From the blog

Elizabeth King’s writes about the Bach Cello Suites

Notes on the Bach Suites – By Elizabeth King Despite their fame and popularity, the six suites on tonight’s program have a foggy origin. They were written sometime between 1717 and 1723 during Bach’s service to Prince Leopold in Cöthen. At this period of the Baroque, the cello would have been a highly unusual choice of instrumentation for solo pieces, its role most often relegated to accompanying. So whether these suites originated for another stringed instrument or as we hear them today is unclear. They could have been written for the 5 string viola pomposa, or the miniature violoncello da spalla (both played on the shoulder like a violin). More appropriate to the Baroque period, they probably were written without a single instrument in mind – just whatever instrument was convenient. During the 19th century, these pieces fell out of the repertoire, and were mostly relegated to the non-serious status of etudes or student pieces. In 1890, a thirteen-year-old Pablo Casals discovered an edition in a music shop in Barcelona. He became the first modern-era cellist of stature to popularize them as concert pieces, and audiences everywhere since have been glad of it. The opening of Bach’s first cello suite reassures us that everything is okay. (What a terrific way to begin two hours!) In the classical tradition, composers mostly relied on a specific harmonic formula to create structure across a musical piece: a statement of the tonic key, a migration to the dominant key, and a return to the tonic key. As a result, a movement lasting many minutes feels satisfying and complete. In the Prelude of the G major Suite, Bach makes the full circle in the first eight phrases in approximately twenty seconds – a grand journey in miniature. All at once, we are given both the dramatic…

Chamber Music Big and Small

– by CMSCVA Artistic Director James Wilson It’s summer time, and for a classical musician that usually means festival time, a point in the year where I put aside my usual projects and groups, and play with a more diverse group of colleagues in far-flung places. If you’re lucky like I am, this means going to some very interesting locations and experiencing completely different types of music-making. Over the next couple weeks, I would like to report from some of these festivals as a sort of first-person view of chamber music offerings. Just having returned from playing in the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival, one of the world’s biggest and most diverse classical festivals, I wanted to write a short blog piece about it. It’s really extraordinary, and in a couple postings from last year, I outlined what makes it so amazing and characterful. You can read these pieces here: http://beautyoffew.blogspot.fi/2013_07_01_archive.html Being in Kuhmo made me think a lot about the theme of “large verses small.” The obvious starting point is physical – it is a huge music festival held in a small rural town, and there is a lot of energy and friction that results from this contrast. Musically, Kuhmo thrives on large and small, not only as a concept but as numbers. The Artistic Director, Vladimir Mendelssohn, is a genius at putting together unexpected programs that capitalize on the quantity and quality of musicians he has at hand. For instance, one concert consisting almost solely of piano pieces by Liszt, Debussy and Granados, ended with a chamber orchestral piece of 20+ people playing Respighi’s “Trittico Bottechelliano.” All of this contrast is entertaining and definitely keeps the ears wide open for experiencing sound. But it also made me think about the emotional impact of music and how that also can…

Notes on our Feb 9 concert, “The French Connection.”

Notes on the “The French Connection.”                      – by Carsten Schmidt The first half of the seventeenth century saw the evolution of a particularly French way of composing music for solo harpsichord.  It was by no means the first time the harpsichord was elevated to solo status, nor was it the only place where this was happening.  But French composers placed an unusual emphasis on the sensuous and unique sound properties that this plucked keyboard instrument is capable of producing.  The impetus for this may very well have come from the close ties of those early harpsichordists to their lutenist colleagues.  Not only did they initially share some of the same repertoire- a fair number of lute pieces are transmitted in harpsichord transcriptions- but it is quite likely that the earliest French harpsichordists were in fact also lute players themselves.  This was quite different from most of the other countries where solo harpsichord repertoires emerged – in the Low Countries and Italy, for instance, there was a much closer connection with the world of the organ. At the core of this new musical creation is an adaptation of lute techniques, which became known on as style brise or luthe, a breaking of chords in gentle and often extraordinarily creative and expressive ways. Today’s program traces some of the French contributions to the harpsichord repertoire over almost a century, with works by three members of the Couperin family, D’Anglebert, and DuPhly.  Alongside you will hear works by three German composers, Froberger, Muffat, and J.S. Bach, music that would be inconceivable without the innovations of their French colleagues. The profound influence that this French repertoire had is not limited to the Baroque era.  Chopin, Schumann, and Rachmaninoff most certainly didn’t know a single note of Louis Couperin or D’Angleber, yet their own keyboard…

