Tuesday, October 20, 2015

May 17, 2009: Handel in all his crystalline clarity

Last night Bernard Labadie concluded his visit to the San Francisco Symphony, complementing last week's offering of seldom-heard compositions by Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with an evening devoted to George Frideric Handel at his most celebratory.  The object of that celebration was George II on two occasions:  his coronation an October 11, 1727 and his leading of English troops to victory at the Battle of Dettingen on June 27, 1743.  Handel composed four anthems for the coronation, three of which were performed in the first half of last night's program by the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus, "Zadok the Priest" (HWV 258), "My Heart is Inditing" (261), and "The King Shall Rejoice" (HWV 260).  In place of the fourth (HWV 259) anthem ("Let thy Hand be Strengthened"), organist Richard Paré joined the symphony for a performance of Handel's Opus 4, Number 1 (HWV 289) organ concerto in G minor.

At my last encounter with HWV 258 at the beginning of this month, I observed that this was all incidental music but that, where Handel was concerned, even his music subordinated to a specific occasion still deserves serious listening.  Labadie's respect for serious listening, so evident in his nuanced interpretations of Haydn and Mozart last week, again presented itself in full force with a new set of resources, the full mixed chorus and the pipe organ as concerto instrument.  Once again that respect was displayed through his command of dynamic control and pace.
When an occasion is celebratory, the danger is that all the performers burst forth at full force and then desperately try to maintain that level of energy for the duration of the composition.  Handel clearly wanted none of such nonsense;  and this is clear from the very opening of HWV 258, which may be the longest sustained crescendo in the literature until Richard Wagner came along with the Vorspiel to his opera Das Rheingold.  As Labadie conducted it, this was not a simple matter of getting louder over a long duration;  rather, it involved a gradual succession of "crescendo waves," each one slightly strong than its predecessor, until, as the orchestra reaches its peak, the chorus bursts forth with the text describing the coronation of Solomon.  As I have previously observed, that burst runs the risk of drowning out the orchestra;  but Labadie kept his resources under control to make sure that no individual element of this glorious moment was lost.

The problem of balance is probably even more critical in a concerto for organ and orchestra, particularly since most of the organs of Handel's time lacked swell boxes.  Loudness was simply a matter of how many ranks of pipes were connected to the keyboard (i.e., not "stopped").  The organ used for this concerto was, therefore, a much smaller instrument than the Davies pipe organ recently put on display for the organ concerto of Francis Poulenc.  This smaller instrument could support far more dexterity, and this is precisely what Handel wanted.  That same skill in virtuoso turns that we know so well in his operas is on display at a keyboard here;  and, with the more modest resources of the instrument, the ear can easily follow every intricate twist of that virtuosity.  The result is a display of melodic invention that is right up there with the violin writing of Baroque masters such as Antonio Vivaldi and Johann Sebastian Bach.  Paré mustered all of the agility that Handel demanded, always choosing his stops for the most suitable blend with the Symphony under Labadie's control.  Handel-the-organist may have an entirely different character from that of Bach-the-organist;  but that character offers a bright contrast to the more meditative Bach.  Labadie and Paré captured all of that brightness, offering the best possible complement to the celebratory anthems.

The celebration of the "Dettingen Te Deum" (HWV 283), on the other hand, is more military in nature, replete with all the martial sounds of brass and percussion.  Nevertheless, the work also has its reflective moments, the most outstanding of which is a trio ("Thou sittest at the right hand of God") for countertenor (Matthew White), tenor (Frédéric Antoun), and baritone (Joshua Hopkins) solo voices.  I cannot recall any previous encounter with this particular blend of male voices;  and the close harmonies that Handel conceived for them stand out in sharp contrast to most of the other vocal writing, which comes close to our usual expectations.  Perhaps this was Handel's pause in the celebratory spirit to reflect on the Trinity;  or it may be that he just felt that all of his soloists deserved to come together for a "star turn."  Whatever the case may be, we were reminded that Handel always had the ability to surprise, and Labadie knew how to set the context to make the surprise a good one.

May 16, 2009: More than an end-of-term recital

Violist Alexa Beattie's Artist's Certificate Recital last night in the Concert Hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music was a far cry from what one usually expects from a student recital.  For one thing Beattie is already establishing herself beyond student status as a founding member of the Picasso Quartet and as a member of the sfSoundGroup;  and much of her program seemed more directed at showcasing this latter ensemble, rather than her personal skills.  Since this group concentrates on American "ideas and traditions of experimental music, performance art, live electronic music, and the various facets of contemporary improvisation," one could expect that the program itself would be out of the ordinary;  and it is indeed rare to encounter a program on which Georg Philipp Telemann is the "odd man out," since there was a gap of about two centuries between his A minor sonata and the second-oldest piece on the program, Elliott Carter's 1946 elegy, performed in the version for viola and piano.  While Carter's lyricism was complemented by four song settings by Vartan Aghababian, two from 1988 and two from 2001, the true "Grand Old Man" of this particular evening was John Cage through both his own work and the ways in which he inspired those who came afterwards.

