Ensemble Epomeo

String Trio

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Classical Music Magazine Feature on Ensemble Epomeo

Recordings editor Phil Sommerich interviews the members of Ensemble Epomeo on their new recording of the trios of Hans Gal and Hans Krasa in the current issue of Classical Music Magazine (October 20, 2012). On sale now! Buy a copy while you can, or better yet, subscribe.

 

 

 

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Andrew Patner/WFMT “Critical Thinking” on Gal and Krasa Complete String Trios

This week’s episode of critic, author and journalist Andrew Patner’s show “Critical Thinking” on WFMT-Chicago features discussion of and selections from our new recording of the trios of Hans Gal and Hans Krasa.

You can listen to the episode on the WFMT website here, or download the podcast here:

Download MP3 (right-click and choose “save as” to download)

Our segment begins at 35:55. Other artists include Eighth Blackbird and Nicholas Phan

 

If you feel inspired to buy the disc, please do!

 

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Change of Program- October 19th, 2012

Hi everyone

There have been some program changes for our concert in Brooklyn on Friday. Our host, composer Michael Vincent Waller, has finished some exciting new works that we all agreed ought be added to the program, so we’ve sadly had to cancelled the Schnittke and Mozart Trios originally announced. Here is the final running order for the concert:

New Renaissance
Ensemble Epomeo

Michael Vi

ncent Waller
Glissando Phase III (2011/rev. 2012)*

Michael Vincent Waller
Studiare per Zero Quartetti (2012)
Part II
Part III

Michael Vincent Waller
Allegoria della Primavera (2012)

Michael Vincent Waller
Y per Henry Flynt (2012)

—- intermission —-

Lou Harrison
String Trio (1946)

Michael Vincent Waller
Per La Madre e La Nonna (2012)*

James Tenney
Koan (1971)
[Arranged for violin duo by Michael Waller]

Michael Vincent Waller
Studiare per Zero Quartetti (2012)
Part I

Ludwig van Beethoven
Op. 3, String Trio No. 1 in E-Flat Major (1784)
VI. Allegro (Finale)

*world premiere

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CD Review- Colin Anderson, The Classical Source on Gal/Krasa Complete String Trios

A very positive new review of our debut CD from Classical Source editor Colin Anderson.

Read the whole thing here. A short sample follows below

 

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However, although placed at the end of the disc, and previously recorded, it was the two pieces by Hans Krása that your reviewer was initially attracted to. Czech-born Krása (1899-1944) died an ignominious death in the Nazi gas chambers at Auschwitz on 18 October in the penultimate year of World War Two; he had been transported there just two days previously together with fellow-composers Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann and Pavel Haas. Tanec (which simply means Dance) is salty and spirited before relaxing into the reflective curves of Eastern European exotic expression, then syncopating and swanking along to a rather bitter-chorded conclusion. Gravitas informs the opening of Passacaglia and Fuga (also from 1944), serious and searching, Bachian with just a hint of Schoenberg, but any severity is offset by a slow and seductive waltz and, then, a furious Fugue, concluding with another off-note finish.

Each of Hans Gál’s string trios lasts for around 25 minutes. The first one is disguised as a Serenade (1932). Its four movements are outgoing and pleasing, written with economy, every note having its place, and Gál wasn’t about to turn his back on the popular side of Viennese dance in music that is at once ‘light’, intricately laced and symphonic. The second movement melts in the mouth, its counterpoint developing like a spider’s web. The following Minuet is a lively affair (Haydn and Mozart would have welcomed Gál to dinner as one of their own) and the finale is engaging in its tripping transparency and classical interweaving. This really attractive work – capricious and singing (I plagiarise Gál’s movement titles) – is a very likeable discovery.

The String Trio in F sharp minor dates from 1971. The first movement might be thought strict and strenuous, the writing pared to musical essentials, but there is no lack of assertiveness and bittersweet detours. The second movement, marked Presto, courses along; and the finale, a ‘Theme and Variations’, is often deep in thought, but its privacy is neither ring-fenced to shared listening nor indifferent to changes of mood.

Vividly recorded, the three instrumentalists of Ensemble Epomeo – closely balanced in a slightly too big and resonant acoustic – play superbly individually and as a team and with obvious commitment; clearly Kenneth Woods’s burgeoning conducting career is not to the detriment of his artistry on the cello. Woods has also written a typically enlightening booklet note.

 

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CD Review- Irish Times on Gal/Krasa Complete Trios

A new four-star review for our CD from Michael Dervan of the Irish Times.

