Frank Martin, Trio on Irish Folk Tunes

October 24th, 2017

Frank Martin, 1890-1974

Trio sur des mélodies populaires irlandaises (Trio on Irish Folk Tunes), 1925

Frank MartinThe 20th century Swiss composer Frank Martin is not even mentioned in standard “listener’s guides” to Classical music, chamber music or otherwise. A descendant of French Huguenots (devout Calvinists who fled persecution in France and resettled in various places including Geneva), Martin would turn to composing deeply religious choral and instrumental music in his final years producing some of the most highly regarded sacred vocal works of the 20th century. But his instrumental music is equally marvelous. Martin’s most widely known work is the novel Petite symphonie concertante featuring piano, harpsichord, harp and two small string orchestras. Martin played piano and harpsichord and throughout all of his music he displays a great sensitivity to timbre and its combinations in dazzling ensemble textures. Even in a symphonic concerto, he displays a masterful chamber music sensibility. Read the rest of this entry »

Beethoven, String Quartet No. 12 in E-flat Major, Op. 127

October 22nd, 2017

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

String Quartet No. 12 in E-flat Major, Op. 127, 1824-1825

Ludwig van BeethovenBeethoven’s Op. 127 is the first of his legendary “late quartets,” six string quartets that comprise Beethoven’s final and perhaps greatest musical achievement. Besides some aborted sketches, he had not worked significantly in the genre for over a decade since the Op. 95 “Serioso” quartet of 1810. In the interim, Beethoven composed his final piano sonatas, the Missa Solemnis and the 9th Symphony, all magnificent works of a towering stature. The last piano sonatas, “late” in the same profound sense as the late quartets would be, inaugurated several of the stylistic traits of his final period: innovative forms bordering on fantasia, sublime beauty, deeply intimate emotion, epic lengths, superhuman virtuosity and a beautiful obsession with seemingly inexhaustible variation. Beethoven’s final music seems to plumb the depths from the personal to the universal and still, somehow, beyond: transcendental. Read the rest of this entry »

Hindemith, String Quartet No. 4, Op. 22

October 22nd, 2017

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)

String Quartet No. 4, Op. 22, 1921

Paul HindemithThe chamber music of Paul Hindemith is rare on the concert stage these days. This is somewhat ironic, perhaps doubly so. For most of his life in the first half of the 20th century, Hindemith was considered one of Germany’s greatest composers. In addition, one of his chief aesthetic concerns was Gebrauchsmusik, music for use in everyday life with a practical purpose. In opposition to the increasingly arcane and alienating music from a musical ivory tower pursing “art for art’s sake,” Hindemith hoped to engage the common man, fulfilling his need to make and enjoy music as a natural capacity. Nonetheless, after his death, Hindemith and his prolific output have seemed to largely elude both the avant-garde and the man on the street.

Hindemith was an immensely gifted and multifaceted musician. Showing early promise and becoming a working professional by his early teens, he eventually learned to play just about every instrument in the orchestra, performed as a soloist (viola and violin), toured with a string quartet for several years (the original Amar Quartet which he founded), conducted, taught, became a pioneer in early music performance, wrote numerous books and still managed to compose prolifically and skillfully in every standard musical genre. Read the rest of this entry »

Gold Coast Chamber Players, Family Business

September 23rd, 2017

Family Business

For a program by the Gold Coast Chamber Players

Fanny MendelssohnMusical genius can be found in musicians and composers from all kinds of circumstances, even against all odds. But history shows a vivid pattern of musical families, even dynasties. The latest research suggests that musical aptitude and talent is rooted in nature, in our genes to some extent, as well as nurture: how that musical proclivity is encouraged, supported and nourished. With this in mind, it is perhaps not surprising that music “runs” in families: a combination of genes and lifestyle. This marvelous program is inspired by musical families, the Bach’s, the Mozart’s, and the Mendelssohn’s. In addition, Family Business highlights the issue of nature without nurture, where 18th and 19th century women, daughters, sisters and wives, were socially discouraged from pursuing their musical gifts as their male counterparts were free to do. This resonates with contemporary debates on gender in the tech world. It is refreshing to note that Mozart and Mendelssohn both had sisters who were equal prodigies, while the very first computer programmer was a woman: Ada, Countess of Lovelace. Read the rest of this entry »

Yinam Leef, Triptych (Homage to Oedeon Partos)

September 5th, 2017

Yinam Leef (1953)

Triptych (Homage to Oedeon Partos) for clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano (1997)

Yinam LeefThe recipient of numerous prestigious awards, Yinam Leef is an Israeli composer, born in Jerusalem, educated in Israel and the United States and currently the chairman of the Department of Composition, Conducting and Theory at the Jerusalem Rubin Academy and Dance. His composition teachers have included Mark Kopytman, Richard Wernick, George Rochberg, George Crumb and Luciano Berio. Leef’s substantial output includes concerti, symphonies, choral works and a variety of chamber music including two string quartets. In his book, Twenty Israeli Composers (1997), Robert Fleisher summarizes that Leef’s works are “characterized by his threefold commitment: to universal, Western-oriented post-serial composition; to local or locally echoing musical traditions of Jewish and Middle Eastern modality and timbre; and to the young Israeli (“Canaanite”) search for musical identity.” Leef composed his Triptych in 1997 in homage to legendary Hungarian-Israeli composer and violist Oedeon Partos who was principal violist of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, a director of the Rubin Academy in Tel Aviv and now regarded as one of Israel’s most important founding composers. Read the rest of this entry »

Stravinsky, Suite from L’Histoire du Soldat

September 5th, 2017

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Suite from L’Histoire du Soldat (for violin, clarinet and piano), (1919)