Cage was represented at the very beginning of the program with "Music for Six," performed by the sfSoundGroup.  The program listed the date for this work as 1964–1965, but I have been unable to find a source to confirm this.  Most likely this was a performance of the 1984–1987 work, whose title is "Music for" followed by any number up to seventeen.  This is a work for a "variable chamber ensemble" with seventeen separate parts and no overall score.  The composition was recorded in its "Music for Six" version by The Barton Workshop for an Etcetera CD.  Founder James Fulkerson provided a useful description of the work:
In the works of the 1980's, one begins to see a much different use of pitch and pitch relationships by Cage.  Suddenly, unisons and octaves begin to appear so regularly in his work that one can no longer consider it a chance occurrence.  This is very prevalent in the score, Music for …, a work for up to 17 instruments (Cage initially wrote it for 9 instruments and continued to add parts as occasions demanded.  The title is completed by the number of instruments which are used in a performance).  What happens when these identical pitches begin to occur throughout the performing space – (The performers in Music for … need to perform as widely separated from each other as possible)?  The result is that the listener begins to concentrate on other aspects of the sound – most likely, the aspect that one begins to concentrate upon hearing is the difference of tone colour between instruments as they play the same sound.  In Music for Six, the individual parts are solos in their own right which are prepared individually and then brought together into the performance space where they coexist.  The parts consist of "pieces" and "interludes".  Each "piece" consists of two kinds of music:  A) a single sustained tone, played piano, preceded and followed by silence, repeated any number of times:  B) a number of tones in proportional notation within a limited range, not to be repeated, characterized by a variety of pitches, dynamics, timbres and durations within a limited range.  Each "interlude" is to be played freely with respect to dynamics and the durations of single notes, normally with respect to timbre, but within the time lengths given (5, 10, or 15 seconds), and following the phrasing given.
This approach to composition poses a challenge to my past invocations of the "journey" metaphor for listening experiences.  This music does not progress from a beginning through a middle to some "end of the road."  It simply occupies a duration of time;  and, to a great extent, that duration is the foundation of the listening experience.  (In Cage's most famous work the duration is 4 minutes and 33 seconds, during which time the performer(s) play nothing on their instruments;  and it would be fair to say that the listening experience is that duration.  How one listens is determined entirely by what one hears, i.e. what "registers" at the auditory cortex.)  This approach to "pure duration" remains as revolutionary as it was when Cage first started experimenting with it.  The only change is that, gradually, more musicians are willing to take on the challenge of performing such compositions before an audience, even if most audiences continue to be perplexed, if not frustrated and annoyed.  From this point of view, sfSoundGroup is carrying on an important torch;  and I took their decision to end the evening with a free improvisation as a sign that the torch is still moving forward.  That improvisation exhibited influences of not only Cage but also the "free jazz" movement (which, in turn, was probably also influenced by Cage).

Traditionally, a student recital tends to present the ability of the student to honor the past;  this was a recital that looked to the future and invited us all to see where those gazes would lead us.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

May 15, 2009: Beyond cyberspace: the concert experience through recordings

When I first wrote about "virtual" concerts as an alternative for those on a tight budget, I assumed that the concert experience would be delivered through cyberspace.  However, this assumption overlooked the wealth of opportunities afforded by both audio and video recordings of concert performances.  While such documents often have to deal with problems such as audience noise and the risk of mistakes in the execution of a performance, they tend to provide more of the spontaneity of the actual performing situation, which is almost always far more interesting than any product of meticulously planned recording and editing sessions.  These documents are of even more interest when they capture a particularly historical occasion, thus allowing the listener/viewer to return to a context that may be as interesting as the music itself.

Having recently read Simon Morrison's book, The People's Artist:  Prokofiev's Soviet Years, I discovered that, where Sergei Prokofiev was concerned, the context of the last decade of his life was a particularly tragic one.  There is thus a certain poignant value in having an audio document of the first performance of one of his compositions from this period at a concert where he was present in the audience.  The composition was the cello sonata (Opus 119) composed in 1949 for the 22-year old Mstislav Rostropovich, who first performed it with pianist Sviatoslav Richter in the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire on March 1, 1950.

The tragedy began early in 1945 when, according to the diary of Nikolai Myaskovsky, Prokofiev suffered severe head trauma as a result of a bad fall and never fully recovered from the accident.  Morrison paints a depressing picture of a Soviet medical system that could do little by way of diagnosis, let alone treatment, and would recommend little more than a cessation of all activities on Prokofiev's part.  This amounted to asking Prokofiev to give up composing, which, of course, he could not do;  but he became more dependent on others to assist him in his work.  Rostropovich was such an assistant for the Opus 119 cello sonata, proposing changes to the cello part and editing the version that was finally performed.  Prokofiev also eased the burden of composition by drawing upon earlier material, the most recognizable of which is probably the "Field of the Dead" mezzo-soprano aria that was included in the soundtrack for the film Alexander Nevsky.  Nevertheless, in spite of his weakened state, Prokofiev attended the world premiere performance, which was well received.

In recent years this sonata has not received much attention.  In their Prokofiev entry for The Oxford Companion to Music, Geoffrey Norris and David Nice describe it as using "apparent simplicity to express poignant emotion with great originality."  In that respect they place it in the same category as his Opus 131 seventh symphony, recently performed when the London Symphony Orchestra visited San Francisco.  At that time I wrote that the symphony had a "valedictory feel;"  but I think that the cello sonata is more forward-looking.  The sonata is less a gesture of Prokofiev looking back on his life with mixed emotions and more an anticipation of the promising talent of Rostropovich, poignant to the extent that Prokofiev knew that opportunities for any further collaborations would be limited.  (In fact he composed two more works for Rostropovich:  the Opus 125 "symphony-concerto" and the Opus 132 "concertino," which had to be orchestrated by Dmitri Kabalevsky.)

The availability of the recording itself is also an interesting story.  When Rostropovich left the Soviet Union in 1974, he managed to get away with the recordings he had made there.  He turned these over to EMI, who released them as a 13-CD set entitled Rostropovich:  The Russian Years.  This item has since been discontinued, but both new and used copies are available through Amazon.com.  Some of those used copies are definitely within the range of those concerned about expenses, particularly if that expense is shared by a group.  The discontinued set has now been replaced by a Complete EMI Recordings Rostropovich box with 25 CDs of music, a documentary CD, and 2 DVDs of the six cello suites of Johann Sebastian Bach (BWV 1007–12).  This obviously costs more, but used copies are now on the market.

Rostropovich had already been established as a distinguished cellist before his encounter with Prokofiev.  However, the concert recording of the cello sonata is the earliest recording for which the date is known.  Thus, in many ways that recording is a document of the encounter between Prokofiev's twilight and Rostropovich's dawn.  While it may be popular to dismiss Prokofiev's last compositions has having been eroded by the abuses of Soviet life, there is a spirit to this recording, which must have been there in the Moscow Conservatoire and was then captured for posterity.  In the repertoire of virtual concert experiences, this one should not be missed.

May 12, 2009: Two parts sublime; one part ridiculous

I have been following The Irving M. Klein International String Competition almost since my arrival in the Bay Area back in 1995.  This was due in part to the fact that every year the winner of this competition played a recital at the home of a friend (and sometime colleague) in Portola Valley.  Now that I am based in San Francisco, I am glad to see that the Noontime Concerts™ series at Old St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco now hosts a one-hour recital by the Klein winner, this year violinist Tessa Lark, accompanied for this program by Tim Bach, a frequent accompanist for recitals at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.  Presumably the program was representative of what it takes to win such a competition, a combination of musicianship, breadth of repertoire, and a facile display of technical fireworks.

