A review of Ensemble Epomeo’s recital on the 27th of May from Chronicle Herald chief critic, Stephen Pedersen. Read the original here.
Ensemble Epomeo — Caroline Chin, violin, David Yang, viola and Kenneth Woods, cello — is a first-rate trio making its mark on Halifax this Scotia Festival season. (BENJAMIN EALOVEGA)
Ensemble Epomeo, the remarkable string trio working the Scotia Festival this season, showed us their interesting, but largely unknown, repertoire, at the Dunn Tuesday night.
They played works by 20th century composers Gyorgy Kurtag, Krzysztof Penderecki, Hans Krasa, followed with a bright, energetic performance of Beethoven’s Trio for Violin, Viola and Cello, op. 3.
It really was only then that we got back to familiar turf.
They topped off the program with Richard Strauss’s variations on a Bavarian folk song. Talk about your musical whipped cream. It was a delicious set of variations in 18th-century style, Strauss stepping back from his own time to savour more traditional delights of musical form
The German title is roughly translated as The Girl is Mad at Me.
“Mad” unfortunately is too ambiguous a word to choose among the possible meanings of “angry” and “crazy in love.” Maybe its very ambiguity is the point of the title. Emotions are such sticky things to define once caught up in them.
You always feel you are in good hands with Epomeo, even when trampling through the murky moods of mid-20th century angst. In Europe, at least, that was a dark time, full of dictators, pogroms and organized hatred, a perfect exemplum of what George Orwell was on about in his futuristic 1984.
How music could be made in such anxious times is a human miracle.
Thanks to Ensemble Epomeo, we are allowed not just a glimpse of the times, but a movie of the moods and emotions those closer to the time were exposed to.
There was some compositional preoccupation with form in the seven short movements of Gyorgy Kurtag’s Signs, Games, and Messages for String Trio and more emotional turmoil in the two movements of Krzysztof Penderecki’s String Trio.
On the second half of the program we felt right at home after these turbulent pieces with the familiar vocabulary of Beethoven’s Trio, op. 3.
Ensemble Epomeo is a first-rate trio with such mastery of both the familiar and the new (to us at least) to give us confidence in the music and to seed a desire to hear more of it, more of composers like Kurtag and Krasa. Penderecki as well, except we are probably more at home with his music.
Who, for example, after once hearing his extraordinary Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, can ever forget it?
Ensemble Epomeo is making its mark on Halifax this Scotia Festival season.
Stephen Pedersen is a freelance arts writer who lives in Halifax.
An interesting feature looking ahead to the (now-completed) 2013 Scotia Festival from senior Chronicle Herald classical critic Stephen Pedersen. Read the original here
The festival opens Monday night with Woods, violinist Caroline Chin and violist David Yang of Ensemble Epomeo playing the Schnitke String Trio.
Schubert’s E Flat Major Piano Trio with returning favourites pianist John Novacek, cellist Denise Djokic and violinist Mark Fewer will be sharing the opening program, and violinist Philippe Djokic opens the festival with Bach’s Chaconne (solo violin).
Woods, a Scotia Festival alumnus, has a big career in full stride, both as conductor and as cellist with his Epomeo Ensemble. His waggish sense of humour can be sampled at his blog in his impassioned, tongue-in-cheek defence of repeating the Exposition in symphonies, chamber music and piano sonatas.
At this year’s festival, Woods will conduct three concerts: the final Gala concert June 9, the John Adams Violin Concerto (with Philippe Djokic), a version for winds of the Threepenny Opera, and Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (Scotia Festival Strings).
On June 7, Tim Brady premieres his We’re Hardcore with soprano Janice Jackson and string quintet (with double bass).
Brady, who calls Halifax “a very special place,” is contributing not only his skill as an improviser and composer to Scotia Festival Young Artists but an original composition for oboe, electric guitar, string trio (Epomeo) and piano called FLOW.