Igor StravinskyBy 1919, just barely into his first decade as a professional composer, Stravinsky was well on his way towards becoming one of the most important and sensational new composers of the 20th century. His successful partnership with Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes in Paris yielded three stunning ballet scores for massive orchestra, the works for which Stravinsky is most famous today: The Firebird (1910), Petroushka (1911) and the Rite of Spring (1913). Despite his stunning achievements, 1919 found Stravinsky stranded in Lausanne, Switzerland in rather dire financial straits. WWI had made a desperate shambles of Europe sapping any hope for staging large concerts or obtaining new commissions while the Russian Revolution cut Stravinsky off from his family fortune as well as any hopes for ongoing royalty payments. Rising to the occasion, nonetheless, Stravinsky and his French-speaking, Swiss writer friend Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz schemed a new work to be “narrated, performed and danced” by a small troupe that could easily be mounted in small, makeshift venues, even outdoors, all with modest costs. The scenario was derived from Alexander Afanasiev’s collection of Russian folk tales, a story about a soldier returning home from the front with a magic violin that he foolishly trades with the devil for a book promising great riches in what proves to be an ill-fated Faustian bargain. Read the rest of this entry »

Dohnányi, Piano Quintet in C Minor, Op. 1

May 27th, 2017

Ernő Dohnányi [Ernst von Dohnanyi], 1877-1960

Piano Quintet in C Minor, Op. 1, 1895

Ernő DohnányiErnő Dohnányi is apt to be the greatest composer you have never heard. He is celebrated as the “greatest” Hungarian “musician” after Franz Liszt, great because his musicianship encompassed his diversity of profound gifts as a epic concert pianist, tireless conductor, superb composer, educator, administrator and ambassador that essentially encapsulated the entirely of Hungarian classical music culture for decades leading up to WWII. Likely owing to his international career and a bit of marketing, he often went by the more German version of his name, Ernst von Dohnanyi without the odd punctuation.

Dohnányi wrote nearly a dozen chamber music masterworks that should be more frequently played. His two most famous works are a Serenade for string trio and this extraordinary piano quintet, the first of two. Read the rest of this entry »

Shostakovich, 5 Pieces for 2 Violins

May 27th, 2017

Dmitri Shostakovich, 1906-1975

5 Pieces for 2 Violins (arrangement)

Dmitri ShostakovichShostakovich is frankly a 20th century Beethoven. He wrote tons of symphonies, string quartets, film scores, piano music, operas and songs, and his music seems to speak so vividly to so many listeners. While much of his music is epic, intense, dark and rife with spiky modernisms, Shostakovich composed many beautiful, “classical” pieces full of lyricism, personality, fine craftsmanship and sheer musical delight. Among his incidental music, ballets and suites you will find many gems, the likes of which inspired Lev Atovmian, a student of Shostakovich, to arrange these five pieces for violin duo with piano accompaniment. As a very young man, Shostakovich had a job playing piano at the theatre for silent movies improvising a live soundtrack on the fly. These vignettes make a reel of compelling scenes, each one a little short story including a prelude, an elegy and three different dances, each more lively than the last.

Rimsky-Korsakov, Piano Trio in C Minor, (finished by Maximilian Steinberg)

April 30th, 2017

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, 1844-1908

Piano Trio in C Minor, 1879 (finished by Maximilian Steinberg in 1939)

Nikolai Rimsky-KorsakovRimsky-Korsakov was a highly significant musical figure within late 19th century Russia whose influence would reverberate westward making a strong impression on Debussy, Ravel and other 20th century composers. He is celebrated for his brilliant and original orchestration in such classics as Capriccio Espagnol, the Russian Easter Festival Overture, and Scheherazade that expanded the orchestral palette along with a new exotic “Orientalisim” that ultimately become inspiration for the French impressionists. Rimsky-Korsakov is often regarded as the chief “architect” of Russian Nationalism during an age when composers across Europe were seeking to express their native cultures, a diversity of “otherness” rising against the fundamentally Austro-Germanic aesthetic of the classical canon. Perhaps the most vivid expression of Nationalism was opera with its natural ability to leverage the mother tongue as well as indigenous folklore traditions. Rimsky-Korsakov thought of himself primarily as an opera composer producing a rich oeuvre comprising at least 15 operas, a further source orchestral suites and extracts associated with his fame. It is therefore somewhat surprising to learn that he composed chamber music, particularly considering some additional details of his historical and cultural context. Read the rest of this entry »

Shostakovich, String Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 68

April 22nd, 2017

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

String Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 68, (1944)

Dmitri ShostakovichSince the latter part of the 20th century following his death in 1975, the string quartet cycle of Dmitri Shostakovich has come to be regarded as extraordinarily significant. While his fifteen symphonies command attention and demonstrate his creative and prodigious career, they were large spectacles staged for grand public expression subject to broad scrutiny by a totalitarian regime, subject, as well, to the changing complex public image Shostakovich chose, or was forced, to display. The string quartets are different. They are private, personal, intimate and true. They embody music Shostakovich wrote for colleagues, friends, family and himself. And it is particularly this dichotomous context that makes the fifteen string quartets so compelling. Within the music, one finds startling and original music of profound, visceral affect, ample creative genius, but also something of the actual life of Shostakovich: a personal diary of poignant reactions, reflections and dark visions. As the (incomplete) cycle spans some thirty-six years of his life, from the age of thirty-two to less than a year before his death, one can follow the quartets and thereby follow Shostakovich, an immensely creative and sensitive Soviet citizen weathering the myriad personal and global devastations of the 20th century. Read the rest of this entry »