Ensemble Epomeo

String Trio

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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

Buy here from MDT UK

Buy here from Arkiv USA

Buy here from Amazon UK

Buy here from Amazon USA

 

 

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Indiegogo Success!!! And how you can still help…

Hello everyone!

Good news- our Indiegogo campaign ended on August 21st and we more than raised our goal of $5000 with a total of $5,561!

We all want to thank everyone who gave, but also everyone who helped spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, via email and word of mouth. Your support and encouragement is truly humbling and inspiring!

Our success on Indiegogo means we’re very close to having raised the total $7,550 needed to release the disc, and we’ve had another wave of donations come in via checks and PayPal since the official campaign ended from friends old and new who missed the Indiegogo deadline. It’s not too late to give- if you click on the PayPal button below to donate, you’ll help us close the final gap in funding, and your donation is completely tax deductible if you are a US taxpayer.

 



You can also make a tax-deductible donation by check.
Please make checks payable to “Musica Reginae Productions” and please write “Epomeo” on the memo line of your check. 
Send checks to:

MRP Epomeo Campaign

C/O C Chin

136 Saint Marks Ave, #4

Brooklyn, NY 11217

USA

THANKS again to everyone! With your help, we’re going to make it!

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An important update from Ensemble Epomeo

Hi everyone

Well, our CD project is on the home stretch. Since we last wrote to you, we have come a long, long way with our fundraiser– we’ve now raised $4,381 of the $8,000 we need to release this disc, a huge improvement in just 2 weeks.
The disc itself is also nearly finished. The booklet and packaging is done and has been sent to the manufacturer (read about the process here), and the work on music itself is nearly complete. While the world has been watching the Olympics, we’ve been working intensely with our producer Simon Fox, to finish the final editing and mastering of the disc, and tomorrow, the recording goes to the pressing plant. We’re in awe of the work he’s done on the disc, and very excited about how it is all sounding.
It’s been quite emotional for all of us to hear the recording as it reaches completion. Listening to yourself critically is always draining and fraught, but even with our editing ears on, we’ve been really struck by how moving and exciting these pieces are. It’s terrible to think such wonderful, inspiring and powerful music could remain lost or ignored for so long.  We’ve lived with these pieces a long time, but this has been our first chance to sit back and be listeners without having to focus on counting and playing. Gal’s Serenade has waited 81 years for a first recording- when you hear the piece, you won’t believe anything so gorgeous could be ignored for so long.
But we can’t take anything for granted. We’ve been ploughing ahead at full speed confident that we can count on all of you to come through for us, but the fact is, if we don’t meet our goals, we can’t pay our manufacturing and royalty costs, and the disc won’t come out.
Eighty-one years. That’s how long Gal has waited for someone else to make the effort to put  some of this music before the public. Someone else isn’t going to do it. We have to do it. We need you to help us do it!
We’ve got 16 days left! Help us make it happen
Caroline, David and Ken

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The Making of A CD part I

Hello everyone

We thought it was about time we took a moment to update you on the artistic, rather than financial progress of our CD project.

Our recording of the trios of Hans Gál and Hans Kràsa comes out in September, but our journey with the project is very much on the home straight- the disc goes to the factory this week.

It’s easy to forget that a physical CD is more than just the music- its design also meant to please the eye, and the liner notes should help to illuminate the listening experience. We’re very, very lucky to be releasing this disc on Avie Records, whose model of artist ownership gives musicians every opportunity to shape their message and to make the entire CD, from the notes we play to the liner notes we write, reflect what we’re trying to put across about the music and ourselves.

Not all musicians want to get involved in the minutiae of writing notes, and fewer still have the skill sets to actively participate in the design process, beyond suggesting pictures and giving designers a bit of feedback. Not so in Epomeo- our violist, David Yang, studied architecture and design in a previous life and was very keen to return to dust off his design chops for this project. Everyone in the group and at Avie thought that, because this is our CD debut, the cover needed to introduce us, but also needed to be appropriate for a recording of some music shaped by extremely serious historical events. Most of you will have seen David’s striking design for the CD cover, but we thought some of you might be interested to see the covers we didn’t use:

I think we called this one “French Connection”

 

 

 

I think we called this one “Russian Mob”

 

I really liked this one:

 

And my personal favorite

 

However, there’s more to designing a cover or a whole CD than coming up with a bitchin’ picture and slapping some text on it. CD covers and booklets need to conform to fairly rigid templates, and be encoded in a way that will ensure the colours and proportions end up printed in the right way. White Label Productions do the booklets and design for most of the UK CD industry, including all the Avie recordings, and they’ve worked closely and tirelessly with us in translating David’s designs into something ready to go to the factory. It takes a great deal of patience, attention to detail and an awareness not only of what looks good, but of how people read and take in information.

