Treasured Chamber Music Amici Experiences, Part V

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

Dancing at the Wildish

by David Meredith

For some reason, the chamber music that appeals to me most are the compositions close to their vernacular sources—dancing, primarily, and singing. Something about them feels so natural. Perhaps it’s because the phrasing and the rhythms trend so strongly toward what we humans do all day, every day: walk and breath. Whatever the reason, these tunes have survived the test of time in being handed down eagerly from one person to another. In the hands of professional musicians, they are like jewels.

My feet tap in anticipation when I’m arriving for a concert featuring a tune rooted in a Hungarian czárdás or an Austrian waltz.  Imagine my excitement this March, when we heard the Amici players perform Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A-Major which includes a dumka movement.  The word dumka (plural: dumky) came into classical music from the Ukranian language in the 19th century when instrumentalists first mimicked this style of singing.

Another past occasion where Amici featured vernacular styling was the concert when guest violinist Alex Hargreaves selected works to illustrate “The Folk in Classical” including a string quartet with waltz by Mark O’Connor, a pair of fiddle tunes by David Balakrishnan, and an entire suite of Hungarian music from folk songs.

Yet for me the highlight was the concert with klezmer music from 20th-century Europe presented by Semmy Stahlhammer and Isabel Blomme’ visiting from Sweden. They and accordionist Sergei Teleshev performed several traditional tunes during the concert and then, during the reception that followed, patrons convinced them to take their instruments back out of their cases for an encore with dancing! I was one of many that joined in lines snaking around the refreshment tables.

To hear the trio play Nigun, a heartbreaking lament, click here.
To hear the trio play Libes Tants, a joyful dance, click here.

A Different Kind of Season

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

by Jessica Lambert, Artistic Director

Dear friends,

In these challenging times Amici is working hard to prepare for our coming season. Meeting the challenge of Covid-19 is going to test our ingenuity and resolve but especially after this last week of meetings, I feel confident that Amici has the resilience and creativity to meet this challenge and continue to thrive.

The chamber music community is truly a worldwide fraternity. In the last few weeks all the Amici staff and musicians have been brainstorming with each other and consulting with colleagues around the country and beyond, everyone generously sharing ideas and strategies for our upcoming seasons.

One of the things musicians love doing is planning concerts. The only thing better than planning a concert is playing a concert! Months ago, before the pandemic, we planned our upcoming 12th season with music we love and want to share with you, a season with the variety and depth our audience has come to enjoy. We are still hoping to present our concert season in our beloved home theater, the Wildish, with our 2021 gala concert at The Shedd Institute next June.

Yet, it makes sense to prepare for a different kind of season. As a 3-pillared arts organization, centered on performance, education enrichment, and community engagement, we are revamping all those activities for greater adaptability and benefit in the likelihood of further disruptions due to Covid-19. We are creating different levels of contingency plans to match whatever precautions our state health authorities recommend and require. Live streaming concerts and many other methods of performance delivery and community-building are all being considered and strategized.

Amici feels very fortunate to have wonderfully loyal community support and a fiercely dedicated staff and Board of Directors. While we will have to improvise and evolve in the coming year, it is in times like these that we all realize the profound meaning and relevance of the arts in our lives. Amici plans to be here, sharing great chamber music with you and creating great community throughout the coming year.

Treasured Chamber Music Amici Memories, Part IV: Listening

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

by Bruce Heldt, Donor Relations

I am a music lover, and a mostly self-taught piano player.  Apart from solo piano music, the music I love most is that performed by small groups of musicians.  I love the interaction between the performers that is more likely to occur, and much easier to hear, when the number of musical parts and performers is small.  In the 1960s I favored rock groups, in the 70s I switched to jazz groups, and starting in the 80s I added classical chamber music to favored status.

In the late 1990s, when my children were young, I owned a digital keyboard that could record and playback on eight separate tracks.  It had digital samples of numerous instruments so that I could play the keyboard but sound somewhat like a trumpet, or a flute, or a violin, etc.  After my children’s bedtime, I would turn off the keyboard’s speakers, plug in the headphones, and start recording some music that I would improvise on the spot.  Then, I would change the instrument sample selection and while playing back what I had just recorded I would “accompany” myself playing a different sampled instrument.

