Classical with a Twist

Classical with a Twist: not your average show
8.13.20
Pro Re Nata Brewery, VA

Piano Quartet no. 1 in G minor, K. 478 (1785) | W.A. Mozart (1756-91)

 

Allegro – Andante – Rondo

 

Shelby Sender, piano

Daniel Sender, violin

Danielle Wiebe Burke, viola

Schuyler Slack, cello

 

Poetry: "Epitaph", "This is Just to Say", "The Red Wheelbarrow" | William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

 

 

Forestcover (2019) | Christopher Luna-Mega (b. 1978) 

                                     

Danielle Wiebe Burke, viola

Schuyler Slack, cello

Christopher Luna-Mega, piano and electronics

                                                                                                                           

Poetry: from "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror" | John Ashbery (1927-2017)

 

 

Limestone and Felt (2012) | Caroline Shaw (b. 1982) 

                                                                              

Danielle Wiebe Burke, viola

Schuyler Slack, cello

Poetry: "Virginia Reel" | Charles Wright (b. 1935)

 

Serenade in C major, op. 10 (1902) | Ernst von Dohnányi (1877-1960)

 

Marcia – Romanza – Scherzo – Tema con variazioni – Rondo (Finale)

Daniel Sender, violin

Danielle Wiebe Burke, viola

Schuyler Slack, cello

Poetry: "Sonnet" |  Elizabeth Bishop (1911-79)

Mozart: Piano Quartet in G minor

"Epitaph" | William Carlos Williams

An old willow with hollow branches
slowly swayed his few high gright tendrils
and sang:
 
Love is a young green willow
shimmering at the bare wood’s edge.

 

"This is Just to Say"| W.C.W.

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

"The Red Wheelbarrow" | W.C.W. 

 

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens

Mozart's Piano Quartet No. 1 was commissioned by a publisher, who, after receiving the score from his friend Mozart, declared that the music was too difficult and would be impossible to play. Mozart published the music nonetheless and added a second quartet to the collection only nine months later. Composed in three movements, the piece spans a breadth of emotions through different tempi (speeds), keys, and styles of composition. 

 

The first movement, Allegro (quick, lively), is in the key of G minor - a key Mozart reserved for his darkest works, and those most emblematic of Sturm und Drang (storm and stress), the 18th century literary term denoting extreme emotions. In fact, only five of his 600+ works are set in this key. Curiously, the period in which the piece was written (1785) marks one of the most financially profitable and stable times in Mozart's life. Why the fuss, then? While we have no concrete answer to this, there is assurance in the storm being short-lived: large portions of the movement are in a major key, which simultaneously sweetly contrast the dark G minor and accentuate its stormy nature. 

The second movement, Andante (at a walking pace), is a short and beautiful movement in a major key. The placid nature of the movement encourages the instruments to communicate across the ensemble - watch how we attempt to take over lines and notes from one another, creating the illusion that one large instrument resonates. If you feel the movement stretch on with little variation, try to notice how Mozart uses the instruments differently. The piano is the soloist here, the cello often plays alone in duet with it (albeit in a very subtle way - try to catch it!), and the viola and violin frequently trade the melody back and forth.

Lastly, the Rondo, marked Allegro moderato (moderately fast), is in the brightest key yet. Compositionally, a Rondo alternates between its main theme and contrasting music, always returning to the first musical idea. What that does for the listener is create a strong sense of home, musically speaking. There is a comfort in a Rondo, in the constant reminder of where one is supposed to be. For me, this movement depicts radiating joy in a way only Mozart can. Mozart isn't boring - you just have to know what you're listening for!

- D.W.B.

Luna-Mega: Forestcover

 

from "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror" | John Ashbery

Tomorrow is easy, but today is uncharted. 

Desolate, reluctant as any landscape

To yield what are laws of perspective

After all only to the painter's deep

Mistrust, a weak instrument though

Necessary. Of course some things

Are possible, it knows, but it doesn't know

Which ones. Some day we will try

To do as many things as are possible

And perhaps we shall succeed at a handful

Of them, but this will not have anything

To do with what is promised today, our

Landscape sweeping out from us to disappear

On the horizon. Today enough of cover burnishes

To keep the supposition of promises together

In one piece of surface

Forestcover is a collaboration with environmental scientist, Stephanie Roe, and musician / mathematician, Zach Baugher, with the support of UVa's Environmental Resilience Institute. In Forestcover, the musical materials of the viola, cello, piano, and electronics, are derived from data predictive models exploring how forest cover based on biophysical and sociopolitical realities will impact the climate as well as ecosystems from 2000 to 2100. The main idea is to explore and compare two scenarios: 1. "Business as usual," in which we face a catastrophic climate change; 2. "A greener world," in which we are able to revert dramatic changes in albedo, temperature and land use, that would give us a chance to re-think the way in which we inhabit our planet. * This evening we will be performing the "Business as usual" movement. 

-C.L-M.

 

Working on Forestcover with Chris and Danielle has been an exciting departure from what I normally do as a cellist. In a classical sense, it is a musician’s job to interpret little black dots on a page and synthesize them into a sonic expression of a story or emotion that a composer wants to share. In this piece, our job is to convey a sonic expression of scientific data. To my surprise, this exercise hasn’t proven to be any less emotional, especially given its foreboding subject matter. For me, the most gripping sensation that Chris evokes comes from linking the number of forest hectares we are projected to lose each year to a terrifying tempo increase to the end. I’d like to thank Chris for forcing me to think outside of my usual box and allowing me to stop being a musical actor for a moment to join him in becoming a musical activist.

