Wednesday, November 14 , 2018, 3:47 am | Fair 51º


Gerald Carpenter: Academy Faculty to Play Widespread Tribute to French Music on Bastille Day

The Music Academy of the West's Festival Artists Series continues at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Lobero Theatre for seven outstanding chamber ensemble concerts featuring academy faculty, fellows and guest artists.

Jordi Savall calls François Couperin the "poet-musician par excellence."

This day marking the 226th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille fortress, the liberation of the seven grouchy old men still imprisoned there and the launch of the French Revolution, the music we hear will be exclusively Gallic.

The program will consist of François Couperin's Concert Royeux, No. 1 (1714) (Timothy Day on flute, Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida on oboe, Benjamin Kamins on bassoon and Nico Abondolo on double bass); Maurice Ravel's Violin-Cello Sonata (1922) (Jorja Fleezanis on violin and Alan Stepansky on cello); Pierre Boulez's "Une page d’ephéméride" for Piano Solo (2005) (Conor Hanick on piano); and Gabriel Fauré's Piano Quartet No. 1 in C-Minor, Opus 15 (1879) (Glenn Dicterow on violin, Karen Dreyfus on viola, David Geber on cello and Jonathan Feldman on piano).

Having taken care to make sure that all the composers on this program were French — Belgians need not apply — the faculty programmers seem to have let it go at that. No attempt was made to assemble a narrative of the evolution of French music before and after the Revolution, or even to play the selections in the chronological order of their composition (of course, we couldn't ask them to conclude with Boulez).

Nothing unites these composers but their nativity.

When Couperin composed his first Concert Royeux, Louis XIV was still alive, though just barely. When Fauré wrote his first Piano Quartet — next in temporal order — 165 years had gone by; France's last king had abdicated in 1848; France's last Emperor, Napoleon III, died in exile in 1873. If we were to hear a piece by Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764) followed by a work of Hector Berlioz (1803-69), we might be able to assess the impact of the Revolution on French music, in the same way we could get a sense of its effect on French literature by reading first Choderlos de Laclos' Les Liaisons dangereuses and then reading of Stendahl's The Red and the Black. Alas, while Leclair wrote plenty of chamber music, which nobody plays, Berlioz wrote none.

The music of Couperin (1668-1733) belongs, indeed, more to the 17th century than the 18th. ("Le dix-huitième siècle doit être mis au Panthéon," said the austere revolutionary, Saint-Just.) But Couperin's music can be heard with pleasure today, without pedantry, in the way that Lully's cannot.

As with most of Boulez's music, I find "Une page d’ephéméride" fitfully amusing when it is not completely baffling. It possesses the great virtue of brevity, however, so if you just hate it, you will not have to endure it for long.

Tickets to this Festival Artists concert are $10 and $42, with those ages 7 to 17 admitted free. For tickets and other information, call 805.969.8787 or click here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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