Concert Report of live classical performance staged in Chicago as of February 8, 2013. The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Michael Hill Series: Blockbuster, The Harris Theatre at Millennium Park
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Sonata in E-flat major for Violin and Piano, Op.18 (1887-88)
Strauss started working on the E-flat major Sonata for violin and piano in 1887 and was finished in 1888. The sonata is his final composition using classical structure models and was the last piece of his orthodox chamber music. Strauss composed the sonata when he was in love with soprano opera singer Pauline de Ahna who became his wife later in 1894. The sonata is a legitimate and potent source of his inspiration.
This piece lasts approximately 30 minutes; the first movement opens with a piano solo and followed by violin thematic material, which is almost operatic in its broad proportion. Strauss made this sonata interesting by including scherzo-like passages within the melody, almost on the same scale as a concerto. The middle movement Andante Cantabile (Improvisation) is elegant like Schubert’s dramatic melodies. The return to the main theme links Strauss’s theme with that of the adagio of Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata.
Ned Rorem (b.1923)
Aftermath for Voice, Violin Cello, and Piano (2001-02)
I. The Drum, II. Tygers of Wrath, III. The Fury of the Aerial Bombardment, IV. The Park, V. Sonnet LXIV, VI. On His Seventy-Fifth Birthday,VII. Grief, VIII. Remorse for any Death, IX. Losses, X. Then
Rorem is an American composer who was educated in Chicago and praised for his song settings. He has been called “The world’s best composer of art songs” by Time magazine and received the Pulitzer Prize for his orchestra suite Air Music in 1976. Not only a composer, he is also the author of sixteen books, including his diaries, lectures and criticism. His Avant-grade compositions are in a chromatic tonal idiom.
In August 2001, Chicago’s Ravinia Festival organization commissioned Rorem to compose music for the festival’s new vocal chamber music program. Soon after that, the September 11th attack destroyed New York’s Twin Towers. Rorem, as a New Yorker, was disturbed by the attack. He then wrote Aftermath, a song cycle based on Anti-war poems. The poems of Aftermath are written by a wide range of well-known poets, from William Blake and Shakespeare to Richard Eberhardt and Jorge Luis Borges. Besides war, Rorem says that in his composer’s note of the Aftermath “Having lost a great love three years ago, my mood at the close of my life is one of quizzical melancholy”. The songs of war and love in Aftermath, were written in New York and premiered on July 27, 2002 in Bennett-Gordon Hall at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park.
Cesar Franck (1822-1890)
Quintet in F minor for Piano Two Violins, Viola, and Cello (1879)
In 1885, Franck was made a Chevalier of the French Legion d’honneur which was established by Napoleon Bonaparte. His music is often contrapuntally complex using harmonic language which shows his influence from Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner.
Franck’s Piano Quintet in F Minor was composed in the winter of 1878-1879 and was dedicated to his student, the young composer Augusta Holmes. Franck’s biographer Vincent said, “I am completely infatuated with the beautiful Augusta!” She was born in Paris of Irish parents and displayed herself as a poet, singer, and musician in her mid-20s when Franck composed his quintet. Franck’s wife, Felicite applauded the music but was incensed because Augusta was a bigger source than music content for Franck’s music.
“Ned Rorem.” Boosey & Hawkes (2012), Accessed February 26,
Kennedy, Michael. The Master Musicians: Richard Strauss Great Britain: J.M. Dent &
Sons Ltd., 1976, 43.
Rodda, Richard E. Program Notes to Cesar Franck: Quintet in F minor for Piano Two
Violins, Viola, and Cello. Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Michael
Hill Series: Blockbusters. Performed by Gilbert Kalish, piano, Ani Kavafian, violin, Ida Kavafian, violin, Richard O’Neil, viola, Mihai Marica, cello. Harris Theatre at Millenium Park, Chicago, IL, February 8, 2013
On Friday, February 8, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. in Harris Theatre, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center presented its Michael Hill Series: Blockbusters. In a concert of works that truly could be called chamber music blockbusters, Strauss, Franck and Rorem provided the most expressive and powerful pieces of the chamber music. Baritone Randall Scarlatti was joined by wonderful artists including Gil Kalish (piano), Cloria Chien (piano), Ani Kavafian (violin), Ida Kavafian (violin), Richard O’Neill (viola), and Mihai Marica (cello).
The Blockbusters concert opened with Strauss’s Sonata in E-flat major for Violin and Piano, op.18. Violinist Ida Kavafian who has been an artist of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center since 1989, performed with pianist Gloria Chien, a young Steinway artist who covered for Anne-Marie McDermott. Due to a family emergency, McDermott was unable to perform this evening. It began so dramatically with an introduction which made the violinist play over-energetically to produce more sounds on the wide stage that had more than 1500 seats. As I worked as a page-turner for the concert, I noticed that in a couple of the places in the second movement, the violinist stretched some passages extremely. This seemed out of context and way too expressive because the sonata is pushy music. On the other hand, the pianist was moving forward in the last movements a lot, which has to be Andante-Allegro. There were some wonderful moments that I can still remember; particularly when the players both came on a rhythmic accent after one had a long rest they were landing exactly together.
When audiences were warmed up with Strauss’s sonata they were ready for Rorem’s Aftermath which is appropriate piece for the concert named Blockbusters. The Aftermath was sung by Randall Scarlata (baritone) who has appeared as a soloist with American famous symphonies and in international music festivals. Joining artists— violinist Ani Kavafian who is a professor at Yale University, a young cellist Mihai Marica, pianist Gilbert Kalish who has been a Boston Symphony Chamber Player for 30 years—did really good job for a songs cycle, Aftermath. Being a pianist I admired Gilbert’s playing in the way he keeps pulls very well that he had to do best in chamber group. Some of the fast movements started little faster than a pianist can handle but no matter how fast it was Gilbert was in a good shape to play even though he missed some notes. Since it’s a songs cycle the most important role of this chamber group was the singer’s performance in the production. I really liked Scarlata’s rhythmical-in-tempo singing which seemed so professional. Also I realized he was projecting huge sound and the character of the piece.
Following 15 minutes intermission, the chamber group was joined by violist Richard O’Neil, who is South Korean, the young star sold over 150,000 copies of albums. The quintet performed Cesar Franck’s Quintet in F minor for Piano, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello. Sister Kavafians were amazing company for each other as it made me guess they played together for a while. Even though, first violinist Ani Kavafian seemed to be “a woman in a rush” from the beginning of the piece, she has really good technique that helped the performance to be successful. I found really good playing from cellist Marica that I didn’t quit hear from previous playing Aftermath. Since I was sitting next to the pianist I couldn’t hear much from violist Richard’s playing because he was so far from me. I assume his sound projected to the audience well.
The overall concert went very well that I enjoyed so much and glad I was a page-turner. I am proud of Gloria Chien who had covered for Anne because Gloria had only two days to remember Strauss’s sonata and had a chance to rehearse only once or twice. The concert was held in good concert space, Harris Theater, that’s so huge for classical concerts. I would really like to see next performance of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center which will be organized again by pianist Wu Han.