Ensemble Epomeo

String Trio

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Ensemble Epomeo: Composer Kile Smith on composer Alfred Schnittke

Ensemble Epomeo has been playing Kile Smith’s beautiful new string trio, Thrice Blest, a lot this year. Kile has managed to come to a couple of our performances, including our concert at the University of Pennsylvania a few days ago. He’s written a fascinating blog post, dealing in large part with his reactions to Schnittke’s extraordinary, wild and challenging String Trio from 1985, played on the same gig. Smith and Schnittke are both marvelous composers who write in their own styles with their own world-views. I’d love to have Schnittke’s take on Smith, but for now, we have to settle for Kile’s on Alfred.  Read it all at Kile’s fantastic blog. Here’s a sample:Kile Smith:“I can’t say that I really liked the Schnittke String Trio, but I worry less and less with the bother of liking something, I find. We overrate liking, an irony since it mostly concerns things over which we have no control.I was, however, entranced. Caroline’s lyricism took on urgency and magnetism. She was drawing the viola and cello and me all to her. David’s tone deepened and was beautiful and sad. Ken was inexhaustible, portraying lightness and a gorgeous strength simultaneously.Entranced? Maybe I was altered. It’s too soon to tell, but I’ll take it over liking.”

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On the skis, at the top of a new run, Part V

On tour with Ensemble Epomeo, Day 7

Yesterday morning, all that remained (after the stack of emails) was the final 100 miles or so to the Manchester Airport, a quick flight to Philly and concert at Penn. Hah! As we pulled away from the house, I heard an ominous noise. “Stop the car,” I told David. I jumped out of the car and my eyes confirmed what my ears had feared- the left rear tire was completely flat. It suddenly looked all-but-certain that we would miss our flight. Fate smiled- just a block or so away, we saw a tire shop, and after some faffing (mechanics worldwide don’t really seem to know the word “urgent”), they managed to fix the flat. Our wiggle room gone, we raced off hoping to make up lost time. About half way there, our Mapquest directions led us towards oblivion- thank goodness for Google Maps on the iPhone, which got us back on the right road.

Finally, we got back to Manchester airport. I left David to sort the car and raced to the check-in counter, as I knew that checking in with the cello can take extra time, and extra time we didn’t really have. The agent was nice, but quickly got “that look.” She called over two more agents, who also got “that same look.” David came and checked in, as did Caroline, and strolled up to the gate, while my agent stood holding a phone, face still frozen in that look. I felt myself slowly sinking into a mire of irritation and despair.  And so it remained, while Southwest Airlines spent over an hour trying to print my boarding pass and that for my cello. An entire football team (UNH) came and went. Seasons changed. Children were born and old men died. Finally, in despair, the agent gave me “a security pass” so I could go to the gate, hopefully to pick up my boarding pass there. This “security pass” had an interesting effect on the TSA- it was a bit like printing up a sheet of paper that said “I bomb planes” and handing it to them. TSA agents circled like vultures, held back only by curiosity about what the supervisor’s supervisor would do when he arrived. The head of Southwest was summoned (who didn’t seem to be the least bit surprised that I’d been waiting to check in for well over an hour). Grudgingly, they let me pass. When I got to the gate, Caroline was waiting with a turkey sandwich- my first food of the day (and destined to be my only food until after the concert).