An Interview with Harpsichordist Carsten Schmidt

– by CMSCVA Artistic Director James Wilson Carsten Schmidt will be performing two concerts of solo music for harpsichord, on February 8 and 9, 2014. This is the first time CMSCVA has presented a recital composed exclusively of early keyboard music. We thought we would interview Carsten and hear some of his thoughts on the concerts. JW   So I’ll start with the obvious question. Why should a chamber music lover  – someone who likes listening to Brahms trios and Beethoven quartets –  come hear you play a recital of harpsichord music? CS   Historically, almost all solo music for harpsichord was written for very intimate settings. It’s true chamber music and often the character of the pieces reflect that. JW   You’ll be playing  two programs this weekend featuring French repertoire. What is special about the character of those pieces? CS   Often there is a dreaminess about this music, especially in the French composers, that one finds only in a few other places. The exception might be lute repertoire, and some solo guitar music which inherited some of those characteristics from the lute. But the harpsichord has another side also, it can make a lot of sound and be almost bombastic at times, so it can also imitate music that was written for theatre and official functions. It is this combination that makes it particularly fun to play, and I hope to listen to also… JW   Tell us a little about the instrument you will be playing on for these concerts. CS   For the concerts this weekend I am playing a fairly new instrument that my good friend Kees Bom made for me over the past few years. He is a 75 year old Dutch harpsichord maker, a real character, and has now over 200 instruments that have made it to every…

Notes on our January 7 concert, “The End of Time”

– By James Wilson, CMSCVA Artistic Director The “Quartet for the End of Time” is one of the most famous chamber music compositions of all time, and the musical work that inspired tonight’s program. In their own way, each piece on the program seems to reach out beyond our own world and into the infinite, whether through religious fervor, technical mastery, or both. A devote Catholic, ornithologist, musical genius and brilliant keyboard players, Olivier Messiaen weaved all of these passions into this unusual piece. The circumstances under which it was written are legendary. Messiaen was 31 years old when he enlisted in the French army to fight the Germans in World War II. In 1940, he was captured and sent to a prisoner-of-was camp in Görlitz, Germany. Using paper and a pencil stub, Messiaen produced the piece slowly over the course of a year with help from fellow musicians also imprisoned in teh camp. It was premiered with terrible instruments, outdoors and in the cold rain of January in 1941 for a crowd of 400 inmates and officers. Messiaen wrote of the event, “Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension.” The “End of Time” takes two meaning in this piece. The more literal meaning is the depiction of the “end times” in the Book of Revelations: And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire … and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth …. And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that…

Notes on our January 5 concert, “Time”

