Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Washington Musica Viva

at the Czech Embassy, 2/21/2006

(note: I'm on the board of directors of Washington Musica Viva, so once again, I can't really be impartial. ok?)

After a brief hiatus, WMV has returned to the Czech Embassy to present a series of concerts presenting a nice mix of music by Czech composers. This program included one composer I hadn't heard before: Petr Eben. He's referred to as, "one of the leading composers of the Czech Republic," so I guess that's good that his work was included... His "Six Minnelieder" was performed by Karyn Friedman (mezzo-soprano) with Carl Banner at the piano. This collection of six short songs are all settings of medieval texts, in Czech, English, German, Italian, and French. Since I'm not multi-lingual myself, I found that to be somewhat alienating. The songs were sung beautifully, but I've never been really drawn to "art song" per se, and this was no exception. Just my own personal bias... but that being said, WMV has performed lots of vocal music that I really loved - which is pretty impressive since I'm really hard to please in this area. I just couldn't really get into these songs.

Next up was the "Rhapsody-Concerto" by Bohuslav Martinu. The piece, originally for viola and orchestra, was performed in a transcription for viola and piano. I'm really curious to hear the orchestra version (and I'm in luck... it's not in the DC Library, or Montgomery County Library, but there's a recording at WMV has performed quite a bit of Martinu's music in the past, and I've always found it to be totally captivating. This work, however, didn't have as much fast material. He's a composer who really knows how to write fast music... and his jazz-inflected style keeps me more engaged than most classical music. This piece is overall, more moderate in tempo, but there are a few rockin' parts - and even slowed down a bit, Martinu's music is still very engaging. Philippe Chao did a super job with the viola. Someday I'll write something for viola... when it's played well, it's totally worth the trouble of dealing with the damn C-clef.

The program closed with Dvorak's "Piano Quartet No.1," played by Carl along with Hasse Borup (violin), Amy Leung (cello), and Phillipe Chao (viola). So far, I've led a seriously blessed life - some evidence of that is the fact that I've been able to hear Hasse and Amy play several times over the last few years. While I was in grad. school at Hartt, they were there with their string quartet - the Coolidge Quartet - studying with the Emerson Quartet. Then they followed me to Maryland, where they were studying with the Guarneri Quartet. Unfortunately, the Coolidge Quartet is no longer, but these two are really fabulous musicians and when they're playing in the area you would be well served by dropping everything and going to hear them. This was a crisp and lively rendition of the Dvorak. Sometimes I have a hard time with his longwindedness, but this performance kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, and I'm not just saying that because I want to publish nice things about WMV...

Hasse has a project in the works to record a CD of violin and piano music by Schoenberg, as well as music by Schoenberg's American pupils. It's an interesting concept - and we're now "in conversation" about bringing him in to perform in next season's "New Music Salon" series presented by the American Composers Forum. Hopefully we can make the dates work out!

WMV's next concert is coming up on March 19th at the Atlas, click here for more info.

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