“I’m giving three 90-minute workshops for students to work on understanding how to approach a new piece, but also doing a bit of improvising to loosen them up. Just because you are learning a Beethoven sonata doesn’t mean you have to turn off your own creative ideas.
“There’s not an inherent contradiction between playing classical music and having your own ideas,” he says.
The biggest barrier to improvising and musical creation, he says, is fear.
“It’s that simple. People are afraid of making mistakes.
“The main thing is to get in a room, start talking, take these basic concepts and ideas and adapt. Once you get into creation mode, you have to let go of the concept of mistakes. It’s a new piece so there can’t be any mistakes. That’s a big leap for people to take.”
With master classes, rehearsals and outreach programs in Halifax schools, Brady will be a busy guy. He also has to find time to practise. “I can probably find an hour or two here and there. You find the time. You can’t live without it, partly because you don’t want to lose your chops. But at a certain point you practise because you like practising.
“There is a certain pleasure in practising, even if I didn’t have shows coming up. I can’t imagine getting so old and crotchety. I’m pretty sure I’m going to practise guitar until they rip it out of my — what’s the Charlton Heston line? — my ‘cold, dead hands.’”
He’ll be busy. Yet, says managing director Chris Wilcox, “this festival is really the Ken Woods Scotia Festival. He came here as a young artist in 1993. He’s been back several times and came back when we did Messiaen’s Turangalila and Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.”
“He’s playing in four concerts, conducting three, giving a master class, and two outreach programs with his trio in schools.”
Wilcox pointed out other highlights of this year’s festival, including the rest of Friday’s program, where Brady’s premiere (We’re Hardcore) shares space with Kurt Weill and Benjamin Britten.
Brady’s electric guitar recital (June 2), Airi Yoshioka’s violin recital and also solo works (June 2), the Berg Concerto for Violin and 13 Winds (June 4), the Adams Violin Concerto, along with the Threepenny Opera (version for winds) and, among other treasures, Denise Djokic playing the Shostakovich Cello Concerto (June 9) — all are highlight concerts and almost all the works are 20th century masterpieces we don’t hear played in Halifax often, if at all.
Plenty of music for learners, plenty of masterpieces for gourmet concert-goers, plenty of opportunities for young artists getting a taste of how insanely busy things can get in the life of a professional musician.
A review of the final Gala concert of the 2013 Scotia Festival of Music from critic Stephen Pederson at the Chronicle Herald. Read the original here.
Under the understated guidance of Kenneth Woods (also stunning in its delivery of the music without either mannerism or exaggerated expression), the orchestra of professionals and students simply delivered a full house of concertos with violinist Mark Fewer, pianist John Novacek and cellist Denise Djokic.
Novacek, with his inimitable nimbleness of 10-fingered nuances, played Mozart’s extraordinary Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, K. 453 just before the intermission, with Fewer introducing us to the resourceful tangles and inventive graces of John Adams’ 1994 Violin Concerto and Djokic delivering a powerful performance of the Cello Concerto No. l in E-flat major of Dmitri Shostakovich.
A perfect storm, in other words, in the fusion of composers, soloists and players, to end one of the best-programmed Scotia Festivals in its 34 years of annual spring chamber music concerts.
Paradoxically, the Adams’ violin concerto appeared to wander aimlessly, but with intent. It absolutely refused to let us stray from attentiveness. Which means that Fewer knew entirely what he was doing.
Motion in music and even more so, momentum, is animated by repetition. In his concerto, Adams resorted, as he often seems inclined to do in his music, to this time-honoured solution to the problem, to make repetition basic and inevitable.
In this concerto, the solo line is active, wide-ranging, often bizarrely original, but it is tied down by a familiar device, a chaconne figure, a bass line which is repeated.
Fewer gave a remarkably assured and penetrating performance of this entirely new, yet also entirely familiar, music. Technically, though he played it without making it sound so, this concerto is fiendishly difficult.