That last ingredient seems to require that, in the manner of Michael Flanders and Donald Swann, the soloist include the encores as part of the proper program.  However, the problem with spectacular encores is that, from a musical point of view, they tend to venture into the ridiculous;  and sometimes it is hard to tell just how seriously one of those composition should be taken.  In the absence of any better criterion, I tend to follow the judgment of Jascha Heifetz, who seemed to have gotten away with making a recording of just about anything he felt was worth recording.  If Heifetz did not record it, then he probably felt that it had ventured too far into the ridiculous for his tastes.

Having set that bar, I can now report that Lark's "encore," Henryk Wieniawski's Opus 15 variations on an original theme, was not recorded by Heifetz;  and it definitely has some of the principal hallmarks of questionable taste.  To begin at the beginning, the work commences with the sort of interminable introduction that was the opening gag of Erno Dohnányi's "Variations on a Nursery Tune," which bears the wonderful subtitle, "For the enjoyment of humorous people and for the annoyance of others."  Wieniawski's theme is not quite as trivial as Dohnányi's choice of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star;"  but it is decidedly modest in the face of the flamboyant treatment it receives, most notably when the soloist launches into a passage of extended bariolage (a term I could not resist using, since I only learned it yesterday).  The only way to listen to a composition like this is to sit back and enjoy the fun, and Lark certainly delivered all the requisite fireworks with the good humor of a tongue planted firmly in her cheek.

The more serious portion of the program was divided between the Opus 13 sonata by Gabriel Fauré and the first two movements of Johann Sebastian Bach's A minor sonata for unaccompanied violin (BWV 1003).  I have always felt that the Fauré sonata was as good a candidate as any for that Vinteuil sonata that plays such a crucial role in Charles Swann's love life in Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.  Its andante movement (the one so crucial to Swann) has just the right combination of longing and wistfulness that it seemed Proust was trying to evoke;  and Lark was wonderful at capturing that spirit.  Furthermore, her sense of acoustic balance with accompanist Bach was impeccable in the Allegro vivo scherzo movement, where the relationship between violin and piano is at its most critical.  It was a near perfect performance that would have fit right in with one of Proust's refined salon settings.

Lark's approach to BWV 1003 was less secure.  Technically, she could manage the realization of the multiple voices of the Fuga movement;  but it sounded as if she did not have a sense of the overall shape of either that fugue or the Grave movement that preceded it.  There was no arguing with the refinement of her sound;  but neither movement gave the sense of a thought-out journey that conducts the ear from the opening gesture to the final coda.

Nevertheless, Lark is a confident performer.  I suspect that it is only a matter of time until her command of Bach matches that of Fauré, and her approach to encores is sure to leave her audiences delighted.  If one of the advantages of concert-going on a tight budget is the opportunity to hear emerging talents, then today's concert was a perfect example of such an opportunity.

May 9, 2009: A delightful variety of solo voices

This week's San Francisco Symphony concert was the subject of two preview pieces by my fellow examiner, Scott Foglesong, one for each of the compositions on the program.  The first half consisted of Joseph Haydn's B-flat major sinfonia concertante (Hoboken I/105), with solo parts for violin (Dan Nobuhiko Smiley), cello (Peter Wyrick), oboe (Jonathan Fischer) and bassoon (Stephen Paulson).   This was followed, after the intermission, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's K. 361 serenade, also in B-flat major, scored for, as Joshua Kosman put it in his San Francisco Chronicle review "a dozen wind instruments and one lone bass."  Neither of these works is performed in concert very often, although, by virtue of the "tag team" programming that sometimes surfaces between the San Francisco Symphony and the Midsummer Mozart Festival, K. 361 was last performed as part of last summer's Festival.  On the other hand the last time the Symphony performed the Haydn was in 1982.

Folgelsong's previews focused on the music, but this concert also marked the return of conductor Bernard Labadie for the first of two programs.  Last year Labadie prepared an all-Haydn program, which provided excellent compensation for a general lack of attention being devoted to such an imaginative composer.  Next week's program will consist entirely of the music of George Frideric Handel, most likely with far more attention to the music than this composer was given this week.

In dealing with both Haydn and Mozart, Labadie found just the right balance between managing the large structures and summoning the details as an engine to drive the performance forward.  I was particularly aware of his management of the details of dynamics, not just in innovative approaches to the contrast of loud and soft but also in the subtle use of the Mannheim approach to gradual dynamic change (not, however, through the more massive "Mannheim Roller" effect).  Both compositions involved voices that served "double duty" as both soloist and member of the ensemble;  and much of Labadie's dynamic control facilitated the movements of each of the soloists between these two roles.

As far as large structures are concerned, K. 361 is one of Mozart's longest compositions strictly for instruments.  In addition to having eight movements, the composition is extended by techniques such as adding an extra trio to a menuetto structure.  This is all in the interest of exploring the diversity of sounds offered by the two oboes, two clarinets, two basset horns, four French horns, two bassoons, and that "lone bass."  There are clearly a lot of sounds to explore, and Mozart takes his time bringing each to the foreground.  Labadie provided the proper pace through which none of these "visiting sounds" overstayed their respective welcomes.

Finally, it is worth recognizing that most concert-goers associate the sinfonia concertante with Mozart's K. 364, with solo parts for violin and viola.  Haydn composed his sinfonia concertante in 1792, only a few months after Mozart's death.  It is reasonable to assume that Haydn was aware of K. 364 and may even have been familiar with it.  From that point of view, the conclusion of Haydn's final movement, in which violin and cello trade off in cadenza-like gestures ascending to their respective upper registers, may well have served as a memorial, recalling the similar way in which Mozart had concluded K. 364.  If that was intended to be the case, then Haydn had certainly found the perfect way to honor Mozart's recent departure.

May 8, 2009: Handel agonistes

Last night's Handel Fireworks Celebration at Grace Cathedral, the final program in the current season of the American Bach Soloists, provided a sobering lesson in music history.  The lesson was a reminder of just how incidental music was in the eighteenth century.  In just about every social setting in which music was performed, that performance was as much in the background as the architecture and furnishings of the space in which it took place.  The sort of attentive listening that we bring to any performance of music today played little, if any, part in George Frideric Handel's social context.  As far as his "consumers" were concerned, little mattered beyond questions of how he should be fairly compensated for his efforts.

