Posts Tagged ‘Brahms’

La Jolla SummerFest Begins With Compelling “Viennese Masters”

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

by Barry Jagoda

One of the highlights of many Saturday afternoons years ago in my former residence city of Washington, DC, was the monthly chamber music concerts performed in the high-ceiling home of a dear friend, a musical connoisseur.  I thought of those dreamy days while enjoying the magic, Saturday night, August 8,  featuring music from Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms during the opening weekend of this year’s La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest.

We rejoiced back then in DC of having the inspiration of a trio, or perhaps a string quartet, providing an hour of beautiful music.  But now a SummerFest patron could bath in not only a flautist and two string players presenting a delicious early  serenade written by a young (and already highly accomplished) Beethoven, a perfectly harmonious Schubert string quartet and, finally, six fine players passionately driving a Brahms composition, lead by SummerFest director, the great violinist Cho-Liang Lin.

 

Cho-Liang Lin

 

 

This wonderful summer music festival annually brings to the fortunate attendee, who helps fill the auditorium at the San Diego Contemporary Art Museum, and nearby venues, on evenings and afternoons in August, the special joy of hearing  classical music that is among the world’s best.

To hear flute player Catherine Ransom Karoly join up with violinist Augustin Hadelich and violist Ori Kam for, “Serenade in D major,” light music written in 1801 by Beethoven (just after he had produced his first symphony), was the perfect way to draw in an audience for more than two hours of chamber music.  Light but compelling!

 

Catherine Ransom Karoly

 

 

One might not have known of the origin of the name of the Escher String Quartet, the world famous group brought on to play Schubert’s “String Quartet in A Minor.”   The name is derived from the Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher’s method of interplay between individual elements working together to make a whole.  This was on brilliant display by violinists Adam Barnett-Hart and Aaron Boyd with Pierre Lapointe on  viola and Brook Speltz, the cellist, in their rendition of  the A minor quartet, thought by many to be Schubert’s finest in the genre.  The standing ovation indicated a sophisticated audience who agreed.

Escher String Quartet

After an intermission six musicians came on stage for Brahms’ “Sextet for Strings in B-flat Major,” which SummerFest Scholar-in-Residence Eric Bromberger (whose prelude lectures and program notes lead paths to understanding for the sophisticated and the casual listener alike) says influences of Schubert, Beethoven and Haydn have been heard in this composition but “the ‘Sextet’ already shows Brahms’ own unmistakable voice and is generally full of sunlight.”  True enough but this is a long piece of chamber music, going on for more than 45 minutes.  Maintaining interest was the wonderful passion demonstrated by the group of musicians (Gary Hoffman and Joshua Roman, cellists; Toby Hoffman and Heiichiro Ohyama, violists; and Kyoko Takezawa and Director Lin on violins) who were brought together for this complex and massive piece.

In a coincidence all three composers were 27 years old when they produced the three pieces under review.  They all have deep connections with the music capital of Austria so the title of the evening’s performance, “Viennese Masters,” is perfectly appropriate.   Not in our nation’s capital, nor even in Vienna itself, is one likely to be more compellingly treated to great performances.  SummerFest continues through August 28.

 

CHAMBER MUSIC AND ROMANCE IN LA JOLLA

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Outside there was a beautiful sunset over the Pacific.   Inside, on Saturday evening May 12, there was an even more romantic scene, as the La Jolla Music Society featured a concert of chamber music by Beethoven and Brahms, staring the world-famous duo of cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han.

The two, recently named 2012 Musicians of the Year by the on-line publication “Musical America,” have been married since 1985 and their mutual admiration had to be obvious to everyone who could plainly see them repeatedly turn over their shoulders to the other with smiles of appreciation and more.

While the program aimed to focus on the theme of how Brahms responded to Beethoven, even one trying hard to focus on the composers and the performance had to know that there was also a long-time love affair being played out on stage.

As this captivating event was being prepared for the stage, at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s Sherwood Auditorium, already under way was prelude lecture on music history by the highly informative Eric Smigel, music professor from San Diego State University.  His 30-minute talk, titled “Hearing a Giant’s Footsteps,” set the scene for an evening of serious chamber music, although, arguably, the Brahms-Beethoven competition was probably overstated.

Johannes Brahms, who lived from 1833 to 1897, and was known to be intimidated by his predecessor, had somehow to cope with Beethoven’s everlasting brilliance.  Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827), of course, knew he was good.  He has been quoted as saying he was certain his compositions would have a long life, perhaps being remembered for fifty years after his death. This may count as the all time understatement of musical history.

As it turned out, though the historical, cultural and musical precedent of Beethoven was in the air, according to the evening’s program notes (co-written by cellist Finckel), Brahms revered Johannes Bach above all other composers.  So, while the concert was titled “Brahms as the Next Beethoven,” the four pieces on the program could be seen as stand-alone works.

The concert never lived up to it’s billing of a competition between Beethoven and Brahms.  In fact, the two Beethoven works—Sonata No. 2 in G Minor and 12 Variations in G Major—did not bring the magnificent sparkle one normally associates with the world’s finest composer.  On the other hand, Brahms Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1 and Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2, were clearly favorites of the performers and the audience.

Han took the stage in a cloak of many colors, anchored by a pair of blue suede high heels.  Comparatively Finckel was understated in a black suit with red bow tie.  Seeing these two world famous musicians made one want to know more about their personal lives.

Finckel and Wu have been long-time artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and are also co-directors of the Music@Menlo Festival, now in its tenth year in the Bay Area.  They have an 18-year-old daughter, Lilian.   The family portrait from the video linked here,  and shot at the Aspen Music Festival in 2008, is helpful.   Lilian was then a very young teenager:

http://youtu.be/wpE-e8h1rak

At the evening’s end, the extremely charming Han announced an encore by  saying, “And now we would like to play a Chopin sonata, the very first song we learned to play together, and the story goes from there.”