I cannot believe we have reached the final concert of the 2009 Sitka Summer Music Festival. There have been so many unforgettable highlights – the stunning Mendelssohn Piano Trio on opening night, the wonderful gift of two passionately played Taneyev string quartets (little-known treasures that now have a huge fan base in Sitka), the Brahms Piano Quartet which left the audience enthralled, the Franck Violin Sonata played so exquisitely Tuesday night, and so much more. This annual gathering of musicians is a perfect example of true chamber music –supremely talented friends playing music because they love it and enjoy it, and that sets this festival apart from many classical concerts that I have attended. And another uniquely wonderful part of the Festival are the enthusiastic Sitka audiences. People really listen to music here – and it’s magical to feel and watch the chemistry between the performers and a totally engaged audience.
Artistic Director Paul Rosenthal has coordinated a superb program for the grand finale on Friday. Sitkans, this is your last opportunity; the artists will be going home – to other commitments – and we will be living for the coming months on the memories of the 2009 musical banquet. So treat yourself and a friend or family member; the 8:15 p.m. concert promises to provide us lucky listeners with one final evening of emotionally-charged music!
First will be a masterwork by the “Father of the string quartet,” Franz Joseph Haydn. Biographer Otto Jahn sums up his contribution to the musical world nicely, writing, “The quartet was Haydn’s natural mode of expressing his feelings. The poet and the peasant, the lonely man and the man of mirth and wit, the devout Christian and the lover of earthly joys reveal themselves in some of the most poignant, or radiant, or ingratiating, or rowdy, or tragic music that he was to write.” Four wonderful string players will play the E Flat Major, Op. 76, No. 6 quartet – viewed by music lovers as a compositional treasure house.
The exceptional and intense cellist Mark Kosower and his wife Jee-Won Oh will partner to play Claude Debussy’s marvelous 1915 sonata, a work which reflects the composer’s fascination with Harlequin, a traditional white-masked clown who had a sad heart and unfulfilled dreams; the spirited music also became an outlet for Debussy’s despair over the outbreak of World War I. Alexander Tcherepnin’s Songs and Dances for Cello and Piano will follow – composed in 1953, and dedicated to the legendary cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, the colorful work alternates Georgian and Russian songs with Tartar and Ksazakh dances. Mark will also be my guest at the pre-concert chat at 7:30 p.m. to provide more details about these pieces and his Sitka experiences.
The concert, and the 2009 festival, will conclude with Cesar Franck’s remarkable Piano Quintet in F Minor. The quiet and unassuming composer was thrilled whenever his music was played – and he tried to present the manuscript of this work to his friend Saint-Saens, the pianist/composer who played the premiere. Saint-Saens walked disdainfully and abruptly off the stage, leaving the score on the piano to express his negative opinion. Others protested the “shocking emotionalism” of the piece. But, the public was wiser than the critics – and this has become one of the most beloved of chamber works. Full of extraordinary drive and passion, dramatic intensity and gorgeous scoring, people were amazed that a quiet, serene organist and teacher could produce such a stunning work. Anyone who heard the gorgeous performance of Franck’s violin sonata on Tuesday night will know this is a can’t-miss feast of heartfelt melodies and lush harmonies.
I want to thank this community for hosting such a wonderful music festival, and for allowing me to be a part of this for the last twenty-five years. The opportunity to learn about the music and human history is a never-ending source of pleasure in my life, but the best part of all is to see and hear these amazing performances every June. The music speaks straight to the heart at every single concert; so join the SSMF for a great finale Friday night!