So, with our factory deadline approaching, we’ve been working to not only get the designs right, but to get the entire booklet finished- notes, bios tracklists and acknowledgements. I (Ken- the cello player) wrote the liner notes back in February and early March, and they’ve since been translated into French and German by White Label’s crack foreign language team. Now that they’ve been formatted into the booklet, I’ve had time to forget what I’ve written and read it with a fresh eye and ear, and, invariably I’ve found a few things that could be improved, and caught one factual error that nobody else had noticed. Of course, there are bound to be typos in all three languages that need to be sniffed out. Nobody catches everything, and usually the author catches the least, so I’m glad I’ve had some great proofreaders to help. I’m amused that I seem to have gotten away with using the expression “all hell breaks loose” in one essay- it’s not typical liner note language for a chamber music disc, but, in this case, all hell does break loose, so unless someone insists on a re-write before tomorrow, I think that will be in there. I’m pleased.

Communication on a project like this can be complicated. Everything needs to be checked and approved by the design team at White Label in London and the senior Avie team in Massachusetts, New York and Oxford. We’ve also been busy sourcing photographs for the booklet from our own photographer, the amazing Benjamin Ealovega and historical images from the Hans Gál Society in Edinburgh, the Jewish Museum in Prague, the US Holocaust Museum and the Wiener Holocaust Memorial Museum in London, all of whom have been incredibly helpful in finding and licencing the images we need to tell the stories of these two composers.

Then there are the three of us in the trio: Ken here in Cardiff, Caroline in Maine for several days and now back in Brooklyn and David, who was in a remote corner of Canada at a chamber music festival for much of the work this month on the booklet, and who is now hard at work in an even more remote corner of Italy. It hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing on the technological front- we’ve had issues with different versions of Acrobat Reader yielding some comically varied versions of the designs on different machines, the hard drive on my MacBook died a few days ago, and David has had to go to some extraordinary lengths to find a WiFi signal in Italy. Here are some of his reports:

-Hi ken,I am sitting out in the middle of the street, if you can believe it, and piggybacking on some  unknowing soul’s internet. I was desperate to send this stuff this morning. It really is the middle of nowhere here but strikingly beautiful.

-Here I am in the street again. A stray dog and mangy cat are watching me. They are now my friends.

-The mangy cat just walked away. Got bored, I suspect.

It really is a glamorous life…

So, tomorrow morning, we’ll have a final look at the proofs, and hopefully, we’ll be done with everything but the music.

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Help us bring the music of Gal and Krasa back to life.

