by Mark Gresham | 20 SEP 2016
KENNESAW, GA – On Monday evening the Summit Piano Trio (violinist Helen Hwaya Kim, cellist Charae Krueger and pianist Robert Henry) performed a concert of music by Beethoven and Arensky. The performance took place in Morgan Hall of the Bailey Performance Center on the campus of Kennesaw State University.
The program opened with a familiar work, Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat major, Op. 97 – commonly known as the “Archduke Trio,” one of a total of 14 works the composer dedicated to Archduke Rudolph of Austria. I won’t elaborate further on the Trio itself, since often performed, except to say that for me it is largely an example of “happy, cheerful Beethoven,” and the Summit musicians brought to it a great deal of facility and sunshine in their performance.
By contrast, I was entirely unfamiliar with the other work on the program, the Piano Trio, Op. 32 of Russian composer Anton Arensky (1861–1906), despite the fact it has been recorded and released commercially no less than 18 times in this century alone. Still, Arensky is today not a household name though he has never entirely dropped off the classical music radar.
Arensky was a student of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Among his own students were Alexander Scriabin, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Gretchaninov. Yet fate placed Arensky in a netherworld of not quite obscurity but neither the brilliant sunlight of fame, essentially for a lack of originality rather than any lack of compositional skill, which was at its peak in his chamber music. Even his own teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, said of him, “He will be soon forgotten.”
And yet no less than Igor Stravinsky, a Rimsky-Korsakov student of the next generation, spoke positively of the composer and his first piano Trio: “Arensky was friendly, interested, and helpful to me, … I always liked him and at least one of his works – the famous Piano Trio in D minor.” But Arensky placed his stylistic lot with mainstream European (Germanic) Romanticism rather than the Russian Nationalist school, following the lead of Tchaikovsky – which may have colored the opinion of Rimsky-Korsakov somewhat.
Despite lack of originality, this Piano Trio is a fine product of its era, and secures a foothold for Arensky in the history books as a composer. Its consistently energetic but lyrical opening movement contains traces of charming playfulness reminiscent of Mendelssohn. A blithesome Scherzo forms the second movement, followed by reflective, dreamy Elegia whose melancholic theme is introduced by muted cello. That mood is interrupted by the advent of the more emphatic Finale, which summarizes the Trio with references to what has gone before.
The musicians of the Summit Piano Trio again brought forth the music’s best qualities to the fore, concluding a enjoyable evening of music which engaged the listener and did not tire. $bull;
by Mark Gresham | 12 SEP 2016
ATLANTA, GA – Violinist Sarah Chang and pianist Julio Elizalde opened Emory University’s esteemed Flora Glenn Candler Concert Series this past Saturday with a sold-out recital of music by Bartók, Brahms and Franck at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts’ 825-seat Emerson Concert Hall.
Chang and Elizalde, who are beginning their fourth season of concert collaboration, began their performance with Béla Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56. They followed the Bartók with the Sonata No. 3 in D minor, op. 108, of Johannes Brahms. After intermission, the duo turned to the Sonata in A major, FWV 8, of Belgian-French composer César Franck.
Chang played the entire program of familiar violin repertoire from memory, often with great physical vigor and gyrations which seemed at great odds with the curiously small volume of sound she was drawing from her instrument in the acoustically generous Emerson Hall, When she did get loud, the sound was inexplicably metallic in character, especially on the upper strings. The opening of the second movement of the Brahms, on lower strings, was the most satisfying part of the first half, in that respect. Nevertheless, it was where fireworks occurred in the music that her fans in the audience were most thrilled.
That was especially true of the fast second movement of the Franck Sonata, were they could not help bursting into applause at its end, before Chang and Elizalde could move on to more original Recitative-Fantasia that serves as the third movement. The sonata’s finale, summing up the work with a powerful coda, gave the audience another ovation on the order of what they had, perhaps, launched prematurely in the middle of the piece. However, the duo’s rendering of Franck’s music was pinnacle of the evening, and due applause was warranted. ▪
by Mark Gresham | 17 JUN 2016, Alpharetta, GA
On Thursday evening, June 16, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed an all-American outdoor summer concert at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in the north suburban city if Alpharetta, led by assistant conductor Joseph Young.
As is expected with such American-themed seasonal concerts, the ASO opened with “The Star Spangled Banner,” with audience standing and joining in. That was followed by the first of several selections by John Williams to be heard in the course of the evening, “The Cowboys Overture” — music from the classic 1972 John Wayne western, The Cowboys.
