Ensemble Epomeo

String Trio

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CD Review: The Strad on Schnittke, Penderecki, Kurtág and Weinberg String Trios

A new review published on the 6th of January in The Strad magazine:

Epomeo-NEW

“For its second disc – generously filled, and rewardingly programmed – string trio Ensemble Epomeo focuses on music composed in Eastern Europe and Russia in the late 20th century, playing with a remarkable intensity and elegant assurance throughout.

The threesome’s Schnittke String Trio bristles with detail – there are finely balanced chords moving from glowing diatonicism to harsh dissonance, and carefully shaped melodies with beautifully expressive vibrato – yet they never lose sight of the work’s broader architecture, nor of its poignant, increasingly bleak mood. Penderecki’s String Trio gives the players the chance to shine individually in vividly dispatched cadenzas – David Yang on viola is lithe and expressive, cellist Kenneth Woods nimble and mischievous, and violinist Diane Pascal forcefully assertive – and there’s a persuasive rhythmic drive to their propulsive closing movement.

They expertly summon vivid sound images for a selection of miniatures from Kurtág’s Signs, Games and Messages, and there’s abundant lyricism in their Weinberg String Trio, not least in Woods’s gracefully phrased opening cello line….Recorded sound..is warm and resonant.”

 

RTWTH

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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 IV

Reblog from Kenneth Woods- A view from the podium

On tour with Ensemble Epomeo– day 5 and 6

Wednesday morning I awoke with a sense of gleeful expectation, in spite of another raft of emails. Why? If you think I was looking forward to the concert, you guessed wrong. Longtime Vftp readers may have twigged that for me, coffee is close to a religion. We’d had a wonderful, wonderful visit to Fredericton, but, from what I could tell, it is not a coffee city. I hadn’t had a decent cup-o-joe, even a Starbucks-ee level one since Sunday. However, I know Halifax, and on Wednesday morning, I knew my first stop was Coburg Coffee, where I used to re-fuel during Scotia Festival in years long past. Heaven. Relief!

On arrival at The Music Room, we decided to carry forth the vibe from the night before- today was to be a day of calm, un-hurried but intensely-focused rehearsal, just cleaning house as if there was no concert to play. The Music Room acoustic is idea for this kind of work- it’s more of a recording studio acoustic than a concert hall one, so you can hear everything with tremendous clarity and precision. It was a tiring day, but cleansing, and after a nice late-afternoon break, we were ready to play.

The concert that night was to be memorable. We started with the Gál Serenade, a piece we’ve now performed many times, but never at the beginning of a concert. It’s as virtuosic and unforgiving as any piece I’ve ever played, so we always thought a warm-up was a good idea, but in this case, it felt good starting the programme with it while we were still fresh and at the top of our concentration.Next up was Schnittke. After the bow-hair massacre the day before, I was trying to be extra cautious, and the destruction this time was nowhere nearly as memorable. Still, after intermission, I decided it was safer to play the Beethoven on a newly-rehaired Hill that came with the cello.

The first movement of the Beethoven was great fun, although the Hill lacks the depth and focus of the Lee, but not long after starting the 2nd movement, I became aware of impending disaster. The dry climate had caused the plug holding the bow hair to shrink and the knot came loose. This meant that in the midst of this serene slow movement, I suddenly had no tension on the bow at all. After struggling as best I could for a while, I finally  stopped in mid-phrase and said “ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry, this has never happened before, but I’m afraid I have to get another bow.” David and Caroline looked completely stunned!I went up and got my beautiful Jin Wu Lee bow, with its 10 or so remaining hairs, and tip-toed through the rest of the concert. In spite of this, it was great fun, as was our final visit to the Chebucto Room, which in my mind will always be the Rainbow of Halifax (OES members will know what I’m talking about).

With the ferry from Nova Scotia to Maine now out of business, we had no choice but to re-trace our steps on Thursday. At least we had no concerts! And, I could start the day with one last trip to Coburg Coffee. Over 600 miles later, but still speaking to each other, we pulled into Maine to stay with some friends of David. I’m always a bit nervous about home-stays with people I don’t know, but they couldn’t have been nicer. A husband and wife cello/violin couple with a big Suzuki practice, they took us to a fantastic brew pub for a great night out. We’ve me so many brilliant and kind people on this tour.

