The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
The Chamber Players of Central Kentucky’s concert on Sunday will pay tribute to a revered University of Kentucky music professor who died late last year.
Lucien Stark, who died Dec. 2 at the age of 83, joined the UK music faculty in 1976, after 15 years on the piano faculty at the George Peabody College in Nashville — now part of Vanderbilt University. He studied at numerous institutions including the Paris Conservatory, the Juilliard School of Music, and the University of Michigan, where he earned a Ph.D. in musical arts. After his retirement in 1994, he wrote two revered books on the music of Johannes Brahms that were published by Indiana University Press: A Guide to the Solo Songs of Johannes Brahms (1995) and Brahms’s Vocal Duets and Quartets with Piano: A Guide with Full Texts and Translations (1998).
“He wrote the books on Brahms’ vocal music with piano and, in retirement, added more than 60 transcriptions to the repertoire for two pianos, eight hands,” UK violin professor and Chamber Players member Daniel Mason wrote. “Lexington will have a chance to hear some of these Sunday.”
Mason and most of the musicians on Sunday’s concert were professional colleagues of Stark.
“I played with him in the Concord Trio for the first fifteen years I was here and it was my ‘finishing school,’” Mason wrote. “Impeccable musicianship, formidable intellect, and elegant taste are the descriptors that come to mind with Lucien.”
Musicians slated for Sunday’s concert, presented by the Chamber Music Society of Central Kentucky, include Mason, pianists Cliff Jackson and Irina Voro, cellist Benjamin Karp, soprano Catherine Clarke Nardolillo, and tenor Gregory Turay.
Also performing will be the Alabama-based Davis Piano Quartet, with which Stark collaborated to create transcriptions of dozens of works for two pianos and eight hands.
Quartet member Sandra Nelson is quoted in the concert program as writing that the group had difficulty finding repertoire to play until Stark, “turned his impeccable musicianship, formidable intellect, and elegant taste to arranging orchestral works for piano eight hands. We are now indebted to him for more than 60 arrangements of the great masters.” The Quartet will play six pieces at the 3 p.m. concert Sunday in the Singletary Center for the Arts Recital Hall.
Max Bruch is not exactly one of the Three Bs of classical music: Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.
“I don’t even know if he’d make a second tier of Three Bs,” says Daniel Mason, concertmaster of the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra.
But Bruch (1838-1920) did write an iconic work: his unique “Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor.” This month, Lexington has a chance to hear two live performances of this work.
On Friday night, rising violin star Arnaud Sussmann will perform the piece, which was written in 1866, with conductor Scott Terrell and the Lexington Philharmonic. Eight days later, on Feb. 20, international recording star Sarah Chang will play the concerto with conductor John Nardolillo and the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra. Chang released a recording of the concerto, along with Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto, last year.
To get a little perspective on the piece, I caught up with Mason and his concertmaster counterpart in the UK Symphony, Jessica Miskelly, to talk about the masterwork.
Question: I was looking up the Bruch concerto in iTunes, and there were recordings from Jascha Heifetz to Joshua Bell and everyone in between. Why is it so popular?
Mason: It’s very user-friendly. It’s the kind of piece you can learn for the first time as an advanced student, so for many violinists, it’s one of their early big pieces. That means it’s one of the pieces that tends to be most comfortable for life.
If you set a recipe for a violin concerto, the things that you would want as a violinist are all there in the Bruch concerto. For example, at the beginning of the piece, you don’t have to wait very long to play. When you do play, you play a beautiful, sonorous G-minor melody. It makes it very inviting to play because the sound on the open G-string on the violin is one of the better features of the instrument. So, at the beginning of the piece, it makes you as a player say, “Oh! Nice sound.” …
So you do that thing a little bit, and it lets you warm up and settle down, and then, bit by bit, are layered more demanding things which are written to show off the skill of the player, but not written in a way to be more difficult than they sound. …
It’s interesting that a composer such as Bruch, who is not one of the Three Bs, was able to pack so many good musical ideas into this one piece. If he had spread them out over several pieces, he would be a good composer of that rank. But because he was able to concentrate all those good ideas in one piece, that piece really makes the reputation of the composer. … You wonder, was this person always working below that level, or was he just working way above his level? How did that happen, that one real stroke of genius?
Miskelly: I can still remember the first time that I ever heard the piece. We were driving along in my parents’ car, and it came on halfway through the first movement, and then it went into that gorgeous second movement, and it gripped me. I probably had my mouth open the whole time. And I think it is for that second movement that violinists and audiences keep coming back to it over and over again. The melodic line, I can’t get over. He just wrote a really inspirational piece that I think speaks to many people.
Q: Both of you have played it as soloists. What is it like to play?
Mason: Everybody has recorded it. So the challenge is to play how you as an artist want to present it. Read the rest of this entry »
Morihiko Nakahara has only been in Columbia, S.C., for half a season. But Friday night in Lexington, he showed he’s already getting the hang of SEC cities.
Complimenting the Lexington Philharmonic Orchesrtra, which he was in the middle of conducting, he said it was holding up well for being in the middle of a conductor search.
“Having a new conductor every cycle is like your basketball team having a new coach every game,” Nakahara said to the audience in the Singletary Center for the Arts. He also threw in a knock against Florida for good measure, assuring the audience he would be long gone by the time the UK Wildcats play the University of South Carolina Gamecocks next (Jan. 31).
Friday night though, he was the man in the hot seat, the eighth conductor to step onto the podium and audition to succeed George Zack as the Lexington Philharmonic’s music director.
Before the concert, the sign outside the President’s Room at the Singletary Center said “Concert Preview,” but it felt more like Nakahara and moderator Joe Tackett’s floor show.
Fielding Tackett’s regular question as to when the maestro might program a bass concerto, Nakahara said, “I have done a tap dance concerto . . . never going to do that again. I wasn’t planning on a bass concerto, but there’s always a price.”
He also had a little fun with LOVE, the name of the viola ensemble that played in the lobby before the concert. Told the name was an acronym for Lexington’s Original Viola Ensemble, Nakahara asked, “There are unoriginal viola ensembles? It sounds like there’s some competition in this town.” (LOVE, by the way, played an appropriately love-ly pre-show set.)
It was a night for the chocolate of instruments (Joe!) and Nakahara talked about how the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, played by concertmaster Daniel Mason and UK viola professor Deborah Lander, spotlighted the viola section in addition to the viola soloist. He also talked about an underlying theme of dance in the concert, which included Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 and opened with Ballata Sinfonica by Japanese composer Akira Ifukube.
The Ifukube, by the way, seemed to be a big hit with the audience.
“That was awesome,” the woman sitting next to me said. “I was not prepared for how wonderful it was.”
Others, during intermission, commented on being pleasantly surprised by the piece by Ifukube, best known for scoring Godzilla movies.
On stage, Nakahara was the first of seven male conductor candidates thus far to break from the traditional white tie and tails ensemble. He opted for a tuxedo jacket and open-collar shirt, which made him look very comfortable.
~ Loren Tice’s review (including a Mamma Mia! reference.)
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich