So far, every Sitka Festival concert has been a gem. It doesn’t matter whether you are a classical music addict or someone who is just curious about chamber music – this is the real deal. Sitkans, it just doesn’t get better than this, and I go to concerts whenever and wherever I can. Everybody has very busy schedules – work, family, exercise, etc. – but you are really, really cheating yourself if you have not attended one of these concerts yet. And this week you have some fantastic options – go to every one of them! We will get to hear some amazing Taneyev string quartets, works which feature the flute, and many more musical marvels – played with heart and passion.
Friday night, two pieces will feature the elegant and soulful flutist Lorna McGhee. Rossini’s Quartet in B Flat, written when he was just twelve years old, works just perfectly when the flute takes over the first violin part – his philosophy was simple – “Delight must be the basis and aim of this art.” This is a joyful and engaging work, full of wonderful melodies which percolate with Rossini’s trademark humor. Next, Lorna and cellist Jeffrey Solow will play “Jet Whistle,” a colorful work by Brazilian composer Villa-Lobos. Historian David Ewen describes his impressive legacy, saying that it “beats with the heart and pulse of his native Brazil…He was, in short, Brazil in music.” Famous for his enormous energy and appetites, an addiction to black cigars and even blacker coffee, in 1950, Villa-Lobos crafted the cheerful Jet Whistle overflowing with the spirited humor associated with popular Brazilian dance music. The concert will conclude with the first of two Taneyev String Quartets featured on the weekend concerts. Although not well known to general audiences, the Russian Taneyev is very highly regarded for his inventive writing and “noble spirituality, sincerity and purity of lyrical emotion.” The powerful A Minor Quartet, composed in 1900, includes a slow movement that pays tribute to Nature and “pictures the untroubled beauty of nighttime silence, but it also contains human feelings, such as languor, passion, pleading, suffering, and tenderness.”
Saturday night’s program opens with Impresiones de la Puna (1945) by Alberto Ginastera, the most famous Latin American composer in the years just after World War II. The Puna are spectacular mountain valleys located in the northern Andes; each movement of this piece for flute and string quartet is a short dance rich with Latin American flavor. Then we will enjoy another Taneyev string quartet - in A Major – a piece that is wonderfully transparent and appealing, a marvel in the form. If you have a chance to hear these underperformed but astonishing quartets this weekend, you will gain a quick understanding of Taneyev’s nickname, “the Russian Brahms.” The concert will close with our final salute to Mendelssohn’s two-hundredth birthday year, the remarkable A Major Viola Quintet. Mendelssohn was only seventeen years old when he wrote this radiant and profound masterpiece. The emotional high point is the gorgeous Intermezzo, a musical memorial to his beloved friend and former violin teacher, Eduard Rietz, who tragically died at the age of twenty-nine.
Next Tuesday’s 7:30 concert includes a lovely Mozart piano trio in E Major, the rapturously beautiful Franck Violin Sonata; Cesar Franck was not recognized as a major composer until the age of 68, and this serene, unassuming, and mystical man created one of the violin repertoire’s masterworks when he was 64. Haydn’s beloved C Major String Quartet, Op. 33, No. 3 “The Birds” will top off the program.
For extra info about the concerts, join me at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday – cellist Zuill Bailey and flutist Lorna McGhee will be my weekend guests for the lectures.