Well, tonight must be a big deal because the WEKU guys are up here in the perch with me at the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion. Once again they are broadcasting the world premiere concert at the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, this year featuring the debut of Chris Rogerson’s Summer Night Music, which the composer says was designed to be evocative of its title. (above: WEKU’s Roger Duvall and John Hingsbergen begin their broadcast from Fasig-Tipton.)
That is after intermission. First up, some more Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
If the overarching theme of this year’s festival has been new music, the underlying theme has been Mozart, which maybe isn’t as odd as it sounds. In his program notes, University of Kentucky music professor emeritus Alan Hersh made the point that last night’s Alfred Scnittke piece, Moz-Art for Two Violins and Amplification made you consider what Mozart would have been doing today, and it was possible to imagine he might find other places to go given tools like microphones and amplifiers.
One thing we associate with Mozart was youth and bravado, thanks in particular to a certain 1980s movie. What the festival does anytime it presents Mozart, as it is doing tonight with his String Quartet in d minor is put his music in the hands of youth — I struggle to recall if CMFL has ever presented a performer over 40, or even 35. That these musicians embrace Wolfie with such enthusiasm is a testament that music that endures is as important as music that’s new. (below, violinists Nathan Cole, Jasmine Lin, cellist Priscilla Lee and violist Burchard Tang perform Mozart.)
But we are about to re-enter the 20th Century, and then the 21st.
Introducing George Antheil’s work with the normal-sounding title Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano, violinist and festival artistic director Nathan Cole explains that the directions in the piece are things like “swagger” and “sweet” and “sour.” “We don’t know what he means by any of those things, which is part of the fun of it,” Cole explains.
And it was fun and oddly delightful, folkish and naughty with pianist Alessio Bax at one point thundering on his piano like the storms we were supposed to have seen this weekend and then turning around to make his CMFL debut as a percussionist.
After the intermission comes the main event, the world premiere performance of Chris Rogerson’s Summer Night Music.
Rogerson (above, onstage with CMFL president Charles Stone) explained to the audience that he was trying to evoke summer evening sensations, including a movement called Fireflies (no, not the Owl City song), sleep in its good and bad forms and an elegy to his recently passed grandfather.
Now, I am sure I am not alone in regarding Samuel Barber’s Knoxville Summer 1915 as something of a gold standard of summer music, particularly portraying summers we know here in Southern/Midwestern America (and particularly when Dawn Upshaw is singing it). Barber did have the advantage of words. Rogerson has the advantage of an imagination that sometimes allows him to think out of the instrumental box. We have moments like Pricilla Lee’s fluttery notes off the cello and Bax manually muting strings on the piano. The composer is accessing all aspects of summer, including the haunting nature of the season in which more beings can wander under the cover of darkness. It is also filled with passages of joy and playfulness, which the musicians handle with flair. At Thursday night’s preview concert, Rogerson said he felt his work was in good hands, and it was.
After the premiere, we had the only appearance of the evening by this year’s guest artist, Andrew Bain on horn playing Johannes Brahms’ Horn Trio in E-Flat Major. Once again he brought his beautiful, lingering tone to the proceedings in a virtuoso performance by himself, Bax and Cole (above). Those wanting more horn should come Sunday afternoon, which opens with Bain playing two pieces for solo horn.
After the concert, on WEKU, Rogerson seems very pleased with the performance of his new work and his week in Lexington. He notes that his piece that the festival will present Sunday, a 2009 string quartet, is quite different from the dreamy world premiere.
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