The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Program notes at orchestra concerts almost always tell you where a work was premiered, usually well over a century ago, and we can only imagine what it was like to be there and here a work by, say, Ludwig Van Beethoven or Franz Schubert for the first time.
For the classical music fan, the experience of hearing a fresh new work can seem like something for generations past as we now just take in museum pieces.
That is changing though in Lexington, and Friday night’s Lexington Philharmonic concert was the biggest evidence yet that this is becoming a community interested in hearing new classical works by composers who are still with us, sometimes even in the same room. Commissions and world premieres have been rolled out by other organizations in Lexington, notably by the University of Kentucky’s ensembles and the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington.
But it is a powerful statement when the area’s flagship arts organization says it is going to prioritize new music and perform it on its major concert series.
Friday night we were treated to the world premiere of Daniel Kellogg‘s How Radiant the Dawn, and the operative word there is treat. The piece, the first in the Philharmonic’s Saykaly Garbulinska Composer-in-Residence program, is Kellogg’s musical interpretation of the sunrise. He said in Thursday night’s Kicked Back Classics event, a prelude to Friday’s concert, that it wasn’t a programatic piece, but it was easy to see it that way.
Dawn opened with fluttering flutes that recessed into a steady tone before resuming flight. Soon, other colors were streaking across a developing meoldy, somewhat discordant but working toward a blazing unity. Among the many pieces of Kellogg’s sunrise were moments like a glissando in the lower strings, like birds crossing the horizon, and a short violin solo by Daniel Mason that was reminiscent of the orange shaft of sunlight that fired across pink clouds Wednesday morning.
Soon the sun was up, and we were in Gershwin’s bustling city or Copland’s west, Kellogg’s marriage of lush strings and proud brass giving this a distinctly American feel.
May22Filed under: Classical Music, Norton Center for the Arts, Podcasts; Tagged as: Astor Piazolla, Centre College, Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, David Finkel, Escher String Quartet, Franz Schubert, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Jakor Koranyi, Joseph Silverstein, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Memorial Day weekend, Music@Menlo, Norton Center for the Arts, Orion String Quartet, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Stephen Collins Foster, Wu Han, Yura Lee
Click play to hear a podcast of our conversation with Wu Han and David Finkel.
The unplayed tune that has colored the Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass is a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic: Getting to Know You.
For the fourth consecutive Memorial Day weekend, the festival will bring together members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Central Kentucky classical music fans at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.
“I could feel there’s a sense of trust that’s been building up on the reputation and the quality of the music,” says pianist Wu Han, who co-directs the festival with her husband, cellist David Finkel.
She points out that in the festival’s first years, she and Finkel brought along other brand-name classical stars such as violinist Joseph Silverstein and the Orion String Quartet. This year, like last year, leans more on new faces. Last year’s fresh entry was the Escher String Quartet. This year, it’s some hot young soloists, including violinist/violist Yura Lee and cellist Jakor Koranyi.
That duo will play Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello, which earned them flat-out raves when they played it in New York last month. In his review for the New York Daily News, Howard Kissel acknowledged it was not a piece he was familiar with, but he was completely taken with Lee and Koranyi’s performance.
Offering performances like that put the festival, presented by Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts, on a trajectory it should be on, Wu Han says.
Aug28Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Music, Reviews, UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington; Tagged as: Akiko Tarumoto, Alessio Bax, Alfred Schnittke, Burchard Tang, Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Clancy Newman, Dream Sequence, Fasig-Tipton Pavilion, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Nathan Cole, Pizzicato Piece, Priscilla Lee
This could have easily been the Nathan Cole Show.
That was what the UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington hung its first edition in 2007: Hometown guy made good Nathan Cole, a violinist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, came back to Lexington to launch the chamber fest in the tres horsey venue of the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion, which usually hosts horse auctions.
But from the beginning, Cole, the festival’s artistic director, has made the event an ensemble effort, and that’s why it’s great.
Friday’s opening night concert gave the quintet of Cole, violinist Akiko Tarumoto, cellist Priscilla Lee, violist Burchard Tang and pianist Alessio Bax its best chance yet to show the depth of their skills with Alfred Schnittke’s Piano Quintet.
Bax opened the piece with great use of a verbal introduction, talking about the quintet’s painful origins. It was inspired by the tragic death of Schnittke’s mother who fell and froze to death in the streets of Moscow. Knowing the story gave the audience an on ramp to the quintet which challenged listeners with its quiet, menacing tones that provide lots of emotion but little conventional beauty. This is tough music to play, throwing the musicians little they are used to with abrupt starts and stops and challenging blends.
But, led by Bax, the group executed it flawlessly, allowing the listener to focus on the music’s mysterious allure.
The first half of Friday’s concert was bookended by smaller efforts, Bax and Tarumoto teaming to open the show with a spirited rendition of Johannes Brahms’ Sonatensatz: Scherzo in c minor, and guest composer and cellist Clancy Newman closing the first half with his solo composition Pizzicato Piece.
The cello work was a fun little jam, seeming to have roots in Newman’s rock band days. Saturday night, the festival’s core group will present the world premier of Newman’s new piano quintet Dream Sequence.
The funny thing watching the musicians play the distinctly modern Schnittke and Newman was knowing they would turn around and play Franz Schubert after intermission. Newman joined the string quartet for Schubert’s Quintet for Strings in D. While it was a return to traditional melodies and harmonies, the piece tapped some of the same emotions of the Schnittke and even gave Newman more pizzicato to play.
Though this group only assembles once a year, they are stunningly unified, and you have to think the next time they come town they ought to get into a recording studio.
The Chamber Music Festival of Lexington started on the strength of Cole’s talent as a violinist. It has become a testament to his humble skill as an artistic director.
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