The 2009 Sitka Summer Music Festival is off to a breathtaking start. For those of us lucky enough to attend the opening concerts, there was musical joy on the stage of Centennial Hall from the first note to the last – and the icing on the cake was the stunning moonlight reflecting on the water during the Mendelssohn Piano Trio Friday night. Absolutely unforgettable. And a great time was had by all at the Family Concert Sunday afternoon – kids of all ages were a fantastic and well-behaved audience. Now, for the second week. This Friday, the phenomenal artists already in town will be joined by cellist Zuill Bailey.
I have become addicted to Zuill’s remarkable CD which features the Mendelssohn Variations Concertantes for Cello and Piano and I am very excited about hearing this beautiful theme and eight elegant variations performed live. Composed when Mendelssohn was twenty years old, the piece concludes with “a sheer sense of frolic” for the audience and the performers; the cello and piano have wonderful interplay.
First-time Sitka violinist Keng-Yuen, who has a wonderful sense of humor in addition to being a top-rate performer, will be joined by Evan and Doris to play a Festival favorite, Arensky’s Piano Trio in D Minor, Op 32. Historian David Greene observed, “A regimen of drinking, gambling, and partying undermined his health. The son of a cello-playing physician, Arensky could not heal himself, and a promising career was cut short by illness and early death.” Heavily influenced by Tschaikowsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, the trio showcases the Russian composer’s melodic gifts and superb technique.
Jennifer Stumm will play an intense, rich viola solo with Doris at the keyboard, Benjamin Britten’s Lachrymae. Britten is one of the most important English composers of the twentieth century. Lachrymae, Reflections on a Song of Dowland, is ten atmospheric variations based on a piece for lute by John Dowland (1563-1626) called “If My Complaints Could Passions Move.” There is a dreamlike quality to the music; some listeners find that Britten’s use of pizzicato (plucked strings) provides a poignant musical image of falling tears.
Friday’s concert will conclude with Mozart’s Viola Quintet in E Flat Major, K. 614. This was his final chamber work, completed about eight months before his death. Mozart’s personal circumstances were becoming desperate as his debts grew. However, he created a score that is radiant and confident, intricate and life-affirming.
Tuesday night’s one-hour concert at 7:30 p.m. will feature flutist Lorna McGhee and her husband, violist David Harding, in a lovely duo by French composer and teacher Francois Devienne (1759-1803.) He became the first flute professor at the newly formed Paris Conservatory and wrote many important method books and pieces for wind instruments. Also on the program is Mozart’s Flute Quartet in F Major (originally for oboe, but the piece works brilliantly featuring the flute) and the lush Sextet for Strings in B Flat Major by Johannes Brahms. He was the first major composer to write a sextet, which features pairs of violins, violas, and cellos, and the piece is sunny and optimistic. We will hear violinists Sarah Kapustin and Agnes Gottschewski, plus violist Roland Kato and cellists Armen Ksajikian and Jeffrey Solow for the first time this year.
My guest for the pre-concert lecture on Friday night will be violinist Keng-Yuen Tseng. Join us at 7:30 p.m. and you might find out how he managed to get the moon to hit the water at exactly the right moment at last Friday’s concert. The music starts at 8:15 – and be sure to keep Tuesday at 7:30 on your schedule; you deserve these fine concerts!