Thus was born the Tahsili Consort, named after the street that we lived on at that time.  Tahsili Consort recorded four CD’s worth of music.  Although I make no claims as to the quality of either the music performed or the sounds of the instruments produced, I truly treasured the experience.  It increased my appreciation for the listening that is so important to the performance of both great jazz and great chamber music.  Because all of the music was improvised, I was neither restricted in what I could play nor hindered by having to accurately perform a prescribed musical idea.  That freedom both allowed and required me to concentrate on listening to the recorded track or tracks that were being played back.  Somehow, if I listened closely enough, my fingers would find something appropriate (at least to my ear) to accompany what I was hearing.

When I attend a concert, I usually prefer to sit as close to the musicians as possible.  I’ve been told the sound is better elsewhere in a concert hall than the front row, but I don’t go to a concert to experience the best possible “sound”.  I go to experience the act of musical creation that is going on among the musicians and I can do that best by getting as close as I can.  Best of all, if I can get close enough to the musicians, and pay close enough attention to the music, in my mind I almost become part of the group and more actively engaged in the listening.

Bruce Heldt is joining the Amici staff, in charge of donor relations, when David Meredith retires. Bruce was the managing partner for Isler CPA for over 20 years and was the first board president when Amici was founded. He is returning to assist an organization that he loves.

Front Yard Mozart

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

Front Yard Mozart
by Jessica Lambert

I am gearing up for a little Front Yard Mozart! An old student who is home from college is joining me to play duets 6’ apart in my front yard. We’ll practice individually and then meet some evening when the weather is nice to play a short outdoor concert of violin and viola duets.

We are still planning our pieces but have definitely decided on the Duo in B-flat Major by Mozart. The music is marvelous obviously but I also love the story behind the piece and there is plentiful evidence to support the story. Sometime around 1787 Michael Haydn accepted a commission from the Archbishop of Salzburg to write six duos for violin and viola. Haydn wrote four but then became ill and was unable to finish the commission. The Archbishop threatened not to pay him for any of the pieces since the set was incomplete. Luckily, Mozart was visiting his father in Salzburg and heard about Haydn’s situation. He quickly wrote two duos, delivered them to Haydn and told him to send them off as his own works. Mozart helped Michael Haydn through a rough spot in an act of kindness and I like knowing that about him.

This pandemic has been a clarion call for me in some important ways. Truthfully, as an introvert, the social distancing is pretty easy, comfortable even, and that is not altogether a good thing. But I also value my community in a new way. It seems like everyone does. As my community’s tempo has slowed, its pulse has become stronger. Everyone seems happy to stop and chat for a while, we more meaningfully ask “how are you?” and are ready for a real answer. I see people sitting on their front lawns eager to greet neighbors and passersby. I know many, many people doing small acts of kindness every day. I know that my friendships are becoming more deeply rooted; that my acquaintances can become friends and strangers can become acquaintances.

So while I grieve for the terrible suffering across the world brought by this pandemic and acknowledge Oregon has been touched only lightly by it, I see the evidence of grace as some of humanity’s best instincts rise in response.

So, I’m going to have to get some (lots of) weeding done in the front flower beds and make sure the front lawn is mowed. And when Lucy and I play our front yard concert I hope my neighbors and strangers enjoy the sound of Mozart floating through their lives.

Mozart Duo No. 2 in B-flat Major performed by Arthur Grumiaux and Arrigo Pelliccia:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8Ay_K_CKTU

Treasured Chamber Music Experiences, Part III

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

Turning Point 

by Eunhye Grace Choi

 

Everyone has a turning point in life.

 

I studied music composition and theory during my undergraduate studies in South Korea and was looking for a new life experience after graduation. I always wanted to travel overseas and learn new languages so, after navigating various possibilities, I decided to come to the United States and become a student in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program at the University of Memphis. The program encouraged students to have a native English speaker as conversation partner and I was paired with a lovely lady named Andrea whom I shared an interest in classical music.

 

One night, we went out for a free concert that the university’s music department presented. The program for the night was a part of the Beethoven’s Sonatas for Piano and Violin cycle. Ludwig von Beethoven wrote ten sonatas for piano and violin. What captured my attention was that Beethoven named the piano first in the violin sonatas’ titles. 

 

The program that evening consisted of three of his sonatas played by a wonderful pianist, Victor Asuncion, the university’s piano faculty, and violinist Susanna Perry Gilmore, a former concertmaster of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. It was an absolutely beautiful concert, and I was particularly taken with the idea of true “collaboration.” Having been trained mostly as a composer and solo pianist until then, I could not explain the joy I felt seeing so closely the conversation between two instruments and two souls. The genre of chamber music really came into my life so genuinely for the first time.