The two halves of last night's program featured two different incidental settings.  The first half was devoted to religious ceremony, consisting of the first of four anthems composed for the coronation of George II in Westminster Abbey ("Zadok the Priest," HWV 258) and the cantata setting of Psalm 112 Laudate, pueri, Dominum (HWV 237), composed while Handel was in Rome in 1707.  The second half then turned to the secular social settings of the Water Music (the second and third suites, HWV 349 and 350) and the Music for the Royal Fireworks (HWV 351), with "fireworks" provided in the form of a laser light show.

Incidental as all that music may be, it can still hold up to serious listening, particularly in the hands of an ensemble like the American Bach Soloists, which gives so much attention to the instruments they play and the performance practices engaged to play them.  My first opportunity to hear these performers reminded me of how little attention I had given to the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach and inspired me to do something about this major gap in my listening experience.  However, in order to listen to this ensemble, one must first hear them;  and in this respect both they and Handel had to suffer the indignities of an acoustic cavern in which any effort at nuance was almost immediately rendered as auditory mush.  Grace Cathedral may have been the right setting to invoke the memory of Westminster Abbey in 1727;  but, as soon as the Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys intoned the first words of Handel's anthem, it became impossible to hear any instruments other than the timpani and occasionally the trumpets.  Balance improved somewhat during the cantata, but only after it was clear that an amplification system had been brought into play.

The Bay Area has earned a reputation for according both respect and love to Handel's music.  One has only to consider the pride of place given to the Philharmonia Baroque by my fellow Examiner, Cindy Warner, in her capacity as SF Opera Examiner.  Next week three of those coronation anthems (including "Zadok the Priest") will be performed by the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus under the perceptive direction of Bernard Labadie, who provided such stimulating interpretations of Joseph Haydn last season.  Davies Symphony Hall may seat more people than Grace Cathedral, but it does not suffocate the sound of music with its reverberations.  It is encouraging to know that we shall not have to wait very long for Handel to get a performance in a space where his music will be far more than incidental.

May 6, 2009: A concert of YouTube events

Last month's Carnegie Hall performance by the YouTube Symphony Orchestra turned out to provide (among other offerings) a preview of the program that the San Francisco Symphony will perform under Michael Tilson Thomas on May 20, 22, and 23 at Davies Symphony Hall.  Yuja Wang performed the second movement from Sergei Prokofiev's second (Opus 16) piano concerto in G minor, described by New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini as "a rippling account;"  and composer Mason Bates joined the ensemble to provide the electronics for "Warehouse Medicine," a movement from his suite, The B-Sides, the entirety of which will receive its world premiere at Davies.

Some of my good friends made me feel very guilty for missing Wang's San Francisco Performances recital last season, and I really wanted to make up for the loss.  So when the Carnegie concert was released in its entirety, in the form of two YouTube videos, I was determined to experience the whole affair for the sake of these two contributions, if not others.  Unfortunately, this effort was thwarted by the YouTube support technology, designed to deliver five-minute videos, rather than anything an hour or more in duration.  I came out of my attempt with only a blog post attempting to explain my frustrations.

However, if we are to believe the thesis of Edward Albee's one-act play, "The American Dream," ours is a society that aspires to second chances to get right what we failed to do the first time;  and, where these performances are concerned, the San Francisco Symphony has provided a new venue, which offers those second chances.  The venue is the San Francisco Symphony Social Network, described by a press release today as "a place where musicians and music fans can meet each other, post profile information, add and view video, links, and photos, hear music and audio, start groups and discussion topics and add their own comments, post and share events, and organize their own events and music around a passion for classical music and the San Francisco Symphony."  I am not sure whether reviewers count as either "musicians" or "music fans;"  but, as an unabashed technology maven (but not evangelist), I had to go to this site to satisfy my curiosity.

One of the first things I discovered  was a two-minute YouTube video (of the more usual YouTube duration) of the Carnegie Hall performance of "Warehouse Medicine."  The camera seemed to be up in the Balcony section, where it was held fixed.  So there were no close-up shots of either the ensemble or Thomas conducting, but the viewer got to drink in the light show prepared for the occasion.  More important is that the sound was good enough to provide a perfectly good foretaste of Bates' composition.  My guess is that the "live" experience in Davies will be far richer (even without the light show);  but this remains a perfectly good way to get a sense of Bates' sense of language and the rhetorical style he brings to his linguistic utterances, so to speak.

Further investigation revealed that Wang had an even more substantial presence through video, although none of it involved the YouTube Symphony Orchestra or Thomas.  Two movements from the Prokofiev concerto had been captured on video from a performance that Wang had given with the NHK Symphony under Charles Dutoit, one of which was that second movement that had so dazzled Tommasini.  The other was the first movement, which I had last heard in a dazzling performance as part of a Senior Piano Recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music back in October.  The orchestra for this Conservatory performance was seriously reduced, so it was a real pleasure for me to hear it with the full force of the NHK Symphony backing up Wang's virtuosity.  What can I say?  My friends were definitely justified in making me feel so guilty, and I am now champing at the bit for the opportunity to hear Wang play this concerto in its entirety.

The San Francisco Symphony program will also include Jean Sibelius's Opus 63 fourth symphony, reminding me that I have not heard them perform a Sibelius symphony since they performed his first (Opus 39) under Osmo Vänskä a little over two years ago.  While Opus 39 tended to follow many of the syntactic conventions of a symphony, thus establishing Sibelius' "street cred," both the third and fourth symphonies tend to explore new paths.  This will be my first exposure to the fourth symphony, and I anticipate an informative listening experience.  I also have no doubt that Sibelius will hold his own against Bates' electronics and Prokofiev's pianistic fireworks!

May 5, 2009: A primary San Francisco opportunity for concerts on a tight budget

The Noontime Concerts™ series at Old St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco, which takes place every Tuesday at 12:30 PM, is not free;  but admission is by a $5 donation, which is still a rather good deal for the music you get.  Furthermore, since the Cathedral is in the heart of Chinatown (at the corner of California and Grant), you can also enjoy some of the most economical meals in the city!  All of the concerts are on a "chamber" scale, since the performing space on the altar is rather limited.  Today's performance by the Russian Chamber Orchestra pretty much pushed the limit with an ensemble of four first violins, four seconds, two violas, two cellos, and one double bass.  (I have heard winds, brass, and percussion at previous performances.)