At the gate, the new agent was waiting for me- she’d been briefed on my approach. “We’ll just print that up for you now!” she chirped. Then she got” that look.” Then she got back on the phone. “The look” now frozen on her face- a mixture of perplexity and contempt, as if daring me to roll my eyes, she cupped the mouthpiece and told me “this happens all the time with extra seats, especially with our “larger customers.””In the end, I never did get a boarding pass- the other gate agent just shrugged, waved me on, and said “we’ll print it tonight.”When we arrived in Philadelphia, there were other things to worry about- notably the bow situation, which would take priority over lunch or dinner. I took the Hill back to the shop where it had been done- they were pretty apologetic and offered to loan me another bow for the concert. I also showed them my newly-hexed J W Lee bow. The shop owner said something snooty about me tightening the bow too much and playing on the stick- who do these guys think they are? Fortunately, the “bow guy” was super cool. He was mortified that the Hill had given out after being played only 20 minutes, and offered to do an instant re-hair on mine, rather than loaning me a foreign stick. 1 hour later, I had my bow back, playing like a dream, even if it was tightened too tight and I was playing on the stick.That was 5 PM on Friday- time to get to the concert hall. We fought our way across Philly in rush hour traffic. I hadn’t played a note since our concert in Halifax on Wednesday. I also had to rosin in the bow- a newly re-haired bow is bound to have slippery spots. We touched a few spots in Schnittke, Smith and Beethoven, with me re-rosining every few moments. The bow felt great, the cello sounded totally transformed, and it was a nice hall. In what seemed like five minutes, the audience was there, and we were playing. Not a huge crowd, but a nice one, and I think we played pretty well- it was great to have Kile Smith there to hear Thrice Blest, which we’ve enjoyed immensely- we’re looking forward to premiering the expanded version of the work in May at the Two Rivers Festival. I was particularly happy with Schnittke and Beethoven, and we played the alla Marcia from Gál as an encore. After all day’s dramas, starting with the flat tire, it was just a huge relief to have gotten to, and through, the gig.Tonight is the final concert of our run in Princeton- tomorrow we teach all day at a chamber music retreat and I fly back that evening to London.

The pace starts to pick up from here- two piano rehearsals with Mahler soloists on Monday when I arrive, string sectional on Schumann and Gal symphonies with OOTS in Stratford on Tuesday, more coachings in London on Wed, then Friday, we’re recording Das Lied von der Erde and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen in Shipston. I feel like I’ve been on the skis going full-tilt for a long time, but I just realized I’m only at the top of the hill, and the big moguls are still ahead.

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PS- you can follow Ensemble Epomeo on our Facebook Page here.

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On the skis, at the top of a new run, Part II

Reblog from Kenneth Woods- A view from the podium

On tour with Ensemble Epomeo, Day 2 and 3

We set off early for New Brunswick, with over 300 miles to cover. We’d never done such a big trip as a trio before (the previous record was more like 2 or 3 hours), but it was a pleasant drive in good company. Somewhere along the way, we stopped for lunch for a rather disappointingly ordinary meal at what had looked like a cute old-timey diner. While David and Caroline paid their checks, I made a few frantic business calls before we crossed the border.What a border crossing it was- we were in line for a long, long time going up, and when we returned we actually had to park the car and go in for extra questioning, even though we’re all US citizens. Why the drama? It’s Canada- we’re all brothers and sisters!

The weather in New Brunswick was rather foul- we got to our hosts around 5 then had a “sound check” at 6. The university hadn’t quite explained what it was a sound check for- it turns out they wanted to film and record our children’s concert the next day. It was a good thing we did have a sound check- the hall had HUGE acoustic problems and we decided we need to mic the speakers, something we almost never do. We hadn’t had a minute to look at the children’s music this time, but we muddled through before adjourning for dinner with Ron, our host. After dinner, I think we were all too tired to rehearse productively.

The next morning, Monday, we had a lot of work to do, starting with a stack of emails about schedules and contracts and other nitty-gritty details. The kiddie concert was at 12, so we had about 2 hours once we’d driven to the college to put together Ferdinand the Bull, Kile Smith’s “Bremen Town Musicians,” David Yang’s “Lubin from Chelm” (in which I have a great speaking role as Lubin’s nagging mother) and Martin Kutnowski’s “How Toad got his Spots.” Martin’s piece was the newest for us, and we wanted to get it extra right, since he was our connection for the visit to Fredericton, where he teaches composition at St Thomas University.

All too soon, the kids started filing in, as they do. We always start with Ferdinand, which is great- all the rest of our pieces are for violin, cello and narrator, but I’m not involved with Ferdinand, so I can go in the audience to marvel at Caroline’s jaw-dropping virtuosity and get a sense of how the audience is responding to David’s shtick. This was a once-in-a-long-while audience, and they were almost immediately howling with laughter to almost everything David said, which brought out David’s sharpest comedic instincts. After a roaring ovation, I joined my colleagues for the rest of the performance- great fun, and a great bunch of kids.