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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 III

Reblog from Kenneth Woods- A view from the podium

On the road with Ensemble Epomeo

Tuesday morning- our final, main concert at St Thomas was to be a noon recital, so there was just time for coffee, lots of stressy emails, scales, packing and the drive in to St Thomas before we met Wesley and Nadja at 10:30. As with the previous two days, the weather was absolutely grim and foul! We touched up the quintet and looked briefly at bits of Beethoven. In the end, we had decided to replace Gál with Schnittke for this concert as well- we knew the collegiate audience would dig it, and it gave us a run at it before the Halifax concert on Wed. It was a fun concert, in spite of the fact that it felt like a sprint since we had to keep it by definition a “lunch hour” concert and get the students out and on to their classes on time.

The only drama had to do with my bow- a few nights earlier, in Newburyport, a cellist colleague who had come to the concert had unwittingly jinxed it by suggesting it needed a re-hair. At that point, the bow was playing well, but in the Schnittke Tuesday, I broke about 30 bow hairs, suddenly reducing a well-functioning bow to one that just barely played. Just as you never want to talk about the reliability of your car while driving it, so to, one should never mention the state of bow hair while concerts are being played.We’d already packed the car that morning, so there was just time for a quick bite at the school cafeteria (brought back many memories) before we headed for Halifax- another 300 mile drive through pouring rain and fog. Visibility was horrible for the entire journey, although we could certainly see the countless “WARNING- MOOSE CROSSING- HAZARD!” signs along the way. Do the Emerson’s have any memories of dodging hoards of rutting moose while fighting an Atlantic gale on their way to play Schnittke? I think not!

We got to Halifax around 7 PM, exhausted, starved and relieved. Somehow, we managed to pull ourselves together for a 2 hour rehearsal on Gál before dinner. It was the best rehearsal so far on Gal’s trio, and the most centered of the tour up to that point. Our shared exhaustion (for the first few days, it was just me that was knackered) led us to take a calm, measured approach and to just review the whole trio, re-tuning some of the many tricky passages and just generally refreshing the whole piece. Chris Wilcox, my old friend and director of Scotia Festival of Music, who was hosting our concert, took us to a charming little hole-in-the-wall diner called the Chebucto Room next door for a bite. This was the kind of honest, no BS place we’d hoped to find on our drive up on Sunday when we’d stopped in that nasty little place in Maine.

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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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Thursday on Tour

Reblog from Kenneth Woods- A view from the podiumWell, I’m on my way back to Philly after a busy two days in New York with Ensemble Epomeo. We enjoyed our chat with Carl at WKCR- it was fun but challenging in the studio. They have a larger space for recording ensembles, but had we been in there, it would have been just about impossible to carry on a conversation with Carl between the pieces. Instead, we were in the booth with him, sort of tucked around the edges of the console. Byron and David were both more or less behind me, and we had to use the same mics for talking and playing, which felt odd, but I’m told sounded fine on air. If we can get permission, we’ll make the show available as a podcast on the E2 website.WKCR has a wonderfully daring programming philosophy, a refreshing change from the mild-mannered banalities that most public radio stations feel overwhelming market pressure to stick to. After our two hours of live, mostly contemporary chamber music they were doing an hour of avante jazz. This meant we could present a pretty intense and thoughtful program with confidence, focusing on the most radical and experimental parts of our repertoire. We were also able to curate the morning with some recordings of related pieces on CD- bits of Bartok (the final Mesto from the 6th quartet as a cousin to the twilight world of the Schnittke) and the Beethoven op 95 Quartet in comparison with the Op 9 no 3 String Trio.Our private concert in the evening was fun- I always enjoy house concerts where the audience is there for the music, and this house is one where that is always the case. Of course, we’re learning a lot from doing this program over and over. It really makes me painfully aware of what a pity it is that most concerts only get done once.Of all the pieces we’re doing on the tour, it is the Schnittke that we’ve lived with the longest, but I’m still making discoveries in every rehearsal, and my thoughts about the meaning of the piece continue to evolve. Schnittke seems to have become almost completely unfashionable among critics and most composers since his death, but fashion is the word. Fashions and trends are amusing phenomena, but whether a piece is in or out with the taste-setters of the day has nothing to do with its status as a work of art. When you can live with a piece like this and continue find new layers of meaning, new relationships between musical ideas, new intersections of process and content there’s no room to be snooty. It’s genius.Just one example- there is a peculiarly iconic chord progression that occurs several times in the piece. It goes from a major triad up a half step to a minor triad, which means the two chords share the same third. Schnittke has a way of setting this progression as though it is a moment when we step back from the line of the drama and contemplate what has happened. What is interesting now is that we’re finding more and more ways in which this progression doesn’t just stand apart as a sort of incantation, but is knitted into the piece in countless other ways which aren’t immediately perceptible. Sometimes it is presented horizontally, other times he layers the two chords on top of each other. It also turns out that the progression itself shares it’s musical DNA with the main theme of the work, something that’s a bit hard to hear, but clear on the page if you look for it.We’ve got another concert tonight, doing a slightly shortened and lightened version of our tour program, and we have to finish preparing our children’s program- the first kids concert is tomorrow and I still have some notes to learn in Hansel and Gretel.