The music director is Alexander Vereshagin, who left a fully tenured professorship at the St. Petersburg National Conservatory to come to the United States, where he founded this ensemble in 1992.  Cello soloist Lana Gruen studied at the Moscow Conservatory, after which she had a rich career throughout Europe and is now based in the Bay Area.  Presumably, most of the members of the Orchestra have emigrated from Russia.

Gruen was featured in a performance of Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Opus 33, the "Variations on a Rococo Theme."  The theme Tchaikovsky provided has a coda, which tends to be relatively consistently reproduced at the end of each variation, thus forming a unifying thread across the variations.  With the reduced resources of the Orchestra, that coda was performed by a string quartet of the four section leaders, giving it a distinctive transparency, which I had not heard in performances by a larger ensemble.  (I have not been able to check the score to see if Tchaikovsky did not want the entire sections playing this coda.)  The Tchaikovsky was preceded by the first movement of the K. 414 A major piano concerto by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (whom we know was a favorite of Tchaikovsky).  Vereshagin performed the piano solo, conducting from the keyboard.  Again, transparency was the strong suit of the performance, with the voices of the second violins and particularly the violas (Mozart's instrument of choice, as I have previously observed) on equal terms with the first violins.

Having heard the Russian Chamber Orchestra perform several times in the Noontime Concerts™ series, I know that Vereshagin likes to offer an encore and usually tries to lighten the mood with his selection.  In this case his encore was "Jocular Waltz," the fourth movement of Dmitri Shostakovich's Dances of the Dolls suite, originally written for piano in 1952.  So much of Shostakovich's music sits on the razor's edge between the adventurous and the banal, and this little waltz stands as a perfect example.  It begins with an absurdly naïve little theme that begins to derail, first gradually and later with more consistency, only to retreat back to naïveté at the end of the movement.  Still, as so often seems to be the case with Shostakovich, one has to wonder whether or not there is a dark underbelly to the loopy humor that dominates his surface structure.

May 4, 2009: Charles Mingus' raw nerves

Last night's SFJAZZ performance of Mingus Dynasty at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre was an anniversary celebration.  Three major recordings of Charles Mingus turned 50 in 2009:  Blues & Roots on Atlantic and the first two of three Columbia Albums, Mingus Ah Um and Mingus Dynasty.  For this occasion they were joined by John Handy, whose alto sax performances played a major role in the Columbia sessions.

To a great extent Columbia carried a cachet of respectability.  The general public had greater trust in a label that offered the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra than in one that recorded only jazz.  Miles Davis appreciated the value of that cachet and labored mightily to arrange his move from Prestige to Columbia.  However, respectability comes with a price;  and it did not take long for Mingus to confront that price.  Tomorrow (May 5, 1959) is the anniversary of the first studio recording of "Fables of Faubus," named after one of the higher-profile segregationists in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement.  As summarized in Charles Mingus:  More Than a Fake Book:
Orval E. Faubus was a governor of Alabama who, in 1957, sent out the National Guard to prevent a few black children from entering Little Rock's Central High School.
Mingus was so angry at Faubus that he wrote a text to go with his music, which he (sort of) sang with his drummer Dannie Richmond:
Oh, Lord, don't let 'em shoot us!
Oh, Lord, don't let 'em stab us!
Oh, Lord, don't let 'em tar and feather us!
Oh, Lord, no more swastikas!
Oh, Lord, no more Ku Klux Klan!
Name me somebody who's ridiculous, Dannie.
Governor Faubus!
Why is he so sick and ridiculous?
He won't permit integrated schools.
Then he's a fool!
Boo!  Nazi Fascist supremists!
Boo!  Ku Klux Klan (with your evil plan)
Name me a handful that's ridiculous, Dannie Richmond.
Why are they so sick and ridiculous?
Two, four, six, eight:  They brainwash and teach you hate
This was apparently too much for Columbia's "respectability;"  and they refused to let Mingus and Richmond sing this text, which is probably why, when Mingus recorded the work again for Candid on October 20, 1960 and the text was included, he gave it the title "Original Faubus Fables" (my emphasis).

Mingus Dynasty was born on the occasion of a tribute concert given a few weeks after Mingus' death in 1979.  The band consisted of those who had come to master the performance of Mingus' music by working with the master himself.  Both Handy and Richmond were there, along with Jimmy Knepper, Ted Curson, Don Pullen, George Adams, and Charlie Haden.  The band has changed hands many times over the following 30 years, and Handy's appearance was as much a celebration of the continuing life of Mingus Dynasty as it was of the 50-year-old records.

Most important, however, is that fidelity to Mingus himself is more critical than fidelity to any of the recordings.  That meant that, for "Fables of Faubus," the words came to life as well as the music, in this case sung/declaimed by trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy.  More than any other portion of last night's program, that performance elevated the occasion from gratuitous anniversary to a genuine honoring of Mingus' spirit, complete with all the raw nerves he was never afraid to touch.

Musicians like Handy learned that working with Mingus could involve coping with more freedom than one might have wanted.  He told the audience that Mingus would withhold his charts of the underlying harmonic progressions.  He was concerned that a priori documents of those progressions would interfere with the members of the band actually listening to each other, so he trained their ears by depriving them of the usual notations.  Handy was still perfectly at home with that kind of freedom, as was Lacy.  The younger members of the group may still be coming up to speed when it comes to matters such as placing the charts before the ears;  but, with the benefit of veterans who can show them the way, they should eventually be the sort of performers Mingus wanted, after which they can serve as guides for the next generation of Mingus performers.  Nothing would serve the memory of Mingus better than for Mingus Dynasty to evolve into such an ongoing legacy.

April 30, 2009: The exotic and the familiar

The end-of-term String and Piano Chamber Music series of concerts at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music would be a "best buy" opportunity for hearing chamber music in this city;  but these concerts are all the better for being free.  This afternoon's 4 PM concert was a perfect case in point.  While the first work on the program had to be dropped, the remaining two offered an excellent example of the perfect combination of diversity and quality performance that the Conservatory presents so reliably.