After lunch, we had more music to learn. We had two more new pieces to look at- one was Martin’s marvelous new clarinet quintet. David had commissioned it for his festival, so he knew it, but Caroline and I had just managed to print our parts out before leaving our homes last week. I was relieved after lunch to find that it was quite playable- don’t ask what I would have done if it had been extraordinarily difficult. Our originally planned tour program was to have been the one we played in Newburyport- Kile Smith’s Thrice Blest, Gal Serenade op 41, Strauss “das Deandl is harb auf mi” and Beethoven op 9 no. 1. Things got slightly more complicated when our presenter for Wednesday asked for the Schnittke Trio. The Schittke is one of the greatest masterpieces of modern chamber music, and it was the first thing David and I did in the trio with our original violinist, but we’d never played it with Caroline, and it is a big piece to dust off after a 2 year break. We were thrilled to have an excuse to work it up, but more repertoire means more do do in less time.

So, Monday afternoon, we had a trio sectional on Martin’s quintet and a first look at Schnittke. After dinner, we met our 2nd violinist, Nadja, and Wesley Ferreira, who had to take on Martin’s formidable clarinet writing. The quintet,  ”En la Mar Hay un Torre,” is a sweet, tender and very beautiful piece with hints  of tango and a final coda that Ernest Bloch would have loved in its Hebraic defiance. After quintet, we wanted to rehearse, since there’d been no time to look at the trio rep since Saturday, but instead we all adjourned to a wonderful meal. A better choice, in the end- it’s nice to get to know who you’re playing with and the composer whose music you play! It was a nice day- wonderful kiddie concert with an audience to die for, a new work to discover and an old favorite to re-discover, and lots of nice new colleagues to meet.

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PS- you can follow Ensemble Epomeo on our Facebook Page here.

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Kile Smith- Thrice Blest with Ensemble Epomeo

From kilesmith.com. Read the original here.Ensemble Epomeo has performedThrice blest a few times since last Spring, and is bringing it to Philadelphia this Friday, October 1st. They’re playing at the First Friday Concert Series at Christ Church in Old City, on 2nd Street just above Market. The free concert starts at 8 pm.Read about the work here.Ensemble Epomeo is violinistCaroline Chin, violist David Yang, and cellist Kenneth Woods. Click on the names to read about the vast experience each brings to the group. Ken is also an excellent blogger.Here’s a recent post of his about playing on a borrowed cello. I love reading inside-baseball stuff from musicians. Things I’d never consider play such a big part in the lives of those who make the music for us.Caroline, David, and Ken play with many different people and ensembles, and they each run groups of their own. They are busy as can be, so I’m delighted that they’ve taken on this little work. I’m writing a companion to it, but it’ll have to wait until after Friday.In David’s kitchen a week ago I heard part of a recording of Thrice blestfrom a recent performance, and David was telling me how much the piece has come together and how much they’re enjoying it. I think I nodded but I really wasn’t listening; the lentils and sausage he was cooking grabbed all my attention. Sure enough, “cooking” is in his bio, but you can take my word for it: he’s the real deal.Hans Gál, SerenadeKile Smith, Thrice blestRichard Strauss, Variations on “’s Deandl is harb auf mi”Ludwig van Beethoven, Trio in D Major, Op. 9, No. 2

