Wednesday, June 23, 2010

SSMF Concert Conversations #3 by Susan Wingrove

How can this be happening? We have reached the final two events for what has been an incredible 2010 Sitka Summer Music Festival! In addition to the wonderful concerts featuring artists who play the music with such joy and passion, there have been some delightful new events, like the Larkspur gatherings and movie night. Time is simply flying, and as much as I have tried to slow the days down and savor every moment of every activity, (for example, who will ever forget the image of Armen playing his cello for the bears!) we have finally reached the ending. And what an ending it will be…

Tonight’s last chance for a free (donations happily accepted) music-related movie is a gem. Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037 is a 2007 documentary that was broadcast on PBS last fall, and I was really upset to miss it. I am going to be in line very early at the Totem Park Visitors Center tonight to make sure I can get in for the 7 p.m showing. The grand piano on the stage at the Centennial Building is one of these superb hand-crafted instruments – and every Steinway has a soundboard made of Sitka spruce! Each piano takes 12 months to build and includes 12,000 parts. But, the movie is much more than just an exploration of the construction process, it also examines how extraor-dinary the relationship can be between an artist and an instrument. LA Times reviewer Kenneth Turan enthusiastically wrote that Note by Note is “a meditation on the making of pianos and the making of music. A process that is very much like falling in love.”

The concert Friday night will provide a perfect and soul-satisfying ending to this three-week feast of great performances. The concert will open with Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95 “Serioso,” published in 1815. This remarkable work sets the precedent for the astonishing creativity of Beethoven’s final years. E.T.A. Hoffman (who wrote the 1816 tale The Nutcracker which later became a legendary ballet) said of this quartet, “Beethoven’s music arouses awe, fear, horror, pain, and awakens that endless yearning that is the very essence of romanticism.” Many of the composer’s colleagues claimed that Shakespeare’s Othello had a tremendous effect on the score. German musicologist Arnhold Schering even goes so far as to suggest the following provocative scenario: “The opening movement depicts Othello’s insanely jealous rage tinged with bittersweet reflection and Desdemona’s uncomprehending protest. Allegretto opens with a serene, continuously flowing melody with dark undercurrents and harmonic blurring – this is Desdemona’s self-doubt in a dialogue with her maid. The Scherzo represents Othello’s murderous resolve as he stands over his sleeping wife. Piu allegro is simple poetry in which Othello reluctantly kisses her farewell. At the slow introduction to the last movement, Desdemona awakes. Her sleepy trusting, however, soon gives way to mortal fear as the tragedy unfolds. Surprisingly, after such a turbulent finale, the quartet ends with a coda of pure comedy.” American composer Randall Thompson aptly concluded, “No bottle of champagne was ever opened at a better time.”

Next on the program is an early work by Richard Strauss, the Violin Sonata in E Flat Major, Op. 18. Famous for his operas and orchestral works (Der Rosenkavalier, Salome, Don Juan, and Also Sprach Zarathustra – the famous opening popularized in the film 2001 A Space Odyssey), the youthful sonata (age 24) was the last sonata he ever wrote. The lush score is passionate and romantic – this is sure to be an audience-pleaser!

The work that Artistic Director Paul Rosenthal chose to conclude the concert, and this year’s Festival, is a major chamber masterpiece – Franz Schubert’s sublime String Quintet in C Major, Op. 163. Unbelievably, this work was composed during the final intense months of Schubert’s short life – he died in 1828 at age 31. The piece was published in 1850, and many musicians think this is arguably the finest quintet ever written. Beloved chamber music historian Arthur Cohn declared, “There is not a flaw in this jewel.” Highlights include the gorgeous opening movement, a slow movement that has been described as having the most terrifying mood in the literature of chamber music, featuring the instruments in their darker registers, and the haunting Scherzo with musical colors of tramping horses and hints of folk songs. Schubert’s friend Anton Schneider eloquently summarized the finale; “After a long retirement into the depths of his soul, having laid bare its secrets, he wanted to leave us with the impression that his solitary hours had given a place to the ordinary everyday man.” A release from grief, the work ends almost mischievously – a heartfelt affirmation of life.

Join violinist William Preucil and me for the preconcert chat Friday at 7:30 pm – and then at 8:15 we will enjoy the exciting final event of the 2010 Sitka Summer Music Festival. It has been three weeks of such pleasure – please drop everything and head to the last concert to show your support of these amazing artists and receive the priceless gift of well-played and heartfelt music. And next June, the SSMF 40th anniversary!

16 comments:

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