Dervan says of the Krasa works “the trios by Krása were written in the months before his death. Tanec (Dance) mixes light and dark, the Passacaglia and Fuga shift from sombreness into agitation.” Of the Gal trios he writes “Gál’s 1932 Serenade (a genuflection to Beethoven’s serenades) and 1971 Trio in F sharp minor are much lighter. The Serenade at times doesn’t so much seem neo-classical as an attempt to re-settle in a lost world, and the gravity of the Trio’s opening movement is followed by music in an altogether lighter vein.”

Dervan also reports that “The performances by members of Ensemble Epomeo are highly persuasive.”

Read the whole thing here

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Beethoven- Looking for the right tempo, or at least avoiding the wrong ones

By Ken

 

It’s been a few months since I sat down for a rehearsal with my colleagues in Ensemble Epomeo, but next week we begin a busy two-week tour of the East Coast, with a mountain of repertoire to learn- four huge programs in all. Central to most of our concerts is Beethoven’s first String Trio, opus 3 in E flat. It’s a big piece in six movements (it’s really a Serenade, although Beethoven apparently didn’t call it one) and a huge undertaking for any group that takes its challenges seriously.

Although all of us had performed opus 3 at various times in our individual careers, we first played it as Epomeo last April. Among the many issues that brought up spirited discussions was the question of tempo.  Perhaps since we all had played it before, we each came in with fairly strong ideas about tempi, and, in this case, those ideas didn’t initially mesh. How does a democratic group with three independently minded artists come to a consensus about how fast we ought to play a movement of Beethoven? How do we know what the “right” tempo is?

Can there even be a “right” tempo?

Beethoven certainly thought there could be, and, more importantly, he was certainly concerned that performers avoid the wrong tempi. To this end, he was the first major composer to adapt the use of the metronome, and to give metronome markings to some of his works.

How much did tempo matter to Beethoven? Well, late in his career he implored that the premiere of his Missa solemnis be postponed until the conductor received the new metronome markings for the piece. Better no performance at all than one that got all the tempi wrong.

Of course, Beethoven’s metronome markings have always remained controversial, and there are many misunderstandings about what his metronome markings do and don’t tell us. For instance,  many people think that taking note of the metronome markings leads to “metronomic” playing in which everything is played in strictly unyielding time. This seems not to have been at all what Beethoven had in mind- as a pianist, he was very much a rubato player, and his tempi could vary quite a bit within a movement.  A metronome marking is certainly not an attempt on Beethoven’s part to tell us that ever bar in a movement should go at exactly that speed- in fact, it’s perfectly possible that not a single bar will actually go at that exactly that speed. What it does tell you is the neighbourhood of the speed.

Metronome markings also clarify the relationship between the tempi of different movements. For instance, in the 2nd Symphony Beethoven marks both the main body of the first movement and the Scherzo at 100 beats per minute (the first mvt is in half notes, the third in dotted half notes). The Finale is marked 152, which means the quarter notes in the 3rd mvt are the same speed (or as close as he could get on his metronome) to those  in the Finale (300 per minute).  So yes, one might decide that the marking for the first  movement is “too” fast, but one then has to take that into account and adjust the last two movements accordingly. Also- the 2nd movement is at 92- if the first movement gets much slower than the 100 he marks, the 2nd movement no longer sounds very slightly slower as it should.

One can also see that the speed of  the pulse in the last movement of the 5th Symphony should be slower than that of the Scherzo (many conductors, even George Szell, get this relationship completely backwards).

Anyway- conductors have struggled with, argued about and ignored LvB’s metronome markings for centuries. At least they get discussed. Beethoven also wrote metronome markings for all the quartets through opus 95.  I’m going to name drop for a moment here to make a point. I ‘ve coached with members of the Borodin, Tokyo, La Salle, Pro Arte, Vermeer, Orford, Emerson, Vegh, Amadeus and Berkshire quartets, and that list is not all-inclusive. In all my years as a student, I never had a teacher call our attention to, discuss or, god forbid, achieve a single one of the metronomes in the Beethoven quartets. They literally never, ever once came up that I can remember (and if I’ve forgotten, I apologize!). Sure, they’re often fast and difficult, but they tell us so much about the pieces, about the relationships between movements, about what the Italian tempo terms mean.  I wish I’d been more curious as a young man when I was actually playing Beethoven quartets all the time. I feel like I wasted a great deal of time with those pieces. I would guess the Hungarian Quartet worked with Beethoven’s metronome markings based on some of their tempi, and the Elias Quartet  have written about them, but the vast majority of quartets seem to ignore them or not even know about them.

But back to opus 3!

