Schweitzer Institute Chamber Concert Wednesday, Aug. 9, The Met
The mountain came to The Met on Wednesday with an evening of chamber music by composers from the Schweitzer Institute of Music in intense and dedicated performances by players from the institute and the Spokane Symphony. Opening with four new works by composers still in their 20s and 30s, the program concluded with a splendid performance of Antonin Dvorak’s Piano Quintet.
Young composers, even older ones sometimes, have different ways of responding to the work of earlier masters. Sometimes they write frank imitations of older composer’s styles. Sometimes the style of a master is unacknowledged but obvious. Sometimes a young composer tries to turn his back on all previous models and strike out on his own. The art historian E.H. Gombrich once wrote, “Every new work of art is a criticism of art’s past.”
Julian Wachner’s String Quartet No. 1 was a tribute to three composers he admires - Bach, Bartok and Shostakovich. No one would be deceived that Bach was the composer of the quietly dissonant opening chorale. But the driving rhythms and angular melodies of the scherzo and the anguished melancholy of the concluding fugue were well-crafted imitations of Bartok and Shostakovich. The performers - violinists Joseph Meyer and Tracy Dunlop, violist Claire Keeble and cellist Helen Byrne - were conducted by the composer.
Dunlop, Keeble and Byrne were joined by violinist Juin-Ying Lee, violist Kurt Rohde and cellist Dieter Ratzlaf for the Lento from Seth Sladek’s three-movement String Sextet. The movement’s slow intensifying growth from a short melodic gesture, its nebulous harmonies and dense textures all quietly proclaimed the influence of that most famous of string sextets, Arnold Schoenberg’s “Verklarte Nacht.”
The ghost of Paul Hindemith floated gently around the rhythmic sturdiness and busy counterpoint in from Jeremy Gill’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano played by clarinettist Barnaby Palmer and pianist Daniel Velicer.
The most demanding work heard Wednesday night was the relentlessly dissonant slow movement from Richard Hoover’s Sextet for Piano and Strings. The performers - string players already listed together with pianist Jen-Ling Hwang - dealt bravely with Hoover’s difficult music under the direction of the composer. I found this work aimless and often downright ugly. Hearing a middle movement of a composition is like reading the middle of a book. So I left The Met curious about the other movements of this work - how they fit together with the uncompromising restlessness and angst of this one.
The troubled quality of Hoover’s Sextet was washed away by the concluding performance of Dvorak’s Piano Quintet, for me, the most lovable work in all chamber music. The Schweitzer Institute players - pianist Daniel Velicer, violinists Juin-Ying Lee and Joseph Meyer, violist Kurt Rohde and cellist Dieter Ratzlaf - captured the frolicsome spirit of Dvorak’s peasant dances and his open-hearted lyricism.
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