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Arts

Mozart and (oh so much) More on Tap for LexPhil

The Lexington Philharmonic continues the season November 13 at the Singletary Center for the Arts with Mozart and More. As the title indicates, the centerpiece of the evening is Mozart’s magnificent, mature and oft-performed 40th Symphony. Referred to many times as “the Great G Minor symphony,” this classic piece, composed near the end of Mozart’s 35-year life, stands in contrast to his 25th symphony, “the Little G Minor Symphony,” his only other symphonic work in a minor key. For this performance, Amadeus Mozart is in the company of  Felix Mendelssohn, Dmitri Shostakovich and John Corigliano.

Joining UnderMain contributor Chip Sebastian for a chat about Mozart and More and the experience patrons can anticipate is LexPhil Conductor, Scott Terrell and musicians Stephen Campbell and Pei-San Chiu.

UM: Mozart and More. Just the title makes me curious. Why “More?”

ST: As ever, we’ve tried this season to offer a wide range of listening, showing many aspects of music and the wide range of the Lexington Philharmonic. In the course of a season, we wanted to establish a balance. We did Mahler, then went American with Time for Three. There are moments when we want to feature our artists, and this upcoming evening is certainly one of those times.

UM: If you needed a word to sum up the entire evening, what would it be?

ST: If I had to sum it up, it would be “Voyage.”

UM: Why “Voyage?”

ST: Well, the Corigliano piece itself is entitled Voyage, for starters. Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture is one of his finest works and it was composed while he was traveling through the Hebrides Islands. The whole evening has the sense of taking a journey.

GERMANY- CIRCA 1997: stamp printed by Germany, shows Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Composer, circa 1997.

GERMANY- CIRCA 1997: stamp printed by Germany, shows Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Composer, circa 1997.

Hebrides was composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1830. Also known as “Fingal’s Cave,” the work was inspired by Mendelssohn’s trip to Scotland. The ten-minute piece, an overture, was dedicated to Frederick William IV, then Crown Prince of Prussia. The work was revised by Mendelssohn at least once after its premiere in London, and has been featured in many literary works and films.

UM: Hebrides is the first piece on the docket, correct?

ST: Yes. This is one of Mendelssohn’s most beautiful pieces. Dark, rich, and very different from say, Shostakovich, who can be very angular, percussive, dissonant.

UM:  Mendelssohn always seems rich and textured.

ST: Yes. Like most composers coming from the Romantic Era, he has a full, rich sound. Emotional.

UM: A contemporary of Beethoven.

ST: Yes.

UM: It seems the programs are trying to balance the more harmonious with the more dissonant. Would that be fair to say?

ST: It’s more of a thematic thing. What pieces fit together to make a very interesting and dynamic evening. Like a good meal.

UM: Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Another interesting piece.

ST: Shostakovich will bang you over the head, while the others draw you into their worlds.

USSR- CIRCA 1976: A stamp printed in the USSR shows a portrait of the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the score for his 7th Symphony, circa 1976.

USSR- CIRCA 1976: A stamp printed in the USSR shows a portrait of the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the score for his 7th Symphony, circa 1976.

UM: This first piano concerto was completed in 1933, not so long after the Russian Revolution.

ST: Yes. Shostakovich had a bit of a slap on the wrist from the Russian aristocracy about an opera he had done not long before. He was trying to stay in good graces with this piece.

UM: He was well-established by then?

ST: Yes, but in the 1930s, he was still uncertain about being a pianist. Perhaps not as settled as later in his career.

UM: The pianist and the trumpet have major roles here. The featured pianist: Fei Fei Dong. Tell me a bit about her.

ST: Fei Fei was one of six finalists in the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. She studies at Julliard and she has had nothing but glowing reviews from the many places she’s played. Her pedigree is very good. This is a real tour de force for a pianist. She’s a young and fresh talent and we’re glad to have her.

UM: The other featured performer, trumpeter Stephen Campbell, plays regularly with LexPhil?

ST: Yes, Stephen’s been around for awhile and he’s another wonderful talent.

UM: Do you feel there is a great story between the piano and trumpet?

ST: Absolutely. Certainly the pieces of this season have a protagonist and antagonist. Story is what makes it all interesting.

Stephen Campbell is the Principle Trumpet with LexPhil

UM: Stephen, what is your sense of the structure and power of this Shostakovich piece?

SC: The Concerto is a wonderful composition on so many levels. It’s one of the first major concertos to come from the Soviet era. Shostakovich was constantly falling in and out of favor with the Soviet censors based on their standards of decorum and aesthetics. One moment, he’d be awarded the coveted Stalin Award, the next he’d be publicly criticized. This is one of the compositions which brought him back in favor.