The first half of the program consisted of the cycle of Santa Fe Songs, which Ned Rorem composed in the summer of 1980 when he was composer-in-residence at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.  Originally composed for baritone, string trio, and piano, the work was performed this afternoon by a soprano.  The songs are settings of poems by Witter Bynner, the earliest published in 1916 and two apparently published for the first time after his death in 1968.  To call this set "A New Yorker in Santa Fe Two Times Over" might be a bit of a stretch;  but, to a great extent, both poet and composer are celebrating the exoticism of Santa Fe from a somewhat more urbane point of view.  Bynner was born in Brooklyn, but his travels took him to both Japan and China.  The Jade Mountain is a collection from the Chinese poems of Kiang Kang-hu;  and The Way of Life According to Laotzu is presumably a translation of the Tao Teh Ching.  So by the time Bynner settled in Santa Fe (and fell in with the likes of D. H. Lawrence and Frieda von Richthofen), he had seen quite a bit of the world.  Nevertheless, Santa Fe was probably about as exotic to Bynner as it was to Lawrence.

Rorem, on the other hand, was born in Indiana;  but his music education included Julliard.  His world travels took him primarily to Morocco and Paris;  but, by the time he received his invitation to Santa Fe, he was well settled into New York life.  My guess is that this invitation provided him with his first exposure to Santa Fe.

Having spent a fair amount of time in Santa Fe in several different seasons, I could appreciate the ways in which both poet and composer succumbed to its exotic lure without necessarily "getting it."  Similarly, I am not sure to what extent the Conservatory students really latched onto the spirit of the place that had inspired Bynner's texts and then hooked Rorem into setting them.  On a more positive side, I do not think that the performance of these songs suffered from substituting a soprano for a baritone;  but, having recently heard the impeccable diction of Stephanie Blythe, I found myself wondering if Rorem's approach to these texts tended to force the listener's eyes into a printed copy of the words.

The intermission was followed by a performance of Robert Schumann's Opus 47 piano quartet in E-flat major.  This work appears frequently at Conservatory recitals, but Schumann put so much into it that it always deserves another listening.  The pianist offered a very informative introduction, comparing it to the Opus 44 piano quintet, thus winning my approval, since I have considered that comparison myself!  This was definitely chamber music as it should be heard, with all four voices rich and well-balanced, providing the perfect setting for all the intricacies that made Schumann's inventions so worthy (even if some would say notorious).

April 30, 2009: The chamber orchestra within the San Francisco Symphony

Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik served as leader (the program did not call him "conductor") and soloist with a reduced ensemble of strings last night in Davies Symphony Hall in the first of this week's set of San Francisco Symphony concerts.  Before the intermission Barantschik stood before the ensemble playing the primary solo violin parts in the first four concertos (usually known as The Four Seasons) of Antonio Vivaldi's Opus 8.  After the intermission he led from the concertmaster's chair for performances of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's K. 137 divertimento in B-flat major and Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Opus 48 serenade.

All twelve concertos of Vivaldi's Opus 8 are collected under the title Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'invenzione (the test of harmony and invention).  Thus, one may view each concerto as an experiment in inventive technique that both honors and expands the basic harmonic grammar of the early eighteenth century.  For each of the first four concertos, Vivaldi prepared a sonnet that describes very explicitly and programmatically what his inventions are meant to depict for each of the four seasons of the year.  The old recording that Max Goberman made with his New York Sinfonietta included readings of these sonnets, establishing once and for all that Vivaldi was far better as a composer than as a poet.

I wrote that Barantschik played the "primary solo violin" in these concertos.  As is the case with the Brandenburg Concertos of Johann Sebastian Bach, these compositions involve the interplay of multiple solo lines against the ensemble.  Barantschik played in most of these solo combinations, which included a duet with cellist Peter Wyrick, a violin trio with Mark Volkert and Dan Carlson, and even passages where violist Katie Kadarauch took over the continuo line.  However, while Bach explored instrumental diversity, Vivaldi stuck with using the basic string sounds to invoke images of shepherds, singing birds, and barking hunting dogs.  Nevertheless, that underlying harmonic grammar provides a relatively consistent foundation, making half an evening of these four concertos a bit more of a stretch than a full evening of the six Brandenburgs.

It was a bit surprising to read that Mozart's K. 137 divertimento was receiving its first San Francisco Symphony performance last night.  This is the middle composition of a set of three works composed in Salzburg in 1772, all of which have pretty much achieved "standard repertoire" status in the Mozart canon.  As James Keller's program notes observed, when he composed this set Mozart was "fifteen going on sixteen" and "exactly a decade along in his composing career."  Of the three this is the only one that begins with an Andante, giving it a slightly more introspective attitude than its companions, although the following two Allegro movements restore the high spirits one associates with his divertimento style.  Barantschik nicely captured the contrast of moods in his approach to shaping the performance.

118 years later, in 1880, Tchaikovsky composed his serenade for the same kind of string ensemble.  Barantschik decided wisely to add several performers to each section.  This nicely served the opening bravura gesture, which returns in the fourth movement just before the final coda.  If Tchaikovsky is not as inventive as Vivaldi or Mozart (as my orchestration professor put it, "Tchaikovsky cannot say anything without repeating himself"), this serenade offers an elaborate vocabulary of rhythms that carry the listener through a relatively unembellished sonata movement, a waltz, a soulful elegy, and a pastiche of Russian folk tunes.  One can appreciate why George Balanchine selected this music for his first choreographic effort in the United States, since the spirit of dance lives and thrives in every note.  Barantschik caught that spirit, channeling it to lead the entire ensemble gracefully, allowing the energy of the final movement to bring this refreshing evening to a stimulating conclusion.

April 27, 2009: McCoy Tyner today

McCoy Tyner is probably still best known for his piano work in the rhythm section of John Coltrane's "classic" quartet, one of the most imaginative and provocative sources of jazz experimentation around the middle of the twentieth century.  Tyner's work was, indeed, far more rhythmic than melodic, consisting of rich, full-handed chords that defied most of the conventions of harmonic progression, usually played off-beat in counterpoint to the intricate drum patterns of Elvin Jones.  The program book for the SFJAZZ Spring Season applied the adjective "volcanic" to that quartet;  and it is easy to associate Tyner's bursts of chords with the spurts of lava erupting from an active volcano.

