Photo: Mikel Covey
Nova Chamber Music Series
After Milton: Three Vignettes for B-flat Clarinet.
String Quintet in G Minor, K. 516
Fugue in C Minor, K. 525
Fantasy Variations for Solo Flute
Serenade for Strings in G Major, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” K. 525
Sunday’s NOVA concert was dedicated to the memory of George Downes Prestwich (1921-2012) the father of Board Member Glenn Prestwich, and informed the selections from Mozart played this afternoon as they were made from a period in the composer’s life when his own father had just died. We know a lot about Mozart’s life up until this period because Mozart wrote to his father about his life, his compositions, and the performances of his work. Along with the father and this correspondence, much of the record of his own life ends here.
Subtle themes of family were present throughout the day’s concert. The NOVA series––from the board, administrators and musicians to the season ticket holders––are a bit of a family, with shared values of culture and adventure reflected in a passion for the music, which is diverse, daring, and thoughtfully programmed. Each show offers some of the startlingly new, but some of the "new" is also 100 years old and you just haven't heard it yet.
Sunday’s show opened with a vision of the 20th Century––local composer Bruce Quaglia's "After Milton: Three Vignettes for B-flat Clarinet," music of dreams: atmospheric and surreal. Played here in its U.S. premiere by Matthew Nelson along sheet music taking up three consecutive music stands, "Chiasmus," the first piece, opened with the sound of alarms, of the half dreams of public television naps as a child, a soundtrack of unconscious paralysis and fight. The second movement, "Psalm," sounded of Shofur calls, klezmer, water pouring over leaves. The third, "Lament," like searching fingers at the edges of a stone door––finding pain, desire, dust, fear, and finally, stillness––was lonely and menacing. I really enjoyed this piece. Its composition is, fittingly enough, a tribute to American composer Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) who was a mentor to many contemporary composers. Taken from themes from Babbitt's solo clarinet work "My Ends are My Beginnings," "After Milton" is a "meditation upon the expansive world of possibilities that Babbitt's music inhabited."
In contrast to the bleak and haunting melodies of the opening piece, the second piece, Mozart’s "String Quintet in G Minor, K. 516", for two violins, two violas and cello, begins with a questioning theme descending in tone, a kind of shoe gazing music making its way around the players with recurrent surprisingly upbeat turns. The Adagio ma non troppo found all the players using mutes, which made the always impeccable Mozart approach to adagio seem even a little more atomic in its purity, backlit and emotionally moving, and finishing with a funny, almost intoxicated theme. Discordant with the mordant colors surrounding it in this adagio, it sang like a drunk at a quiet bar- a surprising and thoughtful movement. The Adagio Allegro seemed to be neither of its names, but a stately, proud and Schubert-style sad wander down the hallway.
After the intermission, a differently arranged quintet played Mozart's "Adagio and Fugue in C Minor, K. 546." Originally a fugue for two pianos which foreshadowed the rough, late style of Beethoven, Mozart added a Baroque French style overture which became the adagio and reconfigured the piece as a quintet for two violins, viola, cello and double bass. The double bass changes the whole balance of the instruments and the fluidity of the emotion. The Utah Symphony's Corbin Johnston plays a cool, precise bass, turning the white canvas of the quartet into a black velvet, or chiaroscuro composition, as dramatic as Sharpie on a photograph. The Adagio itself was brave and self regarding, but also wistful. It has a really great little melody, which, I thought was much more interesting than the theme of the Fugue which followed.
In introducing the composer Bruce Quaglia to the audience, Mr. Hardink said when he first came to Utah, he heard the next piece in the program, "Fantasy Variations for Solo Flute," and knew this was a composer he would really like to work with. Based on a study of compositional sketches of Stravinsky and American composer Charles Wourinen, and written with flautist Carlton Vickers in mind, the "Fantasy" is an extension of ideas and compositional permissions made in the notes of these two daring composers. With the question of "What If," as a starting point, this very difficult, wild-sounding piece came into being. Mercedes Smith, who just took over the principal seat in the Utah Symphony, made the piece her own. On paper, the composition looks playable enough, but once entered, the challenges, she said, became clear, and they grow. With her attack on the piece she is a fencer knowing the steps of an opponent, but the opponent is still its own vital self, and potentially, it could defeat her. Moving from whispers to birdsong, Coltrane to what a blue sky Wyoming geyser would sound like if it were a flute, this music was intense like the high speed Ferrari through Paris in Claude Lelouch's "C'était un Rendezvous."
A full-length, multi-instrument piece by Dr. Quaglia commissioned by NOVA will premiere next year in the 2013-14 season.
There is a reason famous music is famous. It is often great. Deservedly famous, and a joy to hear played fresh, Mozart's Serenade for Strings in G Major K.525, "Eine Kleine Nacht Musik," is certainly one of the bigger musical commonplaces around, every movement is themed in your head already. I know if you heard the first three notes you could hum the rest. Kathryn Eberle, on violin, brought just the right amount of breath and space to make this poster boy come into the room and introduce himself. My daughter's eyes lit right up when she realized she recognized the first theme. Music this common presents some dangers to a concert stage. It can be tired, it can be per se, but this ensemble brought romance to it. I didn't know I liked this music this much, and the experience was pure springtime and hayfields.
This was the first concert of the NOVA 2012-13 season, and the second for me. As a returning patron to the NOVA Chamber music series, like Sunday dinner with the family, this is a tradition that shouldn’t be missed.