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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.

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Newburyport Arts Journal: Review

By JC Lockwood (Original Here)It may not have been exactly what organizers had envisioned. Okay, it definitely wasn’t: A fundraiser that doesn’t rake in the dough wasn’t what all the meetings and all the strategy sessions were about. But it’s hard to believe anyone felt less than sigh-and-snuggle-before-rolling-over-and-lighting-up-a-smoke satisfied after the Trio Epomeo’s June 6 performance for the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival. Except, perhaps, for the Schnittke fans, who, once they got a taste of the Moderato section of the Russian composer’s String started growling for the Adagio — a kind of musical blood lust. But it was not to be. A last-minute adjustment of the program had the trio — violinist Byron Wallis, cellist Kenneth Woods and violist David Yang, who is also NCMF artistic director— jettisoned the Adagio to make room for Beethoven’s Trio in C minor, Opus 9, in its entirety. The program had originally called for closing with just a taste of the Maestro, playing the Rondo and calling it a night.Was it a good trade-off? Opinions vary, even among Schnittke fans. The Newburyport performance, the penultimate stop of Trio Epomeo’s three-country, two-continent tour, had been conceived as musical tapas, of sorts, giving the audience a taster’s menu, a variety of works to sample, a selection of moods and colors, rather than complete works. But, even within this context, the emphasis was on the modern, and the mood tilted toward darker hues: Hans Krasa’s chilling “Tanz,” which opens with a waltz and ends with oblivion; Alan Hovhaness’ ethereal, otherworldly Trio, the musical manifestation of a deep, mournful sadness that seems to exist on a cellular level; Gideon Klein’s “Based on a Moravian Theme,” a concise and unforgettable emotional musical rollercoaster; and, finally, closing the first half of the performance with Schnittke’s alternately lulling and jolting crash-bang String Trio.Within this context, the Beethoven seems a little out of place historically, musically and even geographically, given that the work presented had an eastern Europe perspective — even the encore, a Kodaly Intermezzo. At the same time, it was comforting, steadying, closing with Beethoven, a lovely piece — lyrical, expressive, an incredible vehicle for exploring possibilities of the instruments. And, again, when you encounter such inspired playing —wonderfully executed and, at times, absolutely breathtaking performances by players at the top of their game, up close and personal— all this talk about the what’s what of the program becomes mere sport. So, again, within this context, the decision to go Ludwig becomes a fielder’s choice.It was a magical evening — seriously under attended, but magical. The trio, which came together last year at the Festivale d’alla Musica da Camera d’Ischia in Italy to explore the possibilities of just one piece (the Schnittke Trio, natch) and discovered that they clicked musically, sounded like they had been playing together forever. The performance space (the Carriage House, a marvelous listening room fashioned out of an 19th-century out-building on the Lord Timothy Dexter Estate by NCMF patrons Julia Farwell Clay and Walter Clay) is a delight, as was the after-party — the social aspect, the schmooze, has been an important part of festival since its inception. There was plenty of food and wine and a chance to chat up musicians. We heard stories about Wallis’ recent tour of North Korea, of all places. Or the time when he and Wood, who worked together during a musical interlude in Arkansas, wandered into a rock and roll club. Wallis kind of hung back, but Woods, who performed in a rock band back in his Indiana University days, jammed with the band, playing guitar behind his head, a la Jimi Hendrix. But the best news we got, before the last of the wine had been poured, was that trio plans to record the Schnitkke. Stay tuned!