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The Old Cello Switcheroo

Reblog from Kenneth Woods- A view from the podiumI am in Philadelphia this week for some work with my string trio, Ensemble Epomeo.I have to say, Philadelphia has become one of my favorite cities- I love the neighborhood feel in the part of town where I’m staying, with some lovely shops and restaurants as well as the incredibly characterful Italian Market, where you find the most astounding array of produce, meats, fish, cheeses, oils and just about anything else to cook and eat you can imagine.It’s our first concert together since May- we’re heading into our busy part of the year, with small projects this month and next followed by a pretty substantial tour of New England and the Canadian Atlantic Provinces in November. We’ve got new repertoire to learn and old repertoire to refresh.  (This week we’re playing Kile Smith’s Thrice Blest, a short trio by Richard Strauss, the Gal Serenade op 41 and Beethoven’s Op 9 No. 1 n G major).In a capitulation to the ever increasing costs, risks and hassles of traveling with a cello, I’m playing this week on a borrowed instrument. I don’t expect much sympathy from pianists out there (other than Krystian Zimerman), who have to cope with different instruments all the time. However, I played on one cello for every single concert I did between 1991 and 2001. The relationship between most string players and their instruments is incredibly close. I’d say that string players are, in general, only slightly less reluctant to change their instruments from gig to gig than singers, who are stuck with one for their whole lives.Musicians will go to great lengths to have their instrument with them for a gig- including buying seats where possible, and investing in incredibly expensive and bulky flight cases. Unfortunately, as I found out in 2001, the best flight case is no match for a fork lift, which ripped off the top of my case and cello.(That’s not Ken’s “real” cello)Switching cellos on a short rehearsal schedule can pose a number of challenges. In this case, the cello (a pretty nice one) hadn’t been played at all in many months, and at the first rehearsal it felt incredibly stiff and unresponsive. I couldn’t get anything to speak on the lower two strings that first night. I can hardly think of a piece that depends more on effortless precision of attach than the Beethoven Trio we’re playing this week- trying to rehearse that music when I had to play with elephantine effort amidst a panorama of squwks and whistles to get anything out is  not fun. String instruments can be temperamental creatures- if they are feeling neglected and unloved, they’re certainly let you know.(A promo photo of  the trio, with Ken holding someone else’s cello)There are other challenges- pitch is the most obvious, and string trio is the most demanding medium for tuning. Far easy to switch cellos for solo playing or orchestra work than for small chamber ensembles.However, the most challenging thing is to find ones own sound and voice on an instrument that may have very different properties to your regular axe. After a couple of days of near-constant playing, this instrument is opening up, and I’m finally starting to feel like I can hear my “self” when I play it. Really, I should be encouraged by how fast it all goes- from day one where no sound comes out at all, to day two where I’m just focusing on getting the notes to speak reliably, by day three, I’m actually beginning to get some colors and tone.Anyway, I try to accept the challenge for what it is, to take it on the chin in those early rehearsals when I can’t stand the sound I’m making and to have confidence that we’ll get there by concert time. I’ve dealt with these challenges many times before- see here or here.Still, I  feel like more and more we’re expected to produce under ever more difficult working conditions as musicians. The squeeze is on from all sides- as orchestra budgets collapse, musicians have to put on concerts with fewer rehearsals, while taking on more teaching and freelance work to make up for lost income. That means less time for everyone to prepare for concerts with less time to rehearse. Not good.Last night, we ran the program and recorded it. There are many things I’m pleased about (both in my own playing and that of the group), and there are “other” things there too that we’ll fix today. I think the cello will sound fine in the concert, but I can hear how much of my mind is going into thinking about the mechanics of what I’m doing. Not in the obvious sense of things sounding mechanical- it’s more that I can hear myself overlooking little details I would normally catch because 40% more of my brain is going into getting that low F# to speak than it normally would. I don’t have any spare brain these days- I need that 40% back! At this point, I can just about get the right sounds- now I have a few more rehearsals to get to the point where I can get that result with a level of effort similar to what I’d expend on my own cello.Maybe the trick isn’t to rehearse or practice at all- I’ve occasionally managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat in concert when I’ve had to do a quick switch, and there was the incredible situation a few years back in Cardiff when Alban Gerhardt had his Guadanigni stolen just before a recording session. He switched instruments on no notice and nailed the concertos in the sessions. A good, if tragic, reminder that we shouldn’t make excuses for ourselves.(Why so serious- because Ken never gets to play on this cello)

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Newburyport Arts Journal: Epomeo: Now, that’s Italian