Since leaving Coltrane, Tyner has returned to melody to drive his subsequent explorations;  and last night at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre he was joined by vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson in those explorations, backed up by Gerald Cannon on bass and Eric Kamau Gravatt on drums.  With the exception of "How Deep is the Ocean," the melodies were Tyner's own.  "Blues on the Corner" (which has a YouTube recording with Tyner's trio joined by saxophonist Joe Lovano, rather than Hutcherson) is a reflection on growing up in Philadelphia;  but most of Tyner's melodies have a more exotic feel to them, evoking a wide variety of global influences.  If Ahmad Jamal's performance at the beginning of this month had left me thinking about Karlheinz Stockhausen, Tyner seemed to invoke some of the spirits of early twentieth-century France, not only with regard to that Ravel-Gershwin connection that I find so significant but also in the way that composers like Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy were absorbing their own global influences, from which they would then weave their own characteristically unique melodies and harmonies.

Hutcherson, a few years younger than Tyner's 70, has had his own experiences with provocative experimentation.  He was part of Eric Dolphy's 1964 Out to Lunch session for Blue Note, which also included Freddie Hubbard's trumpet and rhythm from Richard Davis on bass and Tony Williams on drums.  In terms of the time-line of jazz history, this session took place a few months before the sessions for the Coltrane Quartet's Crescent album for Impulse! Records.  However, in spite of his avant-garde track record, Hutcherson still seemed quite comfortable in Tyner's melodic element, weaving his own elaborations around the cores of each of Tyner's melodies.

For the most part this was a high-energy evening, driven by Gravatt's often explosive drumming (sometimes reminiscent of the ways in which Jones was always pushing his envelope) and Cannon's lively bass.  Cannon took several solos of his own, which showed the extent to which he could convey both melody and harmony through the intricate fingering of his instrument (a sense of performance that he may well have picked up from the unaccompanied cello works of Johann Sebastian Bach).  The whole evening was a vivid reminder that some of the most inventive minds of jazz history are still inventing, often with far more originality than their younger contemporaries.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

April 26, 2009: Balancing act

A friend of mine with a fair amount of experience performing in amateur ensembles once told me that anyone could be a conductor.  There were only a few important rules to follow.  The first one was, "If you can hear the brass, they are playing too loud."

The brass section had a strong presence at last night's performance by the San Francisco Symphony in Davies Symphony Hall.  Conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier chose to begin with his own selection of incidental compositions that Georges Bizet had originally composed for a performance of Alphonse Daudet's play, L'Arlésienne (The Woman from Arles) in 1872.  In a theater setting this music was performed by a chamber orchestra, but Bizet subsequently extracted four of the pieces for a suite played by full orchestra.  A second suite was later collected by Ernest Guiraud shortly after Bizet's death.  Tortelier's selection included movements from both of these suites, beginning with a "Pastorale," originally written to accompany the dialogue of two aged lovers meeting after fifty years of separation.

It is hard to imagine anyone trying to hold a conversation during the re-orchestrated version of this music.  It opens with a broad blossoming of full-orchestra sound, a perfect "curtain-raiser" for a concert evening, rather than the stuff of intimate dialogue.  This is precisely the sort of situation in which my friend's first rule applies:  Once you have been bowled over by that first burst of sound, you quickly discover that it is hard to hear anything other than the brass section, even when you can see that everyone else is very busy with their parts!  Fortunately, Tortelier recovered some sense of balance in the following "Carillone," with the horns playing the role of the church bells alternating between foreground and background.  Following the "Menuet" and "Adagietto," the orchestra returned in full force for the "Farandole," based on folk melodies that Bizet appropriated.  This is a wild festive dance in the context of which the protagonist of the play commits suicide (at least in the version I heard as a radio play in my student days);  but the music is all celebration without any dark overtones.  Tortelier conducted it as a real crowd-pleaser;  and the crowd responded appropriately.

Francis Poulenc posed different problems of balance by orchestrating his 1938 organ concerto for nothing more than a full string section and timpani.  I suppose his logic was that any sounds produced by the flow of air could be provided by the organ, and this turned out to be a good judgment call.  The Davies pipe organ has a rich collection of sonorities, and organist Paul Jacobs brought most of them into play.  He also had a sensitive command of his swell pedals, so in many ways he was more responsible for maintaining overall balance than Tortelier was.  Most important is that, because of the way in which its pipes are arrayed, listening to the Davies organ is a very spatial experience, leading me to wonder whether or not Jacobs' selections of stops had as much to do with spatial effects as with always finding the right acoustic fit with the orchestra.

The remainder of the program (after the intermission) was devoted to the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams.  First Associate Concertmaster Nadya Tichman performed the violin solo in "The Lark Ascending."  Vaughan Williams began this work in 1914 but set it aside during his military service in the First World War, completing it only in 1920.  The title comes from a poem by George Meredith that begins with the couplet:
He rises and begins to round
He drops the silver chain of sound
We have a tendency to perceive intricate designs in both the songs and flight patters of birds, taking them as well-considered cognitive acts, rather than natural processes.  Vaughan Williams clearly put a lot of cognition into the bird-song element of the violin solo, which plays out to such lengths that the soloist has only a few brief moments of rest.  However, Tichman allowed these intricate melismata to unfold from a position of inner calm, as if to recover the "naturalness" of the "source material" that had inspired by Meredith and Vaughan Williams.  The orchestral resources were very modest (two flutes, one oboe, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, triangle, and strings);  and Tortelier kept all of these forces properly balanced against the solo "voice of the lark."

The full force of the orchestra returned at the end of the evening for Vaughan Williams' 1934 symphony in F minor, his fourth and the first without a programmatic title (having been preceded by "A Sea Symphony," "A London Symphony," and "A Pastoral Symphony").  This is dark music for dark times.  (The musicologist Frank Howes went so far as to suggest that the chain of programmatic titles could have been continued with "A Fascist Symphony.")  Aside from the second (Andante moderato) movement, each movement propels the listener through its relatively formal structures with an unrelenting drive;  and even the second movement contends with dark clouds, coming primarily from the brass section.  By this point in the concert, it was clear that Tortelier had full command of the balance of his resources (even if I was not that sure of his pacing of the second movement);  and the destructive blow that concluded the symphony was emotionally shattering.