Novacek played the Mozart concerto with his typical habit of brilliantly nuanced finger work, each note expressive without exaggeration but making even the familiar sound new.
For the finale, Denise Djokic gave a powerful performance of the Shostakovich concerto: strong, assured, expressive. Wood and the orchestra gave her space, acoustic space, for an ideal balance of soloist and ensemble.
It has been two weeks of remarkable concerts in the Dunn at this year’s Scotia Festival. For me, one of the most remarkable was the playing of Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, for strings, Op. 10, on Friday night.
Somehow I have missed hearing this powerful work during long years of listening to classical music. Hearing it for the first time under the direction of so honest and intuitive a musician as Kenneth Woods was a shattering experience, leaving me speechless with awe and wonder.
I’ve just turned in program notes for an upcoming CD in ICA Classics commemorating the 50th anniversary of the passing of Hans Rosbaud, one of the most interesting of 20th C conductors. That disc of works by Sibelius and Debussy is due out in the early Fall, and is rather special.
The first installment in the series was Rosbaud’s recording of Mahler 5 with the Cologne Radio Symphony. I thought Vftp readers might enjoy reading my essay here, and hopefully some of you will be inspired to check out the disc. It’s quite a document. Reviews available from ClassicalSource, Audiophile Audition and MusicWeb.
ROSBAUD CONDUCTS MAHLER
‘Music buffs believe that the greatest living conductor is Toscanini; musicians know that it is Hans Rosbaud.’
Francis Poulenc, 1954
A native of Graz, Hans Rosbaud (1895–1962) emerged from early studies with his mother and training at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt to become one of the most influential conductors of his generation. Rosbaud’s imprint on the music world may seem to have contracted since his death fifty years ago, but only until one considers the huge body of music he brought into the repertoire, his advocacy of Mahler’s works after the Second World War, and his importance as a role model for a younger generation of interpreters such as Pierre Boulez, Michael Gielen and Bruno Maderna. Boulez himself described Rosbaud as a ‘model’ of what a conductor should be: a ‘very great conductor’ who was ‘not specialised’, but was ‘very involved in contemporary music’.
It was in the emerging world of the radio orchestra that Rosbaud would spend the bulk of his career and have the greatest impact. In 1929, he was appointed as chief conductor at Radio Frankfurt. Rosbaud was one of the first conductors to fully appreciate the opportunity the new medium offered for introducing unfamiliar music to a broad audience under near-ideal rehearsal conditions, and the list of first performances from his Frankfurt years includes several works that have since become staples of the repertoire: Bartók’s Piano Concerto No.2, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Hindemith’s Concert Music for Brass and Strings and Schoenberg’s Variations op.31.
Rosbaud was one of the few Austro-German conductors of his generation to remain untainted by affiliation with the Nazis, and tensions with them led to his departure from Frankfurt in 1937 and a period out of the spotlight in Münster and Strassburg. In the aftermath of the War, Rosbaud returned to the world of the radio orchestra in which he felt most at home, first in Munich, and then from 1948 until his death at the South West German Radio Orchestra, Baden-Baden, which Rosbaud built into one of the finest orchestras in Germany (and which was, as this disc went to press, being shut down by the German government). Other highlights of his post-War career included his affiliation with the Donaueschingen Festival, where he became a champion of the post-War modernist school of composers led by Boulez and Stockhausen, and long partnerships with the Tonhalle Orchestra and the Aix-en-Provence Festival. Perhaps his most legendary achievement was conducting the premiere of Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron on just eight days’ notice in 1954.
Like Boulez, Rosbaud seems to have seen Gustav Mahler as perhaps the key figure in the birth of twentieth-century music, rather than as the last of the Romantics. While the extent of the neglect of Mahler’s works in the years after his death in 1911 has often been overstated, his music did fall into obscurity in Germany after the Nazis banned performances of his ‘Entartete Musik’ (degenerate music) in the 1930s. Rosbaud understood that the more generous rehearsal conditions of the radio orchestras were ideal for restoring Mahler’s complex and demanding scores to the repertoire.