UM: Because of the focus on trumpet, is this a piece that trumpeters look to as a standard for performance? Something every trumpet player wants on their resume?

SC: The concerto is great for trumpeters because of the dramatic range required for performance. We have everything. The character of the second movement is really low. Someone, bourbon in hand staring off into the middle distance, contemplating life. There’s a real folksy section in the fourth movement, as well as a quotation from one of my favorite Haydn sonatas and a very exciting finish.

UM: You seem to be quite at home playing with LexPhil.

SC: Performing with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra is a thrill. I love performing high quality music with friends and colleagues.

UM: Thank you, Stephen.

SC: Thank you.

Resuming with Scott Terrell, we move to John Corigliano

UM: John Corigliano is a name perhaps unfamiliar to many.

photo

ST: Yes. He’s probably most famous for the score to the film, The Red Violin, which featured Joshua Bell on violin.

UM: Great movie.

ST: Yes. John’s very prolific and Voyage is an early piece that demands a great principle flute and we certainly have one in Pei San.

Pei-San Chiu is the principle flute for LexPhil and is featured on Voyage.

UM: Pei-San, what are your thoughts onVoyage, in terms of the flute and the level of performance required?

PC: Voyage is the instrumental version of Corigliano’s choral work based on Baudelaire’s L’Invitation au Voyage. The timbre of flute and strings is very warm and comforting, which gives a new texture and atmosphere to the piece, just as it’s said in Richard Wilbur’s translation, “There, there is nothing else but grace and measure, richness, quietness and pleasure.”

UM: Wonderful to imagine. You’ve been with LexPhil for some time, haven’t you?

PC: I joined LexPhil in 2013 and this is my third season. It’s been such a pleasure to be in the LexPhil and work with my colleagues.

UM: It seems LexPhil has a wider range of endeavors with each passing season.

PC: Thanks to Scott, we’ve done so many great concerts with superb soloists, including classical, opera, film music, works with choral and Pops. As a flutist, I couldn’t be happier to play good music with my colleagues.

More on Voyage from Scott Terrell

UM: Voyage seems to be quite a contrast to Shostakovich.

ST: Exactly. John has done some of the most beautiful music for strings in the last few decades. This is a very warm piece and will work nicely after the dissonance of the Shostakovich. Compositionally, you hear a lot of Barber, Copland and Bernstein in John’s music. 

UM: When you have a piece like this, with the artist still living, do you ever have interactions or brainstorming with the composer about the work or the performance of it?

ST: In this event, no. It’s interesting with composers: you never know if they are watching musical scenes around the country and the world to see if their pieces are being played.

UM: I suppose this would help keep the performance true, not knowing if the person who gave birth to the piece is watching and inevitably critiquing the performance.

ST: There is a sense of being true to the work and its composer.

UM: I know this is true with writers, when films are made of their books. There seems to be an understanding that the message or theme of the work, the writer’s original intent, is preserved.

ST: Yes. One can’t help but think about that when a performance is developing. I’ve done some of John’s pieces before. Gazebo, and The Red Violin. It’s all very listenable stuff, very pleasant to the ear.

UM:  Do you ever wish you had the artist on standby when you perform pieces by living composers?

ST: That’s always nice, if possible. So often it’s not. I did meet John many years ago, when I was in Aspen as a student. Do I know if he knows the music’s being played? No. I had an experience along these lines with Jennifer Higdon, who is a modern composer, won many awards, etc. I was performing a piece of hers titled On a Wire with a group called Eighth Blackbird out of Chicago. I saw Jennifer at an event and introduced myself and she said Eighth Blackbird had been raving about the experience and she knew that we had performed it in Lexington. I was taken aback. You just never know who’s hearing what when.

UM: I know in dance the circles are pretty small. I would imagine the same is true in, especially, classical music.

ST: Yes. Definitely.

CZECHOSLOVAKIA - CIRCA 1981: a stamp printed in the Czechoslovakia shows Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Composer, circa 1981

CZECHOSLOVAKIA – CIRCA 1981: a stamp printed in the Czechoslovakia shows Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Composer, circa 1981

Mozart finished his 40th Symphony in 1788, along with the 39th and 41st in that same year. Even though the three final symphonies were written close together, there are marked differences between them. Mozart composed many other works after the 41st Symphony, “The Jupiter,” living another three years before succumbing to an illness at 35. Scholars still cannot agree on what actually killed Mozart, but it is well-documented that he was bedridden in his final days, and composing to the end.

UM: Mozart’s 40th Symphony is one of his best-known, most-beloved symphonic works.