Reviewing my personal archives, I see that this is the first time I have written about performances of Vaughan Williams.  There seemed to be far more interest in his work fifty years ago than there is today.  I find this unfortunate, since there is so much diversity and insight in his composition.  I hope that the impact of these two works from last night's program will lead to more opportunities for me to write about his music.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

April 24, 2005: American women's voices (and others)

Every now and then a concert is presented with a title that usually (but not always) spares me the mental exercise of figuring out whether or not the works being performed have any unifying theme.  Last night's performance by members of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in Herbst Theatre (presented by San Francisco Performances) was entitled American Voices and covered a span of music history from 1795 to 2006.  This would have been enough to make for a unique evening, but even more interesting was that one of the works was a setting of the 1850 journal of a pioneer woman and another was the 1908 piano quintet of the first major American woman composer, Amy Beach.

The pioneer woman was Margaret Frink, and passages from her daily journal constituted the libretto for Vignettes:  Covered Wagon Woman by Alan Louis Smith on a commissioned for mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe and pianist Warren Jones by Music Accord, Inc., a national consortium of presenters of which San Francisco Performances is a member.  Blythe and Jones were joined by two other Chamber Music Society members, violinist Ani Kavafian and cellist Pricilla Lee.  The work was composed in 2006 and first performed at Lincoln Center on February 22, 2008.  Presumably the current tour is providing an opportunity for the consortium members to present the work to their respective audiences.  In addition Blythe and Smith gave some introductory remarks about an hour before the concert began.

Blythe decided that the text would not be provided to the audience during the performance.  As she explained in her remarks, the prose text is particularly clear;  and she was confident that her diction would deliver that prose with equal clarity.  Ruth Felt, President of San Francisco Performances, repeated this explanation to the entire audience, announcing that texts would be available in the lobby after the intermission.  Blythe was certainly right about her diction, and her subtle use of posture and gesture definitely enhanced the clarity of the text.  She wanted all eyes on her, and those who obeyed were rewarded with the full impact of this composition.

For that matter I would have to say that the composition itself was rewarded by her commitment to its performance.  There was a little too much sentimentality for my usual tastes;  and the process of getting from Martinsville, Indiana to Sacramento, California tended to feel like the long journey it actually was.  (I sometimes call this the "Lindbergh effect," particularly in the context of Billy Wilder's Spirit of St. Louis film, when it feels like Jimmy Stewart has been peering forever in search of his first glimpse of French soil.)  True to the title of the composition, each movement was a relatively brief vignette;  but I still found myself wondering, even with Blythe's sureness of pace, if we needed all thirteen of them.

I had no such wondering where Beach's Opus 67 piano quintet was concerned.  As I had already indicated in my preview for this concert, I have heard this work three times within the past twelve months and blogged about each of those performances.  Eric Bromberger's program notes provided a useful context for the newcomer:
Beach composed her Piano Quintet in 1907–08, and she was the pianist at its first performance on February 20, 1908 in Boston.  The world of music was in ferment in 1908:  in that year Mahler composed Das Lied von der Erde, Schoenberg his Second String Quartet, and Scriabin his Poem of Ecstasy.  There is not the slightest trace of these new directions in Beach's Piano Quintet, which remains firmly rooted in the 19th-century musical traditions with which she had grown up.  Brahms himself would have felt comfortable with the form and grand sonority of her Piano Quintet, though he might have been surprised by the chromaticism of her writing.
Actually, while that chromaticism might have surprised Brahms, one of my earliest impressions was that it felt right at home with the chamber music of Gabriel Fauré;  and, in one of my blog posts, I singled out Fauré's first (Opus 13) violin sonata and the first (Opus 15) piano quartet as sources for orienting the ear to Beach's own chromatic language.

More interesting was the way in which the members of The Chamber Music Society (pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, violinists Ani Kavafian and Lily Francis, violist Paul Neubauer, and cellist Pricilla Lee) situated this music in a light quite different from that of my previous listening experiences.  All of those past experiences were at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (although the first involved William Wellborn and the Ives Quartet, rather than any students);  and I was impressed with how Beach had conceived of a work for five "equals."  This constituted a different kind of departure from Brahms than Bromberger's observation about chromaticism, since Brahms' piano virtuosity would often make his chamber music sound like a "concerto for piano and very small orchestra."  That "Brahms effect" was more present in the Lincoln Center performance than in the past performances I had heard, possibly because the spirit of Brahms' virtuosity seemed to thrive in McDermott's approach to the piano part.  This is not to say that the rest of the ensemble was reduced to insignificance.  Each member of the quartet had a major say in the "journey" of this composition;  and I particularly appreciated Neubauer reminding me of how much I enjoyed Beach's characteristic approach to the viola.

It is also important to note that those four string players worked very well together as a quartet.  The Beach quintet was preceded by their performance of George Gershwin's 1920 "Lullaby," which was never published in his lifetime.  This puts it eight years before his meeting with Maurice Ravel but about seventeen years after Ravel had composed his string quartet.  So it would not surprise me if Gershwin had been exposed to Ravel's quartet before undertaking his own.  The "Lullaby" is much shorter;  but it definitely shares Ravel's keen ear for the rich palette of sonorities that violin, viola, and cello are capable of delivering.  It is also a miniature study in syncopation with a slight hint of ragtime applied with a subtlety that Ravel never quite grasped in his own efforts to honor the innovations taking place in the United States.  The performers were clearly comfortable with Gershwin's approach to both color and rhythm, providing a bit of calm before the more Brahms-like "storm" of Beach's quintet.

Bromberger also observed that it is a bit of a stretch to call John Antes, whose D minor trio for two violins and cello (Opus 3, Number 2) opened the program, an "American voice."  He was born in Pennsylvania in 1740, the son of Moravian immigrants, crossed the Atlantic in 1764, and never returned.  He did missionary work in Egypt (which Bromberger called "a disaster") and lived primarily in Germany until he became business manager of the Moravian community in Fulneck, England in 1783.  The three Opus 3 trios were published in 1795.  Antes was aware of Joseph Haydn's visits to London in the 1790s and may have corresponded with him.  Haydn seems to have liked this particular form of string trio and composed about twenty works for it, but the last of them was completed in 1768.  I am not (yet) familiar with these Haydn compositions;  but I have become very aware of his sensitivity to the characteristic colors of instruments in the string family.  Antes' trio is particularly interesting to the extent that it shares that sensitivity to color, not too surprising given that, as a teenager, he was responsible for making some of the earliest string instruments constructed in America.  Francis, Kavafian, and Lee performed this work with the same loving attention they had given to Gershwin's sense of color, leaving the listener eager to hear more of this rarely-performed Moravian from Pennsylvania.