Rosbaud’s extremely undemonstrative podium presence (even as famously low-key a conductor as Bernard Haitink said of Rosbaud that ‘as he approached the podium you thought, surely that can’t be the conductor’) might have seemed an unlikely fit with Mahler’s volatile musical language, especially in a work like the Fifth Symphony, which ranges from the extremes of violent histrionics to moments of great intimacy and tenderness. But on this occasion in 1952, working with one of his favourite orchestras, the KRSO (Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, now the WDR Symphony Orchestra), Rosbaud manages to elicit a performance of great stylistic sensitivity from an orchestra which could not have had a very strong Mahlerian tradition at the time. Long before Mahlerians began arguing over the correctness of extremely fleet or languorous tempi in the Adagietto, Rosbaud’s reading here seems the very epitome of an innately musical balance of emotional engagement and common sense, with an effortless ebb and flow of tempi and a welcome lack of point-making. On the other extreme, in the outer movements, this most soft-spoken of maestri (in Chicago, where he became a regular guest conductor from 1959 until his death, the musicians were known to have had to pass his comments to the back of the section as his speaking voice was only audible to the front desks) unleashes brass-playing of striking stentorian power.
Rosbaud’s beloved radio orchestras may have been the perfect medium for bringing Mahler’s music, and that of so many essential twentieth-century masters, back into the repertoire after the War, but it is a pity that his devotion to the live broadcast seems to have left us with a small and sometimes uneven recorded legacy, where in many cases modern listeners find frustration with less-than ideal radio sound, or occasional slips in orchestral accuracy. And yet a document like this Mahler 5 reveals, far more meaningfully than any meticulously edited studio recording could, a great conductor at the height of his powers bringing important and hugely challenging music to life solely through a profound knowledge of and engagement with the musical text, without the safety net of an orchestra who know the work through other recordings or past performances. Surely Boulez was right to hail Rosbaud, in this respect as in others, as a ‘model’.
A very nice review from the May 2013 issue of Limelight Magazine (Australia). Read the whole thing here.
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KRASA • GAL
Trio Op 104, Serenade in D, Tanec, Passacaglia and Fugue
By Phillip Scott on May 22, 2013
“Powerful 20th-century String Trios Prove A Real Discovery”.
Chamber music is the ideal medium for composers with a knack for polyphony. Here we have a fascinating disc of string trios by two exact contemporaries who were among the victims of Hitler’s Germany. Hans Gál fled to Scotland and lived a long (if obscure) life, while the Czech Hans Krása was interned at Terezin and killed in Auschwitz in 1944. While their music differs in intensity, both men were skilled at writing counterpoint so all these works are full of interest.
Gál’s Serenade dates from 1932. Notable for its high spirits, it follows in the wake of similar trios by Beethoven and Dohnányi. The Trio of 1971 is understandably more autumnal in quality (apart from its Mendelssohnian Scherzo) and features a set of gentle, lyrical variations as its final movement.
Krása’s music was heavily influenced by the Second Viennese School and is made of tougher stuff. Tanec (or Dance) is a short work evoking the sound of trains, with a tender chorale in the middle section. In the powerful Passacaglia and Fugue, the underlying emotional impetus stretches these highly structured forms almost to breaking point in Krása’s final composition.
The performances by the Ensemble Epomeo are beyond praise: lively, warm-toned and well balanced in excellent sound. Cellist Kenneth Woods penned the informative sleeve note. Genuine buried treasure here.
Copyright © Limelight Magazine. All rights reserved
This article appeared in the May 2013 issue of Limelight Magazine
A new review for the Orchestra of the Swan’s recording of Gal’s Second Symphony and Schumann Four from critic Lee Passarella at Audiophile Audition. Read the whole thing here.