ST: It’s the linchpin of the evening. Mozart in general is very different in terms of scale and performance. The sound is energetic and profound and really will make for a huge ending to the night. It’s important in any evening that we have that old performance idea of tension and resolution. The audience will certainly have enough tension with the Shostakovich piece with a little steam let off from the others. But the Mozart should really open the floodgates at the end.

UM: A lot of different styles in the evening.

ST: Yes, and the other interesting thing besides the difference in styles is that the composers are at different places in their lives.

UM: This was toward the end of Mozart’s life, but his life being so brief, he would have been approaching middle-age when this was composed, right?

ST: Yes. Noting his early death, there’s still a marked maturity in his later work. A lot more color and nuance that isn’t present to the same degree in the earlier, developmental material.

UM: It seems Mozart never stales, even two hundred-plus years later.

ST: It will always be great to hear and perform.

For information about LexPhil and tickets, click here.

Arts, Entertainment, Music

Thinking outside of the chamber

Richard Young was in the thick of it, hunched over a cellphone at the bar in Natasha’s. The news was challenging.

With only three weeks until “showtime,” the director of the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington had suddenly found himself not only in search of an essential Steinway Concert Grand piano, but after getting word of complications with the original plan, also attempting to find accommodations for the festival’s five-member Ensemble-in-Residence

As it turns out, each dilemma has been resolved. More on that a bit further down the page.

But these crises did serve to remind that the business of organizing and overseeing a ten-day music festival not of the rock, folk or country variety, but instead focused on chamber music in 2014 is not for the faint at heart and certainly requires a tolerance for change.

“This is about something that is quite old,” Young observed. “I mean – it’s about chamber music. While it can be and often is a very progressive art form, most people know it as Mozart, Haydn or Beethoven quartets, that sort of thing.”

Now in its eighth year, Young’s fourth as director, the festival gets underway on the evening of Thursday, August 14 with a free public concert by WindSync – the aforementioned Ensemble-in-Residence – with beer and barbecue on the lawn of Loudon House, home of the Lexington Art League.

And you can read plenty into the selection of this particular group and that particular opening night format. The message? You don’t necessarily have to be a classical music aficionado to find something interesting, perhaps amazing in the performances slated for locations in and around Lexington between the 14th and 24th of August.

While the young, energetic Houston-based ensemble will offer its own performances in various more casual settings around town, the group also will integrate with the festival’s traditional concerts in the formal setting of the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion.

“After we brought Richard Young aboard as festival director, we had numerous board discussions about bringing our product—chamber music—to the community in a casual manner. And we did so with the enthusiastic endorsement of our board,” said Charles Stone, founding chairman of the festival board. “What sets our festival apart in our mind is our cutting edge presentation and programming. And what we look to do soon after we finish one year’s series is imagine how we can make it newer, bolder the next time,” Stone continued, describing a governing body willing to take risks by supporting new approaches to presenting chamber music to a Lexington audience “We are comfortable to embrace a room full of new ideas.”

Under the direction of Young, a 2011 graduate of the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music (Double bass), programming has steadily progressed and expanded.

In 2012, two years into his tenure as director, he experimented with staging surprise chamber music performances around the city several weeks prior to the opening of the festival.

These “pop-up” performances are now a staple. And there is method in this madness.

“Chamber music is such a niche thing. You like it, you hate it, or you don’t know about it. I think one of the main reasons it doesn’t have a broad audience is its exposure,” Young said. “You say ‘classical music’ and people think of either opera or symphonies. I don’t think a lot of people think of chamber music because it just doesn’t have a lot of exposure. It’s very hard to passively gain a new audience. The pop-ups are very intentional, targeted, focused. We see pop-ups as our way to do that.”

The street-performances have given the festival something of a gritty edge. Young recalled one pop-up concert in 2013 at the corner of North Limestone and Loudon. “People brought out old couches; everyone just sitting out on the street corner listening to chamber music and drinking beer in the middle of the afternoon. Cars going by, people walking up asking ‘what’re you doing?’ Experiments like that have left us with this Yin and Yang – weird, pop-up, gritty non-traditional things and then very formal, super high quality innovative programmed concerts in a hall that is perfect for chamber music.”

Innovation has been a consistent thread since the festival’s founding in 2007 by Stone and Lexington native Nathan Cole, now first associate concertmaster with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and artistic director of the Lexington festival. For example, Lexington’s is the only chamber music festival that commissions a new piece of music every year, according to Young.

“This year’s programming is more new music than old music,” Young said. “It’s very progressive.” In addition to a menu of compositions by lesser-known artists, “We’re playing a piece by Jeff Beal, composer of the themes of the Netflix series House of Cards and HBO’s Carnivale and Rome.”

