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Gerald Carpenter: Music Academy Faculty to Tour 20th Century

Next Tuesdays @ Eight performance will feature works by Corigliano, Prokofiev, Lutoslawski, Poulenc and Barber

It will surprise few to learn that the next “Tuesdays @ Eight” chamber music concert by the Music Academy of the West faculty and their guests will occur at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Hahn Hall on the Miraflores campus.

Despite frequent discouraging words from his father, John Corigliano Jr. went on composing.
Despite frequent discouraging words from his father, John Corigliano Jr. went on composing.

The evening’s program will include Sergei Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes (Richie Hawley on clarinet, Natasha Kislenko on piano, Daniel Ching and William Fedkenheuer on violins, John Largess on viola and Joshua Gindele on cello); John Corigliano’s Sonata for Violin and Piano (1963) (Kathleen Winkler on violin and Warren Jones on piano); Witold Lutoslawski’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini (John Churchwell and Jonathan Kelly on pianos); Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for Brass Trio (Eli Epstein on horn, Paul Merkelo on trumpet and Mark Lawrence on trombone); and Samuel Barber’s String Quartet (Miró Quartet: Daniel Ching and William Fedkenheuer on violins, John Largess on viola and Joshua Gindele on cello).

The Prokofiev Overture is an irresistible delight — probably the closest thing to full-on klezmer we will ever get at the Music Academy.

On the recording I possess of the Corigliano sonata, the performers are the composer’s father, John Sr. — 31 years as concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic — and pianist Ralph Votapek. The sonata was written for his father, who did his best to discourage his son’s compositional aspirations and refused to even look at the score.

“Performers don’t want to bother with your work,” said Corigliano père to Corigliano fils, “and audiences don’t want to hear it. So what are you doing it for?” But the boy persisted, and the work was premiered at the 1964 Spoleto Festival, where a panel of judges that included Barber, Walter Piston and Gian-Carlo Menotti gave the sonata the first award for composition ever bestowed at the festival. Two years later, persuaded by the international roar of approval for his son’s composition, the concertmaster finally applied his bow to the sonata — and gave, naturally, the definitive performance.

The composer says: “The sonata, written during 1962-63, is for the most part a tonal work, although it incorporates non-tonal and poly-tonal sections within it as well as other 20th century harmonic, rhythmic and constructional techniques. The listener will recognize the work as a product of an American writer, although this is more the result of an American writing music than writing ‘American’ music — a second-nature, unconscious action on the composer’s part. Rhythmically, the work is extremely varied. Meters change in almost every measure, and independent rhythmic patterns in each instrument are common. The violin sonata was originally entitled Duo, and therefore obviously treats both instruments as co-partners. Virtuosity is of great importance in adding color and energy to the work, which is basically an optimistic statement, but the virtuosity is always motivated by musical means ... .”

Well before his death in 1994, Lutoslawski was recognized as one of the greatest European composers of the late 20th century. As I begin to listen to one of his works, I don’t think I’m going to like it. But something about it keeps me listening, and after a few minutes I am caught — spellbound.

One of the things I like most about him is his lack of solemnity. I don’t think he is “trying to be funny” in the Paganini Variations, but the work could only have been written by someone with a sense of humor, as well as a sense of history. He is the real thing, and no doubt about it.

Like all of Poulenc’s music, the Sonata for Brass Trio (written in 1922, revised in 1945) seems light, almost frivolous at first. Somehow, though, by the end, I find myself taking it rather seriously — and wanting to hear it one more time.

The huge and lasting success of Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Opus 11a rather obscures the greatness of the string quartet that is its source. Yet, to my taste, no American composer has written a better work for the classic ensemble. Indeed, I’ve heard few — George Whitefield Chadwick’s String Quartet No. 4 in E-Minor or the String Quartet No. 3 of George Rochberg — that I would put in the same class as the Barber.

Reserved seats to this concert are $40 (including Miraflores facility fee) and are available only from the Music Academy ticket office at 805.969.8787.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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