Musical Verve, Panache, and Passion in Bridgehampton

“Bunch of Mozart and Mendelssohn"
The Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival has come to be known for “a well-chosen selection of sublime classics offering entertainment of the highest order.” Michael Lawrence

Midway through its summer season, the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival gave an outstanding concert that exemplified what it has come to be known for: a well-chosen selection of sublime classics offering entertainment of the highest order, along with a refreshing sampling of the best of the newest additions to the repertoire. A full house of devotees gathered at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church on Aug. 6 for a “Bunch of Mozart and Mendelssohn,” aptly named for the music of the two greats and the contemporary American composer Kenji Bunch.

The evening opened with Mozart’s Divertimento for Strings in F, and, as the name of the genre suggests, elements of amusement and diversion were abundant; these works typically were made-to-order for the aristocracy for parties, weddings, or other festivities. The playing was precise, spirited, and joyful, with a beautiful ensemble blend. The cellist Edward Arron had especially animated and delighted facial expressions as he engaged with the others — Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu and Kristin Lee on violin, and Dimitri Murrath on viola — bringing out the conversational nature of chamber music.

In the slower middle movement, the players brought a delicate, charming intensity to each note, and the resulting attentiveness of the audience was apparent.

In “Ralph’s Old Records,” Mr. Bunch cleverly recalls his father’s collection of 78 r.p.m. records from the 1930s and ’40s, which he listened to as a child on cassette tapes. He has written that the five short vignettes are “an homage to this influence, as well as to these fond childhood memories and to my dad himself.”

Ms. Wu came onstage carrying both a violin and a viola, and switched from one to the other in the course of the work with great skill and seeming ease. In addition, the work is scored for flute played by the festival’s founder and artistic director, Marya Martin); clarinet (Romie de Guise-Langlois), cello (Mr. Arron), and piano (Orion Weiss).

The first movement, “Chi-Chi-Hotcha-Watchee Stomp,” set the tone for this very clever and inventive retrospective, with its contemporary classical angle on revisiting the sounds of the big band era. While a few in the audience may have been perplexed, the ending brought delighted chuckles from some. Next, “Celestial Debris” was an ethereal reverie with just hints of “Stardust.” Its otherworldly qualities had some talking about it fondly afterward.

 “I Didn’t Hear Nobody Pray” recalls the composer’s experience of hearing the country singer and fiddler Roy Acuff on the radio as his father was in a military hospital in 1945, complete with the blips and bleeps of the medical equipment.

The fourth movement, “When I Grew Too Old to Dream, Dream, Dream, One More Dream Came True,” had punctuating moments of the pianist standing and using timpani mallets to strike the piano strings, the flutist playing a kazoo, the clarinetist playing a slide whistle, and a few other similar gadgets, but these added spice to the high artistry that it takes to carry off intricate music like this. Finally, “Off to the Foxes” was a tribute to the foxtrots in the vinyl collection, and ended riding off into the sunset.

Mr. Bunch is acclaimed for “combining vernacular American influences with techniques from his classical training to create a unique vocabulary of new American music,” according to his website, and this piece definitely fits the bill. “Ralph’s Old Records” was written in 2015, and while I haven’t heard it before, I think it was a definitive performance of a work that should be destined to become a standard.

By the way, at this writing two of these movements are on the festival’s YouTube channel, bcmfmusic, with the added benefit of delightful videography showing angles and closeups that the audience didn’t get.

After intermission there was a wonderful curiosity: a fragment of a work by Mozart. The tone of the clarinet was a favorite of Mozart’s since he was young, and he wrote for it often. After his death, a fragment of an Allegro in B-flat for clarinet and strings was found — four manuscript pages, merely 93 measures. The fact that the score is fully worked out and breaks off in the middle of a phrase in the development section suggests that it had been completed and the remaining pages were lost. What a delight to hear a snippet of this graceful, mature work, and what a touching moment to be left mid-phrase, wondering what might have been next.

The most substantial part of the evening was Mendelssohn’a Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello in C Minor, superbly performed by Mr. Weiss, Ms. Lee, and Mr. Arron. In the 1844-45 season Mendelssohn managed to clear his very busy schedule so he could devote all his time to composing, and the oratorio “Elijah” and the present Trio were among the significant results. The Trio is considered among the two or three most important pieces of chamber music of his all-too-short 38 years. Its beauty and depth throughout the four movements were brought to life as the instrumentalists tossed magnificent melodic phrases back and forth, building on one another’s skill and creativity, and there was a remarkable amount of sound energy generated from the three instruments, enough to make one think there were many more.

The response of the audience was so great that enthusiastic applause began before the final chord was released, a gesture that does not often happen in chamber music. All in all, it was a concert of solid fare delivered with verve, panache, and incredibly passionate playing.

The festival continues with five concerts through Aug. 27, ranging from “Bach and Django‚” in the sculpture garden of the Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton, to Schubert, the young Beethoven, and Dvorak. More information is at or 631-537-6368.