 

Afterwards, I went backstage to tell the performers how much I enjoyed the concert, and I could not sleep that night. The next day, I started searching for graduate schools around the country that offered a collaborative piano program. Until then, I had no idea this field offered a degree, but I quickly discovered two renowned graduate programs in collaborative piano and chamber music. 

 

Ever since that moment, I have never stopped playing chamber music. In fact, it became all of my musical life. Instrumentation or circumstances mattered little, as I loved the intimate musical connection with all my collaborators. This was true whether I was playing chamber music with world- renowned soloists or hundreds of students as an accompanist and coach.

 

At this very moment as I am writing, I am listening to the classical radio station and am eagerly waiting until the end of this piece, so I can write down the composer’s name and the work’s title. It will immediately go into my “hope-to-learn list,” and I have no shortage of potential collaborators to play with! 

To listen to one of my favorite pieces, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 10, click here.

To hear Glenn Gould and Yehudi Menuhin discuss Beethoven’s Sonata No. 10, click here.

To view the other two blogs in this series where Amici musicians reflect on treasured moments, click below.
Treasured Chamber Music Experiences, Part I: Summer 1986, by Jessica Lambert, click here.
Treasured Chamber Music Experiences, Part II: Memories of Making music with a Holocaust Survivor in Bishop, Calif., by Sharon Schuman, click here.

Treasured Chamber Music Experiences, Part II

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

Memories of Making Music with a Holocaust Survivor in Bishop, California
by Sharon Schuman

About 40 years ago, when my husband and I were teaching at Deep Springs College in California, I met Hilda Hemer, an 80-something pianist, who gave concerts in her home in Bishop.  She said, “I’m as deaf as Beethoven!” That did not stop us from performing his Spring Sonata for violin and piano.  Furniture was moved around to accommodate music loving farmers and merchants and I did all the listening for both of us.

Hilda was full of music, having studied with Artur Schnabel, the great German pianist, before World War II forced her to flee to Los Angeles. Somehow her father managed to send over the Bösendorfer piano he had given her for her 13th birthday. Deserted by her husband during the war, Hilda raised her three sons by giving piano lessons in her Los Angeles living room. When she retired to Bishop, the piano made that trek, too. By the time I arrived she was desperate for musical company.

After five years of reading Mozart and Beethoven sonatas together, my family moved to Eugene. I saw Hilda only once more, when I brought Victor Steinhardt, founding core pianist of Chamber Music Amici, to Deep Springs to play the Spring Sonata with me.  By that time Hilda was too old to make the 40-mile drive over Westgard Pass to attend our concert. Instead, I brought Victor to her home.

There she pulled out the faded pages of her Beethoven sonatas, covered with Schnabel’s notations.  She reminisced about her lessons with the master, and she translated his comments for Victor.  She played for Victor, and he played for her.

To view the other two blogs in this series where Amici musicians reflect on treasured moments, click below.
Treasured Chamber Music Experiences, Part I: Summer 1986, by Jessica Lambert, click here
Treasured Chamber Music Experiences, Part III: Turning Point, by Eunhye Grace Choi, click here

Treasured Chamber Music Amici Experiences, Part I

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

Summer 1986
By Jessica Lambert

Recently I suggested to the Amici members that we all share a treasured memory of a chamber music experience that has stayed close to our hearts. The memory I have chosen to share with you is from the summer of 1986.

I didn’t really want to go to a summer music program. I was burned out, frankly, and wanted to have a nice summer vacation. My mother agreed that I needed the time to recharge but also convinced me to try a new and challenging musical encounter for a portion of the summer.

We had an older neighbor a couple blocks away who had begun a promising career as a pianist before his plans were derailed by throat cancer. He lost the ability to speak and remained frail throughout his life. Needing a new path, he had turned his practice habits toward learning Chinese and became a translator and writer for the State Department. (We were told by a Chinese friend that his writing was flawless in an old-fashioned style and his calligraphy superb.) He remained a fine pianist but never performed or played for anyone but his wife and daughters. To my delight and trepidation, he agreed to spend some time coaching me on several sonatas.

I walked to his house every other morning for 3 hours of work. His piano almost filled a small room in his home and the shelves behind the piano were filled with stacks of music, hundreds of books in Chinese and old LPs, some of which he himself had recorded decades earlier. He was tall and spare, quite handsome, and had long, elegant hands. He always wore a cravat to cover the scars on his throat and neck. Being unable to speak to me, he scribbled (somewhat illegibly) in notepads anything he wanted to say to me but he also showed me at the piano everything he wanted me to hear in the music. And he was insistent in his silent way that I understand what he wanted and that I make it happen!