A short sample follows
HANS GÁL: Symphony No. 2 in F, Op. 53; SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120 – Orchestra of the Swan /Kenneth Woods – Avie AV2232, 73:11 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
….Gál never reclaimed the estime that he enjoyed on the Continent, and indeed he had doubts that his Second Symphony (1943) would ever be heard in public so he excerpted the Adagio third movement for stand-alone performance. Eventually, the symphony was performed in its entirety, though like most of Gál’s works it quickly disappeared from the concert hall, receiving its first performance since 1951 by the Orchestra of the Swan just last year. It was written during a time of professional strife and personal tragedy for Gál, whose aunt and sister took their own lives to escape deportation to Auschwitz. This twin disaster was followed by the suicide of Gál’s son at the age of eighteen in 1942.
Like Gál’s First Symphony, the Second begins unconventionally with a slow movement serving as an introduction to the whole. The opening is a more substantial movement than that of the First Symphony, which for me seriously unbalances the latter work. In fact, the Second Symphony is an altogether more appealing and successful piece for my money. The wry second movement scherzo is quite memorable in its strutting gestures, its almost flippant melody, while the following Adagio is the grieving heart of the work, a dark elegy that somehow concludes with quiet uplift. The finale starts life as a roiling, boiling minor-key cauldron of a piece, but that menacing opening gives way to a bustling section with much more positive energy about it. As with theAdagio, the movement comes to a quietly contemplative close that seems to hint at hope in the face of tragedy.
Whether you find the pairing with Schumann’s Fourth Symphony apt or not, Kenneth Woods and his band give this work a spirited reading; and the lean sound the Orchestra of the Swan produces is actually a plus given the fact that Schumann introduced a certain bloat into the orchestration when he revised it in 1851 after its less-than-successful premiere ten years earlier. Commentators have long complained about the frequent doubling of string and wind parts in this version, but here the piece comes up sounding fresh, at least to my ears… I’m as pleased with the performance of the Schumann as I am with the Gál, and given the real quality of Gál’s symphony, I don’t mind that this makes about the tenth Schumann Fourth in my collection!
A new review from critic Dan Morgan at MusicWeb. Read the whole thing here.
A short sample follows
Just Released- Volume Three of the Complete Symphonies of Hans Gal and Robert Schumann
The Second Symphony opens with a most unsettling string theme that blossoms into a mellifluous, pulsing tune whose mood and manner might well suggest pared-down Bruckner. Structurally it’s more tightly drawn – no dancing mountains here – and in that sense Gál’s musical language tends to look backwards more than it does forward. That’s not a criticism, merely a marker, for it’s clear this music inhabits a strange, half-lit world between the warm Romanticism of the 19th century and the cooler climes of the 20th. That said, the gloaming is occasionally pierced with shafts of pure, unexpected loveliness.
This band plays with admirable finesse and concentration, and the recording is clean and well focused. Gál’s textures – often spare, but never emaciated – are alleviated somewhat by the greater amplitude and more rhythmically alert Allegro energico. At times there’s a hint of Mahler in dancerly mode, but what strikes one most forcibly is Gál’s propensity for periods of lucence and chamber-like intensity. It’s a persuasive mix, and there are no longueurs to speak of. As for that gorgeous Adagio, with its haunting cello line at the outset, it’s startling in its blend of radiance and gravitas. Eloquent playing, too.
“It has always been known that the greatest pianoforte players were also the greatest composers; but how did they play? Not like the pianists of today who prance up and down the keyboard with passages in which they have exercised themselves—what does that mean? Nothing.”