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Engaging the Audience

Reblog from Kenneth Woods- A view from the podiumIt is a fact of life that most organizations think of programming largely in terms of marketing. While almost all musical organizations have some desire to do interesting things, there is always a certain amount of pressure to focus on “getting an audience,” which usually equates to conservative programming.After many years as a music director, who knows that if you don’t have an audience you don’t have an orchestra, I’ve had to face the simple mathematical truth that, more often than not, Beethoven sells more tickets than Schumann, and Schumann sells more tickets than Haydn, and Haydn sells more tickets than Bartok. With most of my groups, we can predict with some accuracy what percentage our audience will tail off from 100% by having one, two or three relatively unfamiliar pieces on a concert.However, the problem with this outlook is that it only focuses on the experience and reactions of the audience up to the moment they enter the hall. Conservative programming is programming designed to get the public to come, but is it programming that gets them to come back?Of course, there is a false dichotomy, which everyone is aware of- it is very, very possible to construct a creative, interesting and unique program that the audience will enjoy. The problem is getting them in the door to experience it.Fair enough, but I think one of the fundamental weaknesses of modern classical institutions is that we have settled for a passive and passionless relationship with our audiences.Several times this year, I’ve been deeply struck that when you are able to do something that really challenges the audience, they come away from the experience more engaged and MORE PASSIONATE about the orchestra or the ensemble then they would have been for just another predictably bland concert.Along these lines, it was very encouraging to get to meet so many audience members after the Ensemble Epomeo concert at the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival. Our program was certainly challengingKrasa- Tanec for TrioHovhanness- String Trio (1963)Klein- Variations on a Moravian Theme (from Trio 1944)Schnittke- String TrioBeethoven- Trio in C minor op 9 no 3(Encore- Kodaly- Intermezzo)We’d been warned it was a conservative crowd, but from the level of energy in the room at the recession, you’d have thought we were playing for a new music festival audience. People were engaged, fired up, talking about what the pieces meant, about what they had experienced. As often happens, we had people literally jump out of their chairs in spots of the Schnittke. After a first half that mostly dealt with dire questions of life and death, the Beethoven could also be heard as the ferocious, imposing and revelatory work it is, not as something safe and mild-mannered.The same thing happened with the SMP recently did Ives 3 and Shostakovich Chamber Symphony alongside Schumann and Mozart for our usually conservative Guildford audience, or, for that matter, when we did the Fifth Prokofiev concerto. In both instances, attendance was off a bit from our usual sell-outs, but I think more people talked to their friends about those concerts than would have if we had had just done Mozart. It’s another form of math- if 75% of your public show up for the wacky program, but 90% of them tell their friends about the experience isn’t that going to be better in the long run than if the hall is 100% full, but only 20% of the audience remembers the evening as anything other than nice, or mention it to anyone else?Of course, we’ve got to get people in the door- sometimes that means working harder, sometimes it means making conservative programs and just doing a great job. When I started at OES, the idea of the orchestra doing one new piece a season was anathema. It took some time and a few well-chose bits of more accessible 20th c faire before we could begin to consider a commission, but by the time I left, we were doing them regularly, and patrons were FUNDING them. How cool is that?I had one of those memorable 20 second conversations today after our Exeter performance on the Aliento Chamber Music series. Before the Schnittke, I had mentioned to the audience that the piece was written around the time of his first stroke, and that  the first movement does seem like a terrifying struggle for survival. After the concert a woman greeted me and said she had cried through the whole piece. Her daughter had a stroke last year, and when she began to get well enough to communicate, she told he mother in some detail about what it felt like and how terrifying it was. The woman said that throughout the piece, she kept thinking of her daughter’s stroke and couldn’t escape the parallels. “It sounded just like what she went throug.” She said it was terrifying from beginning to end, that she cried through the whole thing, and at the end, she felt somehow better, even a bit healed.Wouldn’t you rather that than an under-rehearsed hack-through of the Trout?