Fond as he was of the metronome, Beethoven didn’t provide metronome markings for all of his music, and there are none for the string trios (at least to the best of my knowledge). So is all of this  discussion of metronome markings irrelevant to Ensemble Epomeo? Do we have to resort to instinct and taste? Well, I’d argue that metronome markings can and should always be applied with instinct and taste. On the other hand,  I was worried last spring that we were gravitating towards tempi that weren’t consistent with what I’d learned in 20 years of trying to understand the metronome marks in the symphonies.

In the end, I decided to look for examples in other works of Beethoven of movements with similar Italian tempo markings, meters and rhythmic units. For instance, our most colourful discussions had been about the fourth movement of opus 3, and Adagio in 2/4 in which the fastest notes are 32nds, and the harmonic rhythm is fairly slow. Were there movements in the symphonies that could be instructive as to what Adagio in 2/4 with 32nd notes meant to Beethoven? What about the second movement, an Andante in 3/8, or the Finale, an Allegro in 2/4? Is it in “two” or in “one? Did Beethoven write any 2/4 Finales with a metronome marking given in quarter notes? Only one- the Finale of his first String Quartet, opus 18 no. 1 is marked quarter=120, but there are oodles of sixteenth-note sextuplets and even 32nd notes in it. All the others I can think of are marked in half notes and they all, like the Finale of opus 3, go up to sixteenth notes.

Below are my findings. Of course, these kinds of extrapolations can’t fully take into account the character and harmonic rhythm of a distinct piece of music, but I found this very interesting and instructive. Yes, most movements would likely end up faster than we played them last spring extrapolating from this list, but the 2nd Menuet will end up slower, which I think will be cool.

Fellow musicians: What is your experience looking for the right tempo in Beethoven’s music where there is no metronome marking?

In any case, remember, a metronome marking is just a starting point.

Meanwhile, here is a list of my comparisons, followed by links to some of Paavo Jarvi’s performances of the symphonies which tend to be both technically accomplished and fairly close to the metronome marks. I’ll also include a list of all the metronome markings for the quartets.

And, have no doubt- even with this research done, the spirited discussions will continue!

Read More

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Librettist Peter Davison- Captain Samuels Speaks to the Sea

Peter Davison, Artistic Director of Two Rivers Festival and author of Captain Samuels speaks to the sea writes about some of the background to Ensemble Epomeo’s latest commissioned work, due to be performed at Newburyport on 13 October.

 

Poet Peter Davison

Writing any kind of text to order poses a unique challenge. At the mundane level, it can be like a homework project – please write so many words on a given subject, trying to avoid spelling mistakes and any errors of grammar. But sometimes the need to focus on a project you have not thought of yourself can be a very fruitful discipline. When I was asked by David Yang, Artistic Director of the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival and violist of Ensemble Epomeo, to write something that connected his festival with mine here in Wirral, England, the challenge was irresistible. First we had to check a hunch. Did ships from Newburyport, USA ever sail to Wirral’s old port on the Dee estuary at Parkgate?

Until the early 19C, Parkgate was the major port for ships heading West to Ireland and beyond. Handel stayed there while waiting to travel to Dublin for the first performance of the Messiah, and supposedly Liszt did too on one his early concert tours. The port silted up in the early 19C, so that trade switched to the deeper moorings in nearby Liverpool on the River Mersey, which soon grew to be the one of the busiest ports in the world. We drew a blank regarding Parkgate, but the connections between Newburyport and Liverpool were much stronger. Advised by the Director of the Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport, Michael Mroz, we focused on Samuel Samuels, the famous American sea-captain who sailed the transatlantic shipping lanes throughout the mid 19C, and whose ship Dreadnought held the record for the fastest crossing ever made by a three-masted clipper; a feat that was not eclipsed until the advent of steamships.

To write about such a character required that I came to understand him, discovering his achievements and the chief incidents of his life. We are especially lucky that Captain Samuels wrote an entertaining and well-written memoire – From the Forecastle to the Cabin. It reads like a classic adventure story, from his running away to sea to escape the beatings of his step-mother to his confrontations with violent mutineers and pirates. At one stage, he even assisted in an elopement. He shows himself a man of sensitivity and courage, but what interested me particularly was his combative spirit; his need to race and compete. This seems to me something fundamental to our modern outlook, where winning is paramount. I wanted to ask – what motivates this drive in human nature?

