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New York Philharmonic Brings the Spring

Mon, 03/20/2023 - 13:44
The New York Philharmonic String Quartet will finally perform via Bridgehampton Chamber Music after two concerts were postponed by the pandemic.

Three Spring Concerts presented by Bridgehampton Chamber Music in April and May will feature the New York Philharmonic String Quartet, a program for piano four hands, and a concert highlighting the rich colors of two violas. The series, which pairs some cherished staples of chamber music repertoire with recent works, will have onstage some BCM veterans who have not previously performed together.

The Philharmonic Quartet had been scheduled to appear here twice in recent years, but both events were postponed because of the pandemic. On April 1, they will offer Mozart's String Quartet No. 19 in C and Schubert's String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor, along with a work that is barely four years old and speaks to today. 

Both the Mozart and the Schubert are known by nicknames that may not fairly characterize the whole work. Mozart's "Dissonance" Quartet is so called because of its slow and atypical introduction, but it may be the best known of all. While Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" Quartet uses the theme from his song by that gloomy name. Marya Martin, founder and artistic director of the festival, said last week that "parts of the piece are absolutely beautiful, uplifting, and vivacious." Written at a time when Schubert was slowly dying, and questioning whether his life had any meaning, "he still had the happiness of composing. So that is really a dramatic, powerful movement."

Between those two masterworks of the literature will be a shorter work, Joel Thompson's "In Response to the Madness." Mr. Thompson, an Emmy award-winning composer, pianist, and conductor from Atlanta, Ga., is perhaps best known for his large-scale "Seven Last Words of the Unarmed," which premiered in 2015. 

Four years later, in his preface to the score of "Madness," the composer wrote, "I only made one rule for myself: Each time before sitting down to compose this piece, I had to ingest all the major news stories of the day. The piece is merely a response to the madness -- one to which I hope listeners can relate -- but I also hope it gives voice to our current angst and perhaps inspires us to change our tune." 

"He is responding to the news of the day," Ms. Martin said. "It is very intense. It has some dissonance, but when you equate it with the message that he is trying to write about, I find it very moving, and it makes you think."

Three of the four players in the quartet have appeared individually with the festival before: Frank Huang, violin; Cynthia Phelps, viola, and Carter Brey, cello. Qianqian Li, violin, will be welcomed to the BCM stage for the first time.

Rites of Spring, the second concert, on April 29, will pair two of BCM's audience-favorite pianists, Orion Weiss and Gilles Vonsattel, and will culminate in -- you guessed it -- Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring," in the composer's own arrangement for piano four hands. At its premiere, Ms. Martin said, "it was so amazing that [the audience] couldn't believe their ears." 

"Some people hated it and were throwing tomatoes. There was a mass riot afterward. This piece is riveting; it will keep people on the edge of their chairs. It was written in 1913, and it still can sound quite contemporary."

Also on the program are Debussy's "Petite Suite," Mozart's Andante and Variations in G Major, and Faure's "Dolly Suite." Other than the Mozart, "the three pieces were written within 20 years of each other, yet you will hear night and day," she said.

A typical chamber music program might have one viola, but to have two appear together is uncommon; and it is even more telling to call the event Focus on the Viola, as is the case on May 20. The instrument is between the violin and cello in size and pitch, usually sounding in the alto and tenor range, and may be less than obvious to the casual listener. However, it has a very wide range of pitches, great versatility, and a rich, resonant tone quality. 

On April 29, the violists Ettore Causa and Matthew Lipman will be in the spotlight with music from the Baroque by Friedrich Kuhlau, from 2016 by Paul Coletti, a composer and professor at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, and from the Romantic period by Brahms. The ensemble will also include Ms. Martin on flute, Sirena Huang and Paul Huang on violin, and Oliver Herbert on cello. 

Mr. Lipman has performed a number of times with BCM in the last seven or so years, but said last week that he'd been a student at the Perlman Music Program on Shelter Island "starting about 2007, when I was about 15, so I have been playing in the Hamptons pretty consistently" since then. "I'm very happy that the viola is getting a chance to shine in this program." 

Mr. Causa has also played for BCM many times. The two violists know each other socially but have never performed together, so this will be a first that they are both excited about. 

The program leads off with the Quintet for flute, violin, two violas, and cello no. 3 in D by Kuhlau. With the flute and violin on top, it has a color that is somewhat different from the works that follow. Mr. Lipman said of Paul Coletti's "Moonlight Journey," written in 2016 for two violas, "It is like a salon piece that has lots of personality and is accessible to the audience." Mr. Causa added last week that the composer "is not just a fantastic violist but also a very imaginative artist, and his music is very free style; it's very spontaneous and very accessible." Mr. Coletti knows well how to write for the instrument in a way that is both idiomatic and explores the limits of combining two, so that it can sound fully like a quartet. 

Capping the concert is Brahms's Quintet No. 2 in G, sometimes known as the Viola Quintet because it features two of them. Mr. Causa said that Brahms favored the color of the viola, and "having two violas really gives a very special sound to the strings" with its added richness. "I would say it is the pinnacle of his chamber music writing." 

In Mr. Lipman's words, "I think his chamber music is expansive the way his symphonies are. So, the medium is only five instruments but the ideas behind it are much larger, and it is really orchestral in scale."

As for upcoming projects, Mr. Lipman is "working on some amazing solo recordings" involving Bach, to be released in the coming season; and Mr. Causa at the moment is on a 12-day trip for concerts in Denmark and Sweden, and giving a three-day masterclass in Madrid before returning here.

All three programs are on Saturdays at 5 p.m. at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church. Tickets are $75 or $50; $10 for students. More information is at 631-537-3507 or bcmf.org.
 

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