- S.S.

Shaw: Limestone and Felt

"Virginia Reel" |  Charles Wright

I stand on the porch of Wickliffe Church, 

My kinfolk out back in the bee-stitched vines and weeds, 

The night coming on, my flat shirt drawing the light in, 

Bright bud on the branch of nothing's tree. 

In the new shadows, memory starts to shake out its dark cloth. 

Everyone settles down, transparent and animate, 

Under the oak trees.

Hampton passes the wine around, Jaq toasts to our health. 

And when, from the blear and glittering air, 

A hand touches my shoulder, 

I want to fall to my knees and keep falling, here,

Laid down by the articles that bear my names, 

The limestone and marble and locust wood. 

But that's for another life. Just down the road, at Smithfield, the last of the apple blossoms

Fishtails to earth through the shot twilight, 

A little vowel for the future, a signal from us to them. 

"Limestone & Felt presents two kinds of surfaces – essentially hard and soft. These are materials that can suggest place (a cathedral apse, or the inside of a wool hat), stature, function, and – for me – sound (reverberant or muted). In limestone & felt, the hocketing pizzicato and pealing motivic canons are part of a whimsical, mystical, generous world of sounds echoing and colliding in the imagined eaves of a gothic chapel. These are contrasted with the delicate, meticulous, and almost reverent placing of chords that, to our ears today, sound ancient and precious, like an antique jewel box. Ultimately, felt and limestone may represent two opposing ways we experience history and design our own present. "

© CAROLINE SHAW EDITIONS 2020

From a performance perspective, Limestone and Felt achieves the contrasts Caroline Shaw describes so perfectly that the attempt to capture the exact timbres to which she refers is itself a moving experience. The snap pizzicato you hear, executed by pulling the string and letting it snap back, contrasted with the supplicating nature of the melodic chords transport us as musicians to Shaw's cathedral. I encourage you to listen with that picture in mind, paying close attention to the spaces and gaps between notes - the music breathes in this space. 

-D.W.B.

Dohnanyi: Serenade in C major

"Sonnet" | Elizabeth Bishop

Caught -- the bubble
in the spirit level,
a creature divided;
and the compass needle
wobbling and wavering,
undecided.
Freed -- the broken
thermometer's mercury
running away;
and the rainbow-bird
from the narrow bevel
of the empty mirror,
flying wherever
it feels like, gay!

Hungarian composer Ernst von Dohnányi, though not as well-known in the sphere of popular Classical music, was a musical innovator, traveling throughout Europe and the U.S. performing and teaching. He was also a heroic figure during WWII, signing documents that saved hundreds of Jewish musicians from deportation to concentration camps and instead bringing them to Hungary. The Serenade, composed early in Dohnányi's career, is heavily influenced by the masters - Brahms, Schubert and even Mozart - but, as you will hear, there's something slightly off about each movement. Sometimes, it's the noodling nature of the notes, other times there seem to be extra beats thrown in. This puts Dohnányi firmly in the 20th century, alongside composers like Mahler and Puccini. 

The piece's first movement, Marcia (march), is at first glance a playful march, with the three instruments chasing one another in their staggered upwards scales. However, the game of tag is soon interrupted with a Hungarian-inspired (called Magyar) melody in the cello. The movement ends with a flash, giving us a tiny glimpse of the 'tag' motif before interrupting itself with the final chord. 

 

The Romanza (romance) immediately poses a challenge to the listener, as it begins without a downbeat - the heartbeat, if you will - and withholds it until the viola solo begins. The middle section, passionate and wild, uses arpeggios to gain momentum and fuel the duet between the violin and cello. As the turbulence winds down, we hear a version of the original melody in the violin accompanied by what sound like "wrong" notes in the lower strings. After toying with the heartbeat rhythm once more, Dohnányi dives into the third movement. 

 

The Scherzo (playful, light) is easily the most challenging of the five movements. It demands rhythmic precision and technical proficiency to coordinate the instruments, let alone to make musical sense of the notes. In spite of its difficulty, it charms by laying a sweet melody over the cacophony of notes. It's almost ironic that it possesses the name "Scherzo", when it feels anything but. However, the motif tossed around the ensemble has a scurrying, chasing quality that most definitely deserves a smile - or it would, if we weren't trying so hard to play it right!

The fourth movement, Tema con Variazioni (theme and variations), reveals Dohnányi's genius in a different way. The entire movement is based on a theme only six notes long. Six notes! In the words of our cellist, Schuyler, this movement is "so Hollywood". It's syrupy yet simple, satisfyingly beautiful while maintaining Dohnányi's signature style - the feeling that something is ever so slightly off-kilter.

 

Finally, we close with a meteor of a last movement, the Rondo. Remember Mozart's Rondo, with its ebullient joy? This Rondo is completely different. Almost crazed, it has the feeling of barely holding on, its engine running full steam. Suddenly, we're transported to the first movement as the hearty Magyar theme returns, somehow even more full of vigor than before. The unusual thing, though, is that the movement closes with a theme borrowed from a previous movement. In Dohnányi's own way, the winding-down effect only serves to tie the whole work together, allowing both musician and listener to feel full and content.

-D.W.B.

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