Ludwig van Beethoven in conversation 1814
A perusal of Beethoven’s early works reveals a number of pieces crafted to make a big impression. Of all of these youthful “calling card” pieces, perhaps the Piano Concerto in C major is the most audacious. Although we know it as his Concerto no. 1, it was his third essay in the genre- an early concerto in D major, written when he was only 13, never made it into the canon. This was followed by the work we now know as the Concerto no. 2 in B flat in 1790, and then, about five years later, this Concerto in C major. Even in the context of Beethoven’s entire output, it is a bold and massive work. Depending on which cadenza the soloist chooses, it is possibly on an even grander scale than the Emperor Concerto. Beethoven chose to make his “Piano Concerto no. 1” such a bold statement with good reason- in the 1790s, he was far better known as a pianist than as a composer.
The work he put before the Viennese in 1795 as part of a concert organized by his teacher Josef Haydn (featuring three of his new “London” symphonies), would have been the longest concerto ever heard in the city. Audiences scanning their programmes that night would have expected the work to be extrovert in tone- the choice of C major as a key and the inclusion of trumpets and drums would have quickly drawn comparisons with Mozart’s late piano concerti in the same key, and the Jupiter Symphony. However, the work opens not with chest-thumping grandeur, but with a soft, cheeky march. Beethoven will make much use of the tension created by unexpectedly extended stretches of soft music throughout the movement. When the soloist enters for the first time, it is with a tune not yet heard, and one that we will not hear again, but it is in the development that Beethoven’s imagination truly takes flight- musicologist Michael Steinberg calls this “one of Beethoven’s most magical chapters.” After a couple of sudden harmonic lurches, the music breaks through into something like a dream state. The entire development unfolds in miraculous intimacy, never really rising above a whisper, full of dreamlike chords, only bursting forth at the recapitulation with the fortissimo we’d expected from the very beginning. Beethoven would have improvised his cadenza at the premiere, but about ten years later he wrote two cadenzas, taking advantage of the expanded range of his new piano. One of these is of normal scale, the other is enormous, and some critics have questioned whether such a big cadenza is somehow out of proportion to the work, a question only Beethoven could have answered definitively, and did.
The following Largo begins in the distant, dark key of A-flat major, opening with a slow version of the march rhythm that began the first movement underpinning the piano melody. As with so many of his later concerti, this middle movement is sublimely inward looking and spiritual. The final Rondo shows Beethoven at his wittiest and most mischievous- Haydn must have been pleased with it at that first concert. He would certainly have delighted in the way Beethoven takes a simple, cheeky theme and builds from it a movement full of outrageous harmonic twists and turns. At the very end, one senses the pianist running out of steam, slipping back into the dream world of the development of the first movement. Beethoven’s pupil Czerny advised conductors to then wait as long as they could stand it, again savouring the tension created by unexpectedly extended stretches of soft music, before unleashing the final mad fortissimo flourish.
I attended my first Scotia Festival as a student in 1993- Peter Lieberson was the composer-of-the-year, Pierre-Laurent Aimard was the pianist-in-the-house. How could I not want to keep coming back? Over the following years I got to meet and work with composers like Oliver Knussen and Joan Tower, instrumentalists like Marc-Andre Hamelin, and I got to share a stand with Desmond Hoebig and Fred Sherry. I also cut my conducting teeth there, and had all kinds of memorable chamber music experiences/ It broke my heart to realize I was getting too old to keep coming back as a student at some point.
I was last there as a guest artist in 2004. So, how excited am I to be heading back to an event that absolutely rightly calls itself the “greatest little chamber music festival in the world”? (FYI- the last piece I played at the festival was Turangalila- not exactly “little” or “chamber music.”)
Here’s my performance schedule for the two weeks. It should be an absolute blast- great repertoire, great colleagues. If you’re anywhere within about 1000 miles of Halifax, come and catch a concert or two. There are too many highlights to count for me- my first time to conduct anything by John Adams, a chance to do Berg’s monumentally challenging Chamber Concerto, a Britten anniversary celebratory performance of the Frank Bridge Variations and a chance to play some of Epomeo’s real party pieces. The complete Festival schedule is on their website.
