viola will be posted the week before the opening concert. Also on the program is a favorite of mine, the melodic, sweet one movement Schubert work, Quartettsatz.
The second Thursday brings us an amazing canvas of chamber music choices. In this second concert the violin is prominent and the timbre of the instrument is shown off brilliantly. Each work is often bittersweet in mood, but so different in the expression of that mood; all so different, all magical. Do you know the Czech composer, Josef Suk? He was Dvořák’s son-in-law. His plaintive Elegy for Piano Trio is on the menu followed by his father-in-law’s very famous, Piano Trio No. 4 known familiarly as “Dumky”. (You can look up the meaning of the slavic term or wait until I write a bit about it). Debussy’s only String Quartet is featured in the first half of this concert. It is a sensual, impressionist masterpiece.
The third concert again features the particular qualities of individual instruments. There will be an amazing Flute Sonata by Prokofieff on the program. It is filled with lyrical passages and rhythmical leaping pyrotechnics for the woodwind. This sonata will share the program with Elgar’s haunting and often nostalgic Piano Quintet in A minor. The strings and the piano compete for attention in this work that is so filled with the spirit of Brahms.
Do you acknowledge that the human voice is the original musical instrument? Get ready to do so! Robert Schumann’s song cycle, Dichterliebe, (“A Poet’s Love”) is part of the fourth concert. It is an amazing emotional example of the art of Lieder (German Art song). The work is paired with one of the most famous Piano Trios in chamber literature, Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, Op. 97. I shall delve into the intriguing stories behind these famous works the week before the August 1st concert.
Are you getting excited about the wide range of offerings that await you? Well, how about being blown away by an arrangement of the epic J.S. Bach, Goldberg Variations? You will hear a meticulous, complete capture of the gigantic composition originally written for harpsichord, scored for string trio. The transcription of the Aria and 30 Variations will take your breath away. Do listen to the gigantic work as the one and only Glenn Gould or Rosalyn Tureck performed it before you come to the concert. I hope I have piqued your interest and I will indeed tell you about Sitkovetsky, the composer who conceived of this transcription. I’ll expound in July about definitions of arrangements, covers and transcriptions.
I have not even mentioned the Orchestra Concert or the Opera evening. In due time, I shall discuss both evenings and the works being performed.
As I just mentioned the Orchestra Concert, here is a question. Are you aware that our own Adam Neiman is performing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s youthful, romantic Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor? Be prepared for gripping emotional material intensely delivered and over the top virtuosic piano displays! The MMF Orchestra will be under the baton of returning Maestro, Ignat Solzhenitsyn. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending opens the concert. Brahms’ Symphony, No. 2 in D Major, Op.73 is the monumental offering after intermission. A most fitting finale for the 2019 MMF season! And what is your most favorite opera aria? Most likely you will hear it performed at the A Night at the Opera evening. The concert will be filled with familiar and beloved arias and scenes performed by acclaimed young opera stars and the wonderful Warren Jones, opera coach, pianist and collaborative artist.
Finally, below I have listed a handful of wonderful YouTube performances of some of the works mentioned above. There will be more included for each week’s concert. Perhaps this will lead you to look up some information. Do not worry if you do not go to Google. I will attempt to fill you in on background information as the season rolls on. Until mid-June, I wish you all some clear warm days and lots of great music to enjoy.
Perhaps start today with Williams’ The Lark Ascending over our Green Mountains, (not over “England’s green and pleasant land”) and Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words in D Major for Cello and Piano, Op. 109. They are both lovely Spring into Summer joys. NB: The Brahms String Quintet in F Major, Op. 88 that is on the opening program is often dubbed “Spring”. Whatever you choose to hear, enjoy!