On a humorous note, the ASO performed a novelty piece by Leroy Anderson, “The Typewriter,” with percussionist Michael Cebulski as soloist, playing an old-fashioned manual typewriter. Then came another
Anderson number, “Fiddle Faddle,” serving as a showpiece for the strings.
“Fly Forward,” the final movement of Jennifer Higdon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Violin Concerto featured assistant concertmaster Justin Bruns in a vigorous tour de force performance.
Aaron Copland’s “Three Dance Episodes from Rodeo” offered up a rousing conclusion to the program’s first half.
After intermission, the sun had essentially gone down and it was dark enough to finally see the live video mix projected on the large screens on either side of the stage. The daylight brightness essentially washed out the video during the first half. Air temperature also cooled to a more manageable level, helping relieve both audience and the musicians on stage, where it was much hotter.
The program’s second half opened with a number frequently heard in the ASO’s parks and open-air concerts: Morton Gould’s “American Suite,” a fantasia on the tune “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” That was paired with another Gould piece, the “Pavanne” from is Second American Symphonette, replete with jazzy elements and a walking bass line.
More jazz influences came with “Duke Ellington Medley,” a clutch of Ellington tunes arranged by Calvin Custer, and a similarly assembled group of elections from Leonard Bernstein’s music for West Side Story, arranged by Jack Mason, added some Latin flavor to the mix as well.
More Copland was in store with “Variations o a Shaker Melody” from his ballet Appalachian Spring, then two more film score excerpts from Williams: “The Flight to Neverland” from Hook and and audience favorite,“Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back. The program closed out on a patriotic theme with Samuel A. Ward’s “America the Beautiful” and John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Young and the ASO gave a consistently assured performance overall supported by rather well balanced audio mixing in the necessary amplification required by the large venue, which has a total capacity of 12,000 between fixed stadium seating, tables and open lawn combined.
This coming Thursday, June 23, Young and the ASO will present another outdoor concert, this time a free performance at 7:30pm in the open Oak Hill quadrant of Piedmont Park in midtown Atlanta. The program will feature music by Beethoven, Rossini, John Williams, Chris Brubeck and James Brown.
by Mark Gresham | 26 MAY 2016, Atlanta, GA
Georgia Tech-based new music ensemble Sonic Generator presented a free concert on Monday evening in the downstairs gallery of the Museum of Contemporary Art–Georgia (MOCA-GA). The program consisted of five works for solo musicians then concluded with a work played the whole ensemble.
The show kicked off with flutist Jessica Peek Sherwood performing “It” (2012) by Dutch avant-garde composer Jacob TV (Jacob ter Veldhuis). Like many of his works, Jacob TV built “It” around samples of the human voice, in this case based on a 1928 newsreel of Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan. The accompanying soundtrack and video consisted primarily of the voices and images of Helen and Ann, fragmented into sentences, words and syllables. In its climactic concluding moments, Sherwood spoke breathlessly between her played notes, Keller’s final word of the film’s dialogue: “I… am… not… dumb… now!”
Violinist Helen Hwaya Kim played the first two of John Harbison’s “Four Songs of Solitude” (1985), his only work for unaccompanied violin. The first was gentle and flowing in demeanor, the second paired a simple folk-like melody with a more athletic second motif. Cellist Brad Ritchie performed Steve Reich’s “Cello Counterpoint” (2003), a challenging work notable for its exceedingly tight, fast-paced rhythmic figures, in its version for live solo cello and a soundtrack of seven pre-recorded cellos.
Pianist Tim Whitehead performed “Shadows” (2015) by Atlanta composer Jason Freeman, involving an interactive computer-based score, with Whitehead reading it from the screen, which changed in response to Whitehead’s playing. Each of its four movements explored the interaction from a different perspective. Clarinetist Ted Gurch followed with “It Goes Without Saying” (2007) by Nico Muhly, which felt astonishingly organic despite the more electronic character of its accompanying soundtrack.
The concert concluded with the sole ensemble piece, “ACDC” (1996) by Michael Gordon, one of the founders of Bang-On-A-Can, in which the vivid interplay of polyrhythms was the predominant feature. Taken all together, the concert was consistently indicative of the ensemble’s penchant for high-quality performances. It made for an engaging evening.