Reblog from Newburyport Arts JournalBy J C LockwoodOur Italian vocabulary word of the day is “aliscafo,” as in “Oggi David Yang e a cavallo di un aliscafo.” And, you may well ask, just what is David Yang, the artistic director of the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, and a fellow comfortable enough with Italiano to order, properly, insalata, fusilli con formaggio e piselli and prosciutto crudo e mozzarella di bufala, doing in a hovercraft? Answer: Barely touching the surface of the Mediterranean in a mad dash to the island of Ischia, home of the Festivale d’alla Musica da Camera d’Ischia in Italy, a weeklong chamber music festival where he has been a resident coach for years and where Ensemble Epomeo will be settling in for its second year as the festival’s ensemble-in-residence. That’s what he’s doing. And he’s getting a just a little sick to his stomach (solo un po ‘malato al suo stomaco) from the choppy seas as he blasts across the Sea of Napoli, taking questions about Epomeo’s May 21 show at the historic Henry C. Learned House, a benefit for the Newburyport Preservation Trust. We see the sea sickness as a kind of penance for totally blowing off a certain arts writer a couple of days earlier. No, no, no. E solo uno scherzo. Just joking.No, Yang’s a tough guy to get ahold of under the best of circumstances. In addition to playing with Epomeo, he’s a member of Auricolae, a Philadelphia-based storytelling troupe, as well as a performer with Poor Richard’s String Quintet. He’s also director of chamber music at the University of Pennsylvania and coach at Swarthmore and, well, you get the idea. And this time of year, with Epomeo doing its usual globetrotting spring schedule, with tours on the East Coast, including a live radio broadcast, as well as shows in England and Wales, before retuning to Ischia, its home-base — and, four days after they put the lid on the intense Italian music festival, parachuting into Newburyport for “Music and the Manse,” as the program is being called.The ensemble will also have a new look, with Caroline Chin, leader of the String Orchestra of New York City and artistic director of Musica Reginae, replacing Byron Wallis on violin. Cellist Kenneth Woods, another guy with a resume — Taliesin Trio and the Masala String Quartet, principal guest conductor of the Stratford-upon-Avon-based Orchestra of the Swan, and author of the entertaining and informative View from the Podium blog — returns on cello.They’ll will be taking a comparatively lighter program around the block: Instead of piling on, emotionally, with Krasa’s “Tanz,” which opens with a waltz and ends with oblivion; or Hovhaness’ mournful, ethereal Trio, they’ll be playing Sitkovetsky’s transcription of Bach’s Goldberg Variations for string trio, Beethoven’s String Trio in D major and “Thrice blest,” a world premiere based on music by Newbury composer John Tufts.The Variations, of course, were written for keyboard by Bach and forever seared into the collective musical imagination by the admittedly idiosyncratic performances by Glenn Gould, much to the dismay of purists. Yang confesses to sacrilege, saying the piano version is, well “a little, um, boring” … and is immediately rewarded with the crash of a huge wave against the aliscafo, raising a collective moan from passengers.) “I think what is so interesting about this piece is its hybrid nature. It is a period work but played on modern instruments Also, since we can sustain with string instruments vs. a harpsichord (no sustaining) or a piano you can get a very different effect so that harmony, instead of having to be implied can really be just, well, played,” Yang says. Because of time restraints, the trio will be doing only two-thirds of the variations.The Beethoven is “the core of the repertory for us,” says Yang. “What is neat about this is the slow movement which is written in an Italian feeling style (Yes, of course, affettuoso). By that I mean it is less contrapunctual, with parts playing off one another and more… like an opera, with arias and accompaniment. But since it is Beethoven it is incredibly beautiful but also complex, although I hope you don’t hear the complexity as much as just feel it deep down in the animal part of your brain.”The final piece will be a world premiere by Kile Smith, who is a bit of a classical star in Philly. He has his own radio show and runs the legendary Fleisher Collection of Music. He’s also been resident composer for the Jupiter Symphony in New York. Yang asked him to do something based on a local hymnbook that Newburyport Chamber Music Festival founder Jane Niebling found. He used a melody from Tufts who was from 17th-century Newbury. The composition has three sections — the hymn, then an agitated quick and rhythmic middle section and then back to the hymn. “The piece, I am sure, will be very popular with the audience,” Yang says. “It is lovely, the kind of stuff people will ask for again.”Road warriorsFrom Newburyport, Epomeo will pack up and head north to Portland before calling it a wrap — a hectic time that has the favor of a rock tour. “Well, it has felt a little like that recently,” Yang says. “But I stay in one place usually for a few days. I like traveling but am torn, as I really miss my little daughters. When I am home I spend as much time with them as I can. I also really like my home. Philadelphia has been good to me, and I live on a leafy little city street where all the neighbors know each other and have dinner together and stuff like that. It is a treat to be home. (And now we are rolling side to side – oooh nooooo! I really have to stop now.)”JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Ensemble Epomeo will perform at “Music and the Manse,” a benefit for the Newburyport Preservation Trust, May 21 at the 18th-century Henry C. Learned House, 190 High St., Newburyport. The program includes the Sitkovetsky transcription of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Beethoven’s String Trio in D major and “Thrice blest,” a world premiere based on music by West Newbury composer John Tufts. The event, which runs from 5:30 to 9 p.m., also includes a tour of the historic home and a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception. Tickets are $75. Reservations are required. For more information, call 978.463.9776.