There’s only one month left!
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve already heard us talk about our important fundraising campaign, but we need your help, and we need it before August 21st. It’s that simple.
Last December, we recorded our debut CD as a trio in Glastonbury with producer Simon Fox. On the disc are four incredible works by Jewish composers whose lives and careers were decisively shaped by the events of 1933-1945.
Hans Gál (1890-1987) was born in Vienna and become one of the most popular pre-war composers in Germany and Austria until Hitler came to power in 1933. Gál’s music was banned by the Nazis, and he had to flee for his life to Britain. He was interred during the war by the British, and suffered terribly before being liberated. Although he became an important academic in Edinburgh and continued to composer prolifically into the 1980’s, his music fell into near-complete neglect. Neither his Serenade (written in 1931) nor his Trio in F sharp minor (written in 1973), which are receiving their world-premiere recordings on this disc, had been performed in the United States before 2010.
If the fate of Gál and his music was a sad one, that of his contemporary Hans Krása (1899-1944) was even more tragic. Born in Prague, he was considered one of the brightest lights of a generation of Czech composers inspired by Mahler, Schoenberg and Janacek. During the war he was interred at the Terezin Ghetto outside of Prague, where he was part of one last great creative flowering for a generation of Jewish composers including Vitkor Ullmann, Pavel Haas and Gideon Klein who were all deported Auschwitz and murderd in 1944. His two string trios, Tanec (“Dance”) and Passacaglia and Fugue were written just before his death.
For most of the last 60 years, the music of this generation was lost or forgotten.  As a trio, we felt that it was essential that these masterpieces be available to music lovers and musicians everywhere. We’re very excited that the Avie record label have agreed to release the CD- they are consistently one of the most critically acclaimed labels in the industry, and have been particularly instrumental in bringing the music of Hans Gál to a global audience.
This disc is in the can and ready to be released- the release is scheduled for September. We now need to raise about $8000 to cover the production, distribution and copyright costs. We’ve started an Indiegogo campaign, which is progressing well- we need to raise at least $5-8,00 via this campaign for the release to be possible at all, but we’re over 25% there already.
You’re the ones we now turn to make this dream a reality. This music has waited too long to be heard, and it’s not going to be heard without your help. Donating is easy- just visit our campaign home page. You can donate via credit card or PayPal and donations are tax deductible. We also have a great selection of thank you gifts.
If you visit our website and our campaign headquarters, you can learn more about the pieces, see the cover and even hear a sneak preview of the first edit of the CD. Once you hear this music, we think you’ll understand why we’re so passionate about it. We know times are tough, and not everyone is in a position to donate- but maybe you can forward this message to others you know who are passionate about music and history. Every gesture matters, every penny helps.
Thank you very much!
Caroline, David and Ken
Frequently Asked Questions-
1-    What is this money for? We need to pay for the costs of designing and printing the booklet and CD itself, the distribution costs and “mechanical copyright costs,” which are charges made on all works in copyright.
2-    What about the costs of recording and post-production? We felt so strongly about this project that the members of the trio paid for the recording production, engineering, editing and venue out of our own pockets. We’re proud to be investors in this great music! Now we need your help to get the recording released.
3-    Why isn’t the record company paying for it? With very few exceptions, record labels no longer invest their own money in classical recordings except for high-profile “crossover” CDs. (Even in the pop and rock industry, labels loan money to artists, but rarely pay for costs. Advances must be recouped from sales or artists end up owning their labels). Most recordings are supported by artists, performing arts organizations, foundations and private sponsorship, whether at the Chicago and London symphonies, who sell their recordings on their own label, or Ensemble Epomeo.
4-    What does Avie do and what happens to proceeds from record sales? Avie handle design, production and distribution. They make sure the record gets reviewed and that it is available all over the world. Avie works on a business model of artist ownership- a model they invented which has been hugely successful. Ensemble Epomeo will own this recording, and proceeds from sales of this disc go into our Avie Account to pay for future recordings.
5-    Do donors get a share of the sales? Sadly, no, but you do get a range of thank you gifts and your donation is  tax deductible. Profits from the CD will go towards paying for future CD projects. Hopefully your investment makes possible a legacy of many recordings.
6-    When can I hear the CD?  All donors over $15 get a copy of the disc, which will be released in September. Thank you gifts will be shipped in October.
Ensemble Epomeo
String Trio
+44 7973 906206
+1 608 216 6553

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Explore the Score: Hans Krasa- String Trios

It’s time for another sneak peek at the liner notes for our upcoming CD.

As you know, we’re right in the thick of an urgent fundraising campaign to get this disc out. We’re going to need to raise about $8000 USD to get this thing out, and need to raise at least $5,000 of that from our current Indiegogo campaign. The great news is that we’re making fantastic progress, and have already reached nearly %25 of our goal. You can help by making your donation, however big or small, and by spreading the word to friends and fellow music-lovers, especially via Facebook and Twitter.

‘If I state that I was influenced by Schönberg, by that I wish to emphasize the fact that I am trying all the more to avoid the emptiness which is so favoured. I try to write in such a way that every bar, every recitative and every note is necessarily a solid part of the whole. This logic, without which every composition has no spirit, can, however, degenerate into mathematic-scientific music if the iron law of opera is not heeded, namely that the sense and aim of opera is the singing. I am sufficiently daring, as a modern composer, to write melodic music.’

Hans Krása, 1938

 

Czech-born Hans Krása was one of the leading talents of a generation of composers inspired by Mahler, Schoenberg and Zemlinsky. After a string of early successes, Krása took a seven-year break from composition before coming into his full maturity in the 1930s. He is best remembered today for his 1938 children’s opera, Brundibár, a work that would be performed 55 times during Krása’s internment in the Terezin Ghetto during the Second World War.

Krása’s called his first string trio, completed in 1944, Tanec, or ‘Dance,’ but the title seems intentionally misleading. The churning ostinato with which the cello begins the piece is just the first of several bits of music tone-painting that evoke the sound-world of trains, in an atmosphere that ranges from eerie nostalgia, to barely contained menace, to explicit violence. The main dance theme, heard first in the violin, is frequently poised on the edge of mania, finally tipping over the edge on the work’s final page.

