The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Aug29Filed under: Classical Music, Lexington Philharmonic, Music, Reviews, UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington; Tagged as: Alessio Bax, Alexander Fiterstein, Fasig-Tipton Pavilion, Geometries, Lexington Philharmonic, Olivier Messiaen, ping pong balls, Priscilla Lee, Quartet for the End of Time, Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A K. 581, Roger Zare, UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, White on White, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The fourth annual UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington came to an appropriate conclusion Sunday afternoon with a celebration of the composer.
The festival was moving in this direction all weekend, starting Friday with a performance of Olivier Messiaen’s aching Quartet for the End of Time, a piece virtually inseparable from the circumstances of its composition. Saturday brought the world premiere of Roger Zare‘s wonderful new piece, Geometries, along with the announcement that the festival will be stepping up its commissioning efforts by joining forces with the Lexington Philharmonic.
Sunday’s family-friendly finale paired Zare’s music with the work of a man some would call the ultimate composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The performance essentially turned the stage of the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion into Zare’s living room, with his fabulously talented friends dropping by to help him get over composer’s block.
“You’ve been up here decomposing for weeks,” pianist Alessio Bax said, giving Zare a book about Mozart to inspire him to pick up his ridiculously large pencil and start writing again.
The first half of the concert featured performances of Mozart’s music followed by Zare pieces with similar instrumentation – a movement from Wolfie’s Concerto for Clarinet in A, K. 622, followed by Zare’s White on White, for the same clarinet-piano teaming. (Leaving the concert, a clarinetist friend of mine was intent upon getting hold of White on White.)
That and the program finale, a splendid performance of Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A, K. 581, highlighted one of the delights of this year’s event: the performances of guest clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein.
Adding a wind instrument to the proceedings, which had previously been all strings, brought a new color and vibrance to the event. And Fiterstein’s deceptively easygoing style made him a pleasure to watch as a soloist and in ensembles.
What many will likely remember from this performance is Zare’s Dark and Stormy Night, which featured Zare and Bax placing ping pong balls on the strings of the Steinway grand piano on the stage. It started with Zare placing a few in the instrument to Bax’s protests. Then, demonstrating the spooky ping the weightless spheres produced, Zare and Bax added more and more until the composer eventually emptied a box of balls into the Steinway.
Peppered through the performances were dialogue between the musicians about composition and inpiration, touching on ideas such as Mozart’s own fears about what people would think of his work and that his inspirations often came from simple places.
There was also amusing musician banter. When cellist Priscilla Lee arrived as the last player in the skit, saying the group needed someone to hold down the bass line, Bax protested, “I have a left hand.”
The musicians demonstrated that they take their music, not themselves, seriously.
In the second half, Zare insisted the players perform an excerpt from Geometries before the Mozart quintet saying, “Most audiences would rather end with Mozart than Zare.”
Probably true. But this event does seem to have a thing for 21st century composers.
Aug28Filed under: Central Kentucky Arts News, Classical Music, Lexington Philharmonic, Music, UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington; Tagged as: Akiko Tarumoto, Alessio Bax, Alexander Fiterstein, Burchard Tang, Fasig-Tipton Pavilion, Geometries, Nathan Cole, Priscilla Lee, Roger Zare, Scott Terrell, UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington
Saturday was a playful and eventful night for the 2010 UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington.
For the third consecutive year, the festival presented the world premiere of a piece commissioned by the festival. But before that, festival president Charles H. Stone, artistic director Nathan Cole and Lexington Philharmonic music director Scott Terrell made some news.
They announced that the four-year-old festival and nearly 50-year-old orchestra will join forces to commission new works. Every two years, Terrell and Cole will collaborate on selecting a composer who will write new works for both entities.
Stone said that for several years the festival and the Philharmonic had been, “cross pollinating to find a program that we could come to that would benefit both organizations and shine a bright light on the musical community in Lexington.”