Highlight Concert 1
Monday, May 27, 2013 7:00 pm
Sir James Dunn Theatre, Dalhousie Arts Centre
Bach - Chaconne - Philippe Djokic, violin
Schnittke - String Trio - Ensemble Epomeo (Carolin Chin, violin, David Yang, viola, Kenneth Woods, cello)
Schubert - E flat major Piano Trio - John Novacek, piano, Mark Fewer, violin, Denise Djokic, cello
Recital 1 – Ensemble Epomeo
Tuesday, May 28, 2013 7:00 pm
Sir James Dunn Theatre, 6101 University Ave.
Carolin Chin, violin, David Young, viola Ken Woods, cello
Krása – Tanec & Passacaglia and Fuga
Penderecki – String Trio
Kurtag – Signs, Games and Messages
Beethoven – String Trio in E-flat, Op. 3
Highlight Concert 3
Friday, May 31, 2013 7:00 pm
Sir James Dunn Theatre, Dalhousie Arts Centre
Britten - Cello Suite No. 3 - Denise Djokic, cello
Brady, Tim - World-premiere - Suzanne Lemieux, oboe, Tim Brady, electric guitar, Caroline Chin, violin, David Yang, viola, Kenneth Woods, cello, Simon Docking, piano
Tchaikovsky - Piano Trio - John Novacek, piano, Mark Fewer, violin, Denise Djokic, cello
Highlight Concert 4
Tuesday, June 4, 2013 7:00 pm
Sir James Dunn Theatre, Dalhousie Arts Centre
Berg - Concerto for Piano, Violin & 13 Winds - Scotia Winds, Robert Uchida,violin, Simon Docking, piano, Ken Woods, conductor
Mozart - Wind Serenade No. 10, K. 361, Gran Partita - Scotia Winds, Ken Woods, conductor
Highlight Concert 5
Wednesday, June 5, 2013 7:00 pm
Sir James Dunn Theatre, Dalhousie Arts Centre
Weinberg - String Trio - Ensemble Epomeo (Carolin Chin, violin, David Yang, viola, Kenneth Woods, cello)
Brahms - Clarinet Trio, Op. 114 - Micah Heilbrunn, clarinet, Blair Lofgren, cello, Peter Allen, piano
Smetana - Piano Trio - John Novacek, piano, Mark Fewer, violin, Denise Djokic, cello
Highlight Concert 6
Friday, June 7, 2013 7:00 pm
Sir James Dunn Theatre, Dalhousie Arts Centre
T. Brady – “We’re Hardcore” - Kenneth Woods, conductor, Janice Jackson, soprano, Airi Yoshioka, violin, Caroline Chine, violin, David Yang, viola, Blair Lofgren, cello, Max Kasper, bass
Kurt Weill – The Threepenny Opera – Scotia Winds, Kenneth Woods, conductor
Britten – Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op.10 – Scotia Festival Strings, Kenneth Woods, conductor
Sunday, June 9, 2013 2:00 pm
Sir James Dunn Theatre, Dalhousie Arts Centre
John Adams - Violin Concerto - Mark Fewer, violin
Mozart - Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, K.453 - John Novacek, piano
Shostakovich - Cello Concerto - Denise Djokic, cello
A review appeared in Tempo Magazine from January 2013 of the Orchestra of the Swan’s “Trumpet Shall Sound” concert. A short excerpt follows
Composer John McCabe
Although John McCabe’s Rainforest II, of 1987, is in effect a chamber concerto for trumpet and 11 strings, his extensive body of concertante works has lacked an official trumpet concerto. La Primavera, which had its première on 15 June 2012, now happily fills that gap. The subtitle derives from McCabe’s consideration of two aspects of the approach of Spring: the vitality of burgeoning growth and the flowering of the new or refreshed life as it expands.