– By James Wilson, CMSCVA Artistic Director I know, I know….The concept of musical programming around the concept of “time” seems obvious. What is music anyway but the ordering of sounds in time? But the more I thought of the concept as a way to organize this season’s Society concerts, the more complex it became. As a classical musician, I spend much of my life interpreting and performing historical music, in essence keeping it alive beyond it’s own time. This is a huge responsibility and pleasure, especially in these days when the world so intent on the here-and-now. So in comparison with our concert on January 7, which focuses on the destruction of time, this program serves to highlight the role of musicians as torch bearers and interpreters of the past. Joseph Haydn’s Symphony number 101, obviously contains this program’s most literal time reference: its tick-tocking slow movement inspired the nickname “The Clock.” The Symphony was arranged by Johann Peter Salomon, a German-born violinist and composer who lived for most of his professional life in London (and coincidentally was born in the same house in Bonn that Beethoven would later be born in). One of Salomon’s most important contributions to history was in his role as a musical impresario. He brought the music of Joseph Haydn and Mozart to the full attention of London audiences, and inspired the creation of many of Haydn’s most wonderful works – the opus 71 and 74 string quartets. the Sinfonia Concertante, and symphonies numbers 93 to 104. Salomon was concertmaster when the 12 “London” symphonies were written and performed and so he have had great insight into Haydn’s musical intentions. Hearing this piece of music is a journey back in time, not only to the classical world of Haydn’s music, but to a time…

Roger Zare’s thoughts on his quintet inspired by time dilation!

 Our concert on January 5 features a thrilling and unusual quintet by American composer Roger Zare, inspired by the theories of Albert Einstein. It fits perfectly into our theme of “Time,” as you can read in Roger’s own words: “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” is titled after Albert Einstein’s famous 1905 paper in which he describes his theory of special relativity. This work was commissioned by Wilhelmina Smith and the Salt Bay Chamberfest in 2012, and all concerts that year were programmed under the theme “time passing.” To connect with the theme, I focused on creating a musical representation of time dilation, a mind-bending effect that happens when two objects are moving at extreme speeds in relation to each other, causing each to observe the other as moving at a slower rate of time. I am fascinated by science and love to write music about my amazement for various scientific concepts, and while I only superficially understand the premises of special relativity, I hope that this piece of music reflects the excitement that I feel while learning about the incredible scientific ideas of Einstein. The music captures an imaginary journey that begins slowly and approaches relativistic speeds by the end. Beginning ethereally, disparate musical elements gradually coalesce into a jaunty melody. A repeated descending chord figure always occurs at the same rate of time, while the other melodic elements of the music are wildly varying in speeds at the music progresses. I use numerous downwardly bending pitches to mimic the more earthly doppler effect that occurs when a quickly moving object moves away from a listener, and even this concept gets stretched out as the piece progresses. As the overall acceleration reaches a frenetic speed, the instruments begin to pull apart, some speeding away while others become slower and heavier until one…

Life is Indeed a Cabaret!

– by CMSCVA Artistic Director James Wilson I draw inspiration for concert programming from a lot of sources – concerts, recordings, books, film, TV and news sources. A famous film, Bob Fosse’s 1972 screen adaptation of the musical “Cabaret”, inspired tonight’s concert in our “Revolutionary and Banned” Festival. There are a lot of things I love about this movie. It’s amazingly stylish and yet touching. The music is fabulous of course, and Joel Grey as the Emcee is a force of nature and irresistibly chilling. I also love the ways it tells the story of Weimar Berlin’s brilliance, tolerance, and decadence all standing bravely in the face of rising Nazi-ism, but finally crumbling and vanishing. The opening shot of the movie is a reflection a mirror of the cabaret where we see a colorful scene of people laughing and having a great time on the town. The closing shot is the same mirror, but the cabaret audience is quiet and grave, the colors are muted and the scene is peppered with Swastika-clad officers. Classical music during this inter-war period of history has a similar story, and this is what I try to tell in tonight’s concert. Four cabaret songs, starting with one that extols the virtues of love and passion and ending with one mocking Hitler, frame a trio of classical pieces written in these heady and turbulent years. The wonderful mezzo Tracy Cowart acts as the Emcee and Rieko Aizawa as her back up band. Friedrich Hollaender’s song “Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Lieber eingestellt” opens the program. Most listeners will recognize it from the famous German movie “The Blue Angel” in which the astonishing Marlene Dietrich sings it dressed in undergarments and top hat, backed by a beer swilling girl band. The literal translation of the…