I imagined how Samuels might look back on his life and his relationship with the sea. Was he striving to beat his fellow men, to prove a point, to win glory – or was he in fact pitted against the sea itself? He could achieve nothing without the sea’s assistance, and often as not, the sea was his greatest obstacle. I placed Samuels at the end of his life, looking out to sea, recalling a remarkable personal history and facing death with calm resignation, as it creeps up on him in old age. He reflects on why he felt so driven, and what the sea had really meant to him. Many will sense the obvious symbolism of the sea as both the collective and personal unconscious, as an image of Nature’s mystery, even as divine presence. The sea is Samuels’ inner awareness, the ocean of his mind.

Once I had the central idea in place, words flowed quickly. Then came the more painstaking and painful process of refinement, editing and performing out loud, to be sure the text  fulfilled its purpose. It is not a poem in the strictest sense, but it had to have a natural rhythm and a shape that would make it memorable, fluent and meaningful. Because the text was to be set to music, it needed a form in distinct sections; each with a definite and contrasting mood. First he remembers the past with pride. Then he returns to childhood, falling under the sea’s spell. In his prime, he builds his miracle-ship and wins glory. But, in the last section, he is resigned and reflective because he is yesterday’s man. Usually, images and ideas recur without conscious effort to create a unity. The sea is one such symbol. She is a fickle mistress, a source of comfort and a stubborn opponent. The image of gold also recurs; the golden sunshine of memory and gold as the reward of heaven. But perhaps the key moment of the text is the revelation of the hidden fear that has driven the heroic captain to his achievements. Racing needs a rival or a pursuer, and the fear of defeat, the fear of losing is perhaps a stronger driver than even the wish to come first. The human need to strive, to conquer and achieve has a diabolical aspect – a bid for immortality and to beat the divine creator at his own game.

I researched on-line the rich store of Anglo-American sea shanties, and found in them an authentic heritage of the high seas. There are songs of loss – sailors lost at sea, lovers abandoned on cliff-tops, but also songs of the joy of freedom from the constraints of conventional life. The sea captivates us all through its mythic presence, whether we step on a boat or not. It draws us beyond the horizon towards the unknown, into its awesome power and vastness. We love it, yet it can at any time sweep us away into oblivion. It inspires courage and fear, drawing out the best of us and the worst.

Any human achievement is relative to its own time, and the way in which we are all superseded also interested me. In our own time, the Atlantic can be crossed in a just a few hours by plane and it is unremarkable to do so but, back then, crossing the ocean in under a fortnight seemed a miracle of speed and human endeavour.  In my piece, Samuels hints at the future, knowing that what impresses one generation is commonplace to another. He lived through the decline of the great sail-ships grieving the loss of their romance and their intrinsic connection the elements. He knew that technological advance had diminished his achievement over time, and that the excitement of being first and fastest had been short-lived.

The aim of writing my text was to extract the universal from the specific, to find what is true for all of humanity in one man’s story. Samuel Samuels brings a special dignity to his achievements, because he lived such a full and adventurous life. Fear may have driven him, but he never succumbed to his fears, instead turning them into a relish for adventure and testing himself to the limit. I hope my words will capture something of his indomitable spirit, but also the sadness that accompanies the decline of his considerable powers. Samuels embraces eternity willingly and with faith, with the same spirit with which, in his heyday, he sailed to distant horizons. In his sturdy bones, he knew that the cycle of life and death is one long journey into the unknown.

Peter Davison is a writer, poet, cultural commentator and initiator of creative projects. He has written a good deal of poetry, includingRiverborn and In the Borders, exploring the mythical presence of landscape and Man’s often troubled relationship with Nature. He has also thought deeply about music. In 2001, he edited Reviving the Muse, a collection of writings on the direction of new music, including two essays of his own and, in 2010, published Wrestling with Angels about the life and work of Gustav Mahler. Peter Davison has been artistic consultant to the major international concert venue, The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, England, since it opened in 1996, and became co-founder and artistic director of the Two Rivers Festival in Wirral in 2008.

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CD Review- Joshua Kosman/SF Chronicle on Gal/Krasa Complete Trios

A new review of our debut CD from critic Joshua Kosman in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Kosman describes the Gal Serenade as “a witty, sardonic and often beautiful score, which adopts the mannerisms of the Classical style while simultaneously sending them up with love and zest,” and hails Gal’s opus 104 for “Gál’s undeniable mastery of resources.” Most enthusiastic of all, is Kosman’s endorsement of Krasa’s Passacaglia and Fugue, which ends the CD: “Krása’s Passacaglia and Fugue is a brilliant revelation, a savage takedown of artistic ideals in which order and luxuriance devolve into chaos. It’s a compact, unforgettable masterpiece, and the Ensemble Epomeo – which includes Woods along with violinist Caroline Chin and violist David Yang – gives it a superb performance.”

Read the whole thing here

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