Terrell, joined on stage by the Philharmonic’s new executive director Allison Kaiser, said the conversation about co-commissioning began in the midst of conversations about the orchestration of Daniel Thomas Davis’ Book of Songs and Visions, which was the festival’s first world premier in 2008. Terrell said he had commissioned the orchestration of that chamber work while he was resident conductor of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra in South Carolina.
The commission got put on hold and Terrell ended up getting hired by the Philharmonic in 2009, so the orchestral premiere will now, somewhat coincidentally, take place in the same city as the chamber premiere for the work. Future commissions will not necessarily be variations of the same work.
“Composers are hungry for much work and new pieces to be written,” Terrell said. “The venues are very slim for those opportunities to exist.”
Terrell said the commission, starting in 2011, will be for the chamber festival’s Saykaly-Garbulinska Composer-in-Rsidence to be the Philharmonic’s composer-in-residence the following season.
Prior to Saturday’s concert, Terrell said he had checked and could not find a similar commissioning collaboration anywhere in the country.
“This will draw enormous attention to us on a national scale,” Terrell said to the audience.
Terrell and Stone said, before the concert, they were in talks with a composer for the first joint commission, but were not ready to announce who it will be.
Affirmation of the composer-in-residence program came immediately after the announcement with the world premiere of Geometries by Roger Zare.
Aug28Filed under: Classical Music, Music, Reviews, Uncategorized; Tagged as: Akiko Tarumoto, Alessio Bax, Alex Ross, Alexander Fiterstein, Bohuslav Martinů, Burchard Tang, Fasig-Tipton Pavilion, Felix Mendelssohn, Geometries, Nathan Cole, Olivier Messiaen, Priscilla Lee, Quartet for the End of Time, Roger Zare, UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington
Alexander Fiterstein ended his wholly appropriate introduction of Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time saying, “I hope you enjoy it.”
It was a somewhat awkward thing to say, given the nature of the piece. But even those of us who wrestle with the English language daily struggle with how to describe the fulfillment derived from works that are beautiful, profound, and intriguing, but hard to enjoy.
Messiaen’s 1940 masterpiece finished what was already a great start to the fourth annual UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington at the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion.
The program opened with violinist Akiko Tarumoto and violist Burchard Tang performing Bohuslav Martinů’s Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola, which you could legitimately enjoy. Tarumoto and Tang stood and delivered the piece which followed a familiar Allegro-Andante-Allegro format, allowing the musicians chances to highlight their instruments’ voices, particularly with spirited exchanges of phrases in the final movement.
Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 2 in c minor, which featured Tarumoto, cellist Priscilla Lee and pianist Alessio Bax, was also a work of classical delight, demanding feats of prestidigitation from all the musicians and a thrilling listening experience for the audience.
That was the enjoyable part and a portion of the amazing evening. After the intermission is where it got profound.
Messiaen’s Quartet was composed in a German POW camp in 1940, as Fiterstein said, reading from an account by the New Yorker magazine’s peerless music critic, Alex Ross. If he had not told us that, we still would have sensed it in the performance by the clarinetist, Bax, Lee, and violinist Nathan Cole.
Messiaen composed the piece for the unusual ensemble of instruments, because that’s what he had to work with in the camp. The sensitivity the musicians showed in their early performances took full effect here, in different ways. Feats of timing were more in the service of stretching a phrase, rather than stopping on a dime. Each player had arresting solos, Fiterstein being the first as a voice rising from a silent hell. By the time Cole closed the work with Bax, the rapt expressions on Lee and Fiterstein’s faces told the story of what an engrossing piece and performance this was.
Cole, the festival’s artistic director, said on Wednesday this is not a piece he would cue up to listen to in his car or his home, that the communal experience was essential to hearing it. And his point is well taken. The Quartet is music born from community, premiered in community, and some moments that seem awkward on recordings make sense as we all sit in quiet contemplation.
I don’t know that I will wait until the next time I can hear it live to re-experience Messiaen’s quartet. But I do know that whenever I do listen to it, I will be transported back to this late August Friday night at Fasig-Tipton.
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