The Passacaglia and Fugue from later that same year was Krása’s final completed work. Krása takes these two ancient forms, in which the rules of rhetoric are traditionally engaged to give structure and lucidity to the exchange and development of ideas among independent voices, and profoundly deconstructs them. Rather than contrapuntal engagement leading towards reason and clarity, both the Fugue, and the Passacaglia that precedes it, essentially ‘fail’, as discussion degenerates into argument and argument descends into violence.

The primary theme of the work, the repeated figure that forms the structure of the Passacaglia, is first heard in the cello, but also often present is the ‘dance’ theme of the earlier Tanec. The Passacaglia opens in gravely austere beauty, but in the course of the variations that follow, the emotional temperature gradually rises until all hell breaks loose. After a desolate codetta, the viola begins the Fugue, on a speeded up version of the cello’s Passacaglia theme. The contrapuntal exchanges gradually become more rapid and intense, until, in the coda, the developmental process breaks down. Rather than engaging in reasoned dialogue and perpetual development, the music becomes violent and primitive. The cello repeats the passacaglia/fugue theme obsessively, fortissimo, all pretense of development abandoned, while the violin and viola scream out the ‘Tanec’ theme and the work drives headlong to a terrifying conclusion.

Krása was deported by train to Auschwitz alongside his fellow composers Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann and Pavel Haas on 16 October 1944 and was killed in the gas chambers two days later.

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Fundraising Campaign- Ensemble Epomeo “Letting Silenced Voices Sing,” string trios nearly lost to the Holocaust

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The Complete String Trios of Hans Gál and Hans Krása

 

Ensemble Epomeo need your help to relase a very beautiful and important CD of the complete music for string trio by Hans Gál and Hans Krása, leading members of a gifted generation of Jewish composers in Central Europe whose destinies were shaped by Nazi persecution in the years 1933-1945.

We can’t release this disc without your help. Please visit our Indiegogo fundraising campaign homepage to give what you can. We have some great thank-you’s available, and your donations are tax-deductable.

 

Hans Krása (1899-1944) was born in Prague and had established himself as one of the most exciting Czech composers of his generation in the years before WW II. However, in 1942, he was arrested by the Nazi’s and interred in the Theresienstadt ghetto, where he helped guid the unlikely flowering of a diverse musical life in collaboration with fellow-composers Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein and Viktor Ullmann until his deporation to Auschwitz, where he was murdered in the gas chambers on October 18, 1944. His two string trios come from the last months of his life, the visceral  and intense “Tanec” (or “Dance”) and the extraordinary “Passacaglia and Fugue,” the very last piece he wrote. Krása’s music was largely forgotten in the decades after the War, and has only recently begun to be rediscovered and fully appreciated

Viennese composer Hans Gál (1890-1987) was lucky to escape to Britain with his family in 1938, but endurred terrible hardships in British internment camps during the War, before settling in Edinburgh. His Serenade for Trio, opus 41, was composed in 1932, at the peak of his pre-war career when he was director of the conservatory in Mainz. His Trio in F-sharp Minor, opus 104, written in 1974, is part of the extraordinary late flowering of  Gál’s creativity in his ninth decade. Together, these two remarkable works frame a long and astonishingly diverse artistic life. Although Gál survied the war, his music fell into obscurity in the mid- 20th c., and these remarkable trios have remained almost completey unknown prior to their world-premiere recording on this disc. Ensemble Epomeo, in fact, gave the the first North American performances of both pieces.

Four beautiful and important works, long forgotten in the wake of tragedy and dislocation are brought together on this important recording for Avie Reocrds, who have led the way in the rediscovery of Gál’s music, with a series of recordings that have been among the most widely critically praised discs of the last few years. Gramophone Magazine has hailed Gál’s  “structural genius and contrapuntal mastery” and priased the serie’s ”…committed performance…splendid sound, warmly recommended.” Classic FM Magazine has said “Gál is truly worth rediscovering”saying the series has “left me intrigued and delighted”

This CD will be the debut disc from the Anglo-American string trio  Ensemble Epomeo, who gave the Gál trios their American premieres in 2010 and 2011 respectively.  The recording was made leading producer/engineer (and grandson of Hans Gál), Simon Fox and in the beautiful concert hall at the Millfield School in Somerset, England in December 2011.

Ensemble Epomeo, Caroline Chin-violin, David Yang-viola and Kenneth Woods-cello, is an internationally touring string trio, whose performances combine intensity, virtuosity and accessibility.