Guest Artists for 2014 include Composer-in-Residence Adam Schoenberg, harpist Allegra Lilly, and soprano Karen Slack. Returning artists include pianist Alessio Bax, violinist Akiko Tarumoto, cellist Priscilla Lee and Burchard Tang, viola.

Plans call for the more casual events to include the free WindSync concert at Loudon House, a limited-seating brunch at Greentree Tearoom featuring WindSync, and a “laid back” concert by various festival artists at Natasha’s Bar & Bistro.

You can see evidence of this merger of traditional and progressive in a revised festival schedule. “Instead of this being just Friday, Saturday and Sunday concerts out at Fasig-Tipton, we’re doing Wednesday, Friday, Sunday – really pulling it apart so if you come to Lexington to come to the festival, no matter when you come there is something going on,” Young said. “We’ll have a public event every day.”

A first this year will be a lunchtime coffeehouse conversation at Common Grounds on High Street in downtown Lexington featuring composer-in-residence Schoenberg as well as other festival artists.

And there is a place for visual art in the scope of the event’s offerings. The “automata” sculpture of Lexington artist Steve Armstrong was commissioned to be auctioned in support of the festival’s future.

“That the board is so bought-in to trying new things, whether it be commissioning new music every year, commissioning a piece of visual art every year, to doing these very odd programming decisions like playing on the corner of Lime and Loudon, a spot that most people would not associate with chamber music, is incredibly helpful,” Young said. “They have been very open to letting artistic director Nathan Cole, board president Charlie Stone and me try and do something really new and exciting. If something goes wrong, it’s not going to destroy the organization. We just won’t do that next year.”

There have been a few clunkers. Master classes were not well-attended. Open rehearsals were tried. But while perhaps interesting in concept, in practice it just didn’t work. “They’re trying to rehearse, and you can’t hear them talking, so it was sort of awkward,” Young observed.

The open rehearsals have evolved into the Cabaret Concert scheduled for August 21 at Natasha’s. “It’s not as formal. You can sit and have drinks, eat and listen to some amazing music. If I were going to pick my ideal setting for listening to chamber music,” Young said, “that would be it.”

A new addition to the program is an Ensemble-in-Residence retreat with the North Limestone MusicWorks program.

Shaping programming – extending it beyond the formal and inherently rigid confines of the concert hall – to a younger, more casual audience in more accessible, less costly venues is, in Young’s view, essential to the survival of a genre that he believes is afflicted by “self-image crises.”

“I mean, the Philadelphia Orchestra went bankrupt. The Philadelphia Orchestra went bankrupt,” he repeated for emphasis. “That should be a wake up call to anyone that you need to think about what you’re doing.”

In arguing that interest in classical music is, in fact, not in decline where new things are tried, Young cited steady annual growth in audiences turning out for Lexington Philharmonic concerts and the Chamber Music Festival. “I think quite the opposite. I think it’s growing. More people are getting interested. Cincinnati Symphony, for example, does this great show, Lumenosity in the middle of the park right in front of Music Hall and if you saw a picture of it you would be flabbergasted. It’s a sea of probably 5,000 people. I think audiences diminish only if you become complacent.”

I asked Richard Young to talk to me about the music itself, in the context of the unstable, troubled world in which we live today. An opportunity to escape for a little while? Or to better connect with reality?

“Chamber music has a very strong ability to allow you to escape, but also to focus on some of these things that are happening. There is a great piece, Quartet for the End of Time (Oliver Messiaen, 1941) that we played two years ago that was written in a WW II prisoner of war camp. It doesn’t get more powerful than that. There is another, On the Transmigration of Souls (John Adams 2002) composed in tribute to those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. So yes, it has the power to distract, but I think it also has the power to take those issues, embrace them, look at them and give people a new way to experience and to think about them.”

Chamber music pokes at the emotions, Young said. “If you dig down and listen to it, it ranges all the way from really, really funny to really, really depressing. I think you can experience chamber music on multiple levels.”

Watching music performed on a more intimate scale can be as entertaining as listening, he noted. “If you have a great chamber music group, just watching them interacting with each other is something you’re less likely to get in the symphony hall.”

Ensemble-in-Residence WindSync, he noted, plays completely without music. “It’s engaging to watch a two-hour program played from memory by people who have played it a thousand times and know what to expect from each other and when to interact. And when you watch them communicate with each other without talking you can really see the power of chamber music.”

Oh, and as promised: Transylvania University stepped forward to provide accommodations for the five members of WindSync. And a 9-foot Steinway Concert Grand was secured from a generous Cincinnatian.

All is well as August 14th approaches.

Photo courtesy of Mary Rezny