Completed in 2012, McCabe’s concerto is conceived on a small scale, requiring an accompanying orchestra consisting of one each of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet and tenor trombone, together with a modest array of percussion – for one player – and strings. Two unconventional aspects of the score must be mentioned. First, in the work’s central Andante the soloist uses a flugelhorn, an instrument of melancholy radiance with resonances of Miles Davies and Vaughan Williams’s symphonic swansong; McCabe exploits both of these elements persuasively to stirring effect in his slow movement. The second unusual element concerns the percussion, which, due to its obbligato-like character, is required to be placed at the front of the platform near the trumpet soloist.
Formally, the work is traditional, with three clearly defined sections or movements in the pattern of fast–slow–fast. Quicksilver and quixotic, the opening Allegro switches between moods of buoyant festivity and chamber-like delicacy. Droll references to the Rite of Spring add to the music’s zestful good humour, though it is typical of McCabe’s fastidiousness that these Stravinsky ‘quotations’ are not merely inserted randomly into the score but rather constitute a logical development of the ascending and descending woodwind figures heard in the concerto’s opening bars…
Following without a break, the slow movement begins in a state of near-suspension, an effect achieved by layers of sustained and muted strings, before an intricate theme rises eventually from the lower strings, ultimately forming a full string texture. The jazz-like nature of this central episode is emphasised by subtle use of double-bass pizzicato and openly lyrical writing for the soloist. After a brief ‘quasi cadenza’ for solo trumpet and bongos, the swift finale is infectiously rhythmic, mirroring the first movement’s accumulation through the contiguity of various overlapping strands…In the concerto’s closing moments, the combined orchestral forces punch out a forceful, heavily accented unison before the textures rapidly etiolate, leaving the trumpet solo with the last word.
Commissioned by the Orchestra of the Swan and dedicated to trumpet soloist Simon Desbruslais, La Primavera was expertly rendered by these musicians under the authoritative direction of Kenneth Woods. A special tribute must be paid to the key contribution of the orchestra’s percussionist, spotlighted by this exacting score almost as much as Desbruslais; their extensive interplay was a crucial element in the concerto’s winning composite of conviviality and intimacy.
Earlier in the first half of the concert at Stratford-upon-Avon’s Civic Hall, another new piece received its world première – Deborah Pritchard’s Skyspace for solo piccolo trumpet and string orchestra, inspired by the installations of artist James Turrell. Divided into seven vivid miniatures, this finely wrought piece extracted a strikingly rich and diverse range of colours from its circumscribed resources, thanks in part to an imaginative use of divided strings, notably in sumptuous chordal passages….
Also on the orchestra’s exceptionally enterprising programme, which included Michael Tippett’s Little Music for Strings and Divertimento on ‘Sellinger’s Round’, was a rare and welcome opportunity to hear Robert Saxton’s piece for solo trumpet and small orchestra Psalm – A Song of Ascents, written in 1992 and given its première by John Wallace and the London Sinfonietta the following year. This poetic work was influenced by diverse biblical references to the trumpet, ranging from ceremonial fanfares to the instrument’s seraphic associations. The diversity of character suggested by these allusions is reflected in Saxton’s textless psalm, which ranges widely in mood from the bell-tinted introspective beginning, launched by a unison E, to the joyously rhythmic third and final section via a song-like allegro moderato central episode. Generating waves of pulsating energy, the score increases gradually in tempo until a resounding climax is reached, followed by a radiant, sustained A major coda ending in a state of repose. It was gratifying to be given a chance to experience this challenging work in a reading of such heroic panache and fierce dedication: soloist, players and conductor valiantly negotiated the score’s fiendish polyrhythms and labyrinthine tempo associations, whilst building a convincing case for it to be regarded as one of Saxton’s finest utterances.
To sum up, this event was memorable for the quality of its performances and the boldness of its scheduling in equal measure. It is a pleasure to be able to report that the featured McCabe, Pritchard and Saxton works have been recorded by the same artists for future release on the Signum Classics label.
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