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Yang on Epomeo

Hi Everyone-I’m frantically packing for Ischia (and trying to get my cello chops back after a busy few months of stick waving and not  much practice), and internet access in Ischia is unpredictable. New blog posts may be scarce for a while, we’ll see. Meanwhile, my colleague in Ensemble Epomeo, David Yang, has some wise and funny words about the program we’re touring with this spring. These were written for the paper in one of the cities we’re playing in in June. KW

Ensemble EpomeoByron Wallace, violinDavid Yang, violaKenneth Woods, violoncelloHans Krasa – Tanz (Dance)Alan Hovhaness – TrioGideon Klein – “Variations on a Moravian Theme” from his String TrioZoltan Kodaly – IntermezzoAlfred Schnittke – Moderato from his String TrioLudwig van Beethoven – Rondo from String Trio, Opus 9, No. 3I’m writing this while on the airplane en route to Roma via Frankfurt. There is a large German man to my left slumbering peacefully. I have to say there sure is a difference between a plane full of Germans from a plane full of Italians. There is always a bit of a festive atmosphere when Italians are headed home from vacation. But this flight is all business. Speaking of which, I guess I should write a little about the program my group, Trio Epomeo, is performing in June in the USA. Actually, the first performance will be in Ischia, the small volcanic island in the Bay ofNaples in Southern Italy where Mount Epomeo sleeps in the blue seas off Naples, and where the trio was formed. Then we fly off to England where we are performing in Bath (having already tested out part of the program in Hereford). In June we’ll play in New York City in a concert and on Columbia University‘s radio station before heading to Philadelphia for two concerts and then up to Newburyport and Exeter, MA. Actually, the travel seems quite relevant because this program is very much a journey from country to country. Specifically, most of the the program has deep roots in the folk music of the various composers’ cultures which, more than usual, gives these pieces their ethnic flavor.The program is short – about an hour and a half – and we go right through without pause. It is based on old-time programs from the turn of the last century where someone like Kreisler or Elman would do selected movements instead of huge pieces. I find this a nice change for the audience, a bit like a taster’s menu. We sometimes call it a “Tapas Concert.” We’ll be starting with Hans Krasa’s “Dance” which is a driving work that conjures up images of some demon train hurtling towards oblivion. It takes on added meaning when you learn that Krasa, a Czech Jew, died in Auschwitz at the hands of the Nazis shortly after completing it. I’m not sure I can break down exactly what the sound of bitterness and sarcasm is but, for sure, it is in this piece from the first notes.The next work heads to Armenia for a work by Alan Hovhaness. Hovhaness actually lived inAmerica but this looks to his roots using ethnic scales and techniques to make these standard Western instruments create sounds utterly unlike anything one would normally hear in a classical setting. The piece is strange, lonely and oddly sparse. The romantic image it conjures up in my mind is of a shepherd on some barren mountain with his charges, out for weeks at a time without seeing another human.After that we move into the central movement from Gideon Klein’s great string trio “Based on a Moravian Theme.” I actually have a recording of the theme which is sung in, well, I don’t know – Czech? or is there a language called Moravian? – and IDa’ll play it  before we perform. As otherworldly as the Hovhaness was, this piece goes through a huge range of tangible emotions in just 10 minutes of variations. It starts impassioned but swings to playful, sardonic, uncertain and fearful, not necessarily in that order. Klein was a great piano virtuoso and rising musical star in Weimar Germany. Alas, he, like Krasa, did not survive the camps.Continuing with the folk music angle, we jump into a terrific early little trio by the great Hungarian composer, Zoltan Kodaly (who, happily, lived out a full life, much of it spent collecting folk tunes with his best friend, Bela Bartok.) I’m not sure how to describe it except listening to it you can practically taste the  bits of paprika and potatoes stuck in the thick white beard of the man sitting across the room slurping at his goulash.After that we go right to a hard, ice-cold bottle of vodka. Alfred Schnittke was the “other” great Russian composer of the 20th Century after Shostakovich. He had a fascination with medieval music and his works reflect that at the same time having the angularity of the mid-20th Century combined with that passion that is so distinctly Russian. Actually, you know, it’s strange how Russian music is so romantic in the way a warm fireplace is comforting with a blizzard raging outside. This is very different from, for example, the hot-blooded passion of Italian opera or the earnestness of so much early 20th Century American music (think Appalachian Spring). Of course, you have to be careful about making silly national generalizations but at the same time, there is something that makes us different from each other. And it is the joy in sharing those differences that can lead to some very interesting things, indeed.After the Schnittke sneaks in, yells for a while, and then skulks out, we finish with a quick and airy movement by the Maestro himself. Beethoven wrote his C Minor Trio when just a lad in his 20s (it is Opus 9) but this is a fully formed mature work. We’ll be playing the last movement, a Rondo, that whizzes and whirls and then disappears like a puff of smoke. What better way to end a concert? Of course, if everyone keeps applauding we might just have to keep on playing. But we’ll see about that.David Yang5 May, 2009Rome, Italy