Founded in 2008, their inaugural tours saw them performing in Italy, the UK and the USA, with performances at the Newburyport and Ischia festivals, and broadcasts on New England Public Radio and WKCR Columbia University in New York, where they were the subject of a 3 hour special showcase concert.

For more information about Ensemble Epomeo and the music on our debut CD, please visit http://ensemble-epomeo.net/

Ensemble Epomeo’s debut CD is a sponsored project of Musica Reginae, a 501(c)(3) non-profit Arts organization. Contributions for Ensemble Epomeo must be made payable to Musica Reginae Productions and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. Donations made on Indiegogo will go directly to Musica Reginae.

WHAT WE NEED & WHAT YOU GET

This important disc is “in the can,’ but we can’t release it without your help!

We need you to help us raise $5000, a portion of the budget which includes production and post-production costs, mastering and pressing costs and mechanical copyright fees.

OTHER WAYS YOU CAN HELP

Please help spread the word about this project! You can join our Facebook page to stay in touch with the project.

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Explore the Score- Hans Gal, Serenade for String Trio, opus 41

Here is a sneak peak at the liner notes for Ensemble Epomeo’s new recording of the complete string trios by Hans Krasa, murdered in Auschwitz by the Nazis, and Hans Gal, forced into exile during WW II, after which his music fell into near complete obscurity.

We need your help to release this disc. We need to raise enough sponsorship to cover the design, printing and copyright costs. If you can help, please visit our campaign homepage and give what you can. If you can’t give, please like it on Facebook, tweet it or forward it on to your friends. This music was neglected for most of the last 60 years. Don’t let the bad guys win!

 

“Chamber music, as the most intimate form of expression, is the realm to which the musician repeatedly returns in order to retain the link with the essence of things. In a duo, trio or quartet, independent individuals converse with one another. The musical symbol for this process is polyphony: the most perfect and most transparent form of polyphony is three voices; for that reason I have always had a special liking for the trio as the noblest medium for polyphony.”

 

Hans Gál, 1948

 

Serenade for Violin, Viola and Cello, opus 41

Gal’s Serenade for violin, viola and violoncello, Op.41 was composed in 1932, when the composer was at the peak of his pre-War career as director of the Conservatory in Mainz, and was premiered in December that year by the Weyns String Trio in Manheim. Less than four months later, Hitler ascended to power and Gál went from being one of the most celebrated composers of his generation and director of one the nation’s leading musical institutions to persona non grata– a man without a position whose music was banned from performance and publication.

Gál was highly conscious of the power of genre as an organizing, contextualizing and liberating force, and so the description of this trio as a Serenade is telling. As it happens, Beethoven’s first two string trios were also Serenades, as was Dohnanyi’s. As so often with Gál, his relationship to the genre is both respectful and subversive- just as one would expect, the overall character is playful, effervescent and carefree, as highlighted by the titles Gál gave to the four movements: Capriccioso, Cantabilie, Menuetto, and Alla Marcia. On the other hand, it is a work of jaw-dropping virtuosity and extreme contrapuntal intricacy, brimming over with Gál’s usual harmonic sophistication and seriousness of purpose.

The opening Capriccioso is capricious music indeed: demanding great agility, and full of lightning fast changes of mood. Gál chooses to begin this most contrapuntally intricate of movements with a Haydnesque bit of musical misdirection- a unison passage for the three players lasts just long enough for the ensuing contrapuntal fireworks to come as a surprise.

The following Cantabile is truly music that lives in the world of song. Gál moves from the work’s bright home key of D major to the darker realm of B-flat, opening with a long-breathed and fluid melody, first heard in the solo violin over gently pulsating crotchets, one of Gál’s favourite musical textures. In the slightly faster middle section Gál moves into darker, more oblique and rarified harmonic regions, before the opening theme remerges in the viola over a lush re-harmonization

The following Menuetto is very much a nod to Haydn and Mozart, written in a slightly deliberate but elegant tempo. As so often in Haydn, the music’s courtly charm belies the significant contrapuntal and harmonic intricacy. The lovely trio section offers up not just a deliciously expansive and romantic melody in the cello’s most singing register, but also an answer in exact canon from the violin, floating an octave above, and the entire trio continues this way,  balancing lyrical expressivity and strictly observed intellectual rigour.

The final Alla marcia brings us back to the virtuosity of the opening movement. The jocular opening march theme makes way for a lyrical middle section that again highlights Gál’s peerless gifts as a melodist. The work’s coda takes the contrapuntal fireworks to new extremes before Gál pulls the players together with one final virtuoso unison run, to bring the entire Serenade full circle, from unison to unison.