We worked through several sonatas together: Franck, Grieg, Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, .… His playing was awe-inspiring both in technique and sheer expressive musical power. Those hours were among the most intense and uplifting musical experiences of my life. To this day I think of him with gratitude and love for the gift he gave me.

To view the other two blogs in this series where Amici musicians reflect on treasured moments, click below.
Treasured Chamber Music Experiences, Part II: Memories of Making music with a Holocaust Survivor in Bishop, Calif., by Sharon Schuman, click here
Treasured Chamber Music Experiences, Part III: Turning Point, by Eunhye Grace Choi, click here

My Opinion of Social Distancing

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

By Jessica Lambert, Artistic Director

Well, I have completed not even one full week of social distancing and I have to say, even as a person with a nonexistent social life, it sucks. Please pardon my strong language, but I miss everyone. However, I am finding ways to keep in touch with friends and family with Zoom (oh, for some stock in that company) and I think my texting bill might rise. 

 

I am happy I get to walk my dog every day! We don’t get to meet other dogs and people on these walks anymore. Everyone crosses the street now. But I find I sleep better if I have taken a good long stroll. The clear cold air on our night walks is deliciously refreshing and the sparkling sunlight on blossoms and baby leaves makes me happy during our daytime walks.

 

I am very happy to have my garden to putter in. I have prepared three beds now and planted lots of different greens and two rows of peas as well as an entire bed of three kinds of sunflowers and poppies which I hope will be a riot of oranges and yellows in summer. I weeded and fluffed up the soil in my bed of roses and today I will tackle a neglected area in the back of the yard and look after my blueberry bushes. So, the upside of having all my concerts canceled for the next two months is that I don’t have to take care of my hands. I love the feel of dirt!

 

I am practicing very little. That’s dumb so I need to work on that. I have completely fallen off my Beethoven reading and listening schedule so I can work on that too. I have a notion that I might find an ancient set of watercolors in one of our attics, left over from when my boys were in elementary school. Maybe I’ll try my hand at painting! It’ll look awful but I’ll enjoy it. I may re-read the entire “Lord of the Rings” series but yes, I must add some practicing into my days. That’s the first thing to tackle so that when we finally get to see each other again at an Amici concert I can still play the violin reasonably well. 

 

Very much hoping to see you all in November. Love from Amici!

Music Among Friends: Chamber Music in the Living Room

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

By Abigail Fine

Greetings from Dr. Abigail Fine, Assistant Professor of Music History at the University of Oregon. Thanks to all those who attended my pre-concert lecture on Sunday, and for the interesting conversations after the talk.

At the start of my lecture, I described an intriguing piece of furniture: a nineteenth-century quartet table housed in the library of the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn. During several weeks of archival research, I sat at this very table, thinking it was just an ordinary old thing, until one day a string quartet ensemble burst into the archive and unfurled it into this:

https://da.beethoven.de/sixcms/detail.php?id=&template=dokseite_digitales_archiv_en&_dokid=bi:i100500&_seite=1

What you see here are four music stands and drawers that include cupholders (!). The purpose is clear: to gather friends in a living room, play through some string quartets, eat, drink, and be merry. Today, we hear chamber music performed onstage in large halls, which can obscure its origins in casual music-making with a mix of amateurs and professionals. (But interestingly enough, the backstory of the Chamber Music Amici is straight out of the nineteenth century, hence their name, “Amici”!)

By the time Brahms and Dvořák were composing, chamber music had started to be performed in concert halls as well, and this meant that composers could move between different modes: the leisurely lyricism and conversational exchanges that characterized music for the home vs. the vibrant virtuosity and cerebral counterpoint that revved up listeners in the concert hall. The result is that both pieces on the program play around with venue—and if you attune your ears to the styles associated with different venues, you can gain a new dimension of listening enjoyment.

Here are just a few examples of many: In the first movement of Brahms’s Sextet, we are enfolded in a warm, rich, pastoral world of Austrian Ländler (a country dance turned elegant when brought indoors); the faraway pastoral chords of the secondary theme yearn for the countryside in urban Hamburg, where Brahms composed the piece. But when we arrive at the development section, we hear each instrument speak in turn, engaged in a musical conversation that was typical of music written for amateurs. Brahms’s second movement changes venue from warm conversation to an eighteenth-century aristocratic court, with a chord pattern called the “folia,” a Spanish dance. His galant third movement bridges eighteenth-century elegance with the nineteenth-century parlor, and by the final movement he lands back in the living room, fondly remembering the theme of his first movement—a warm nostalgia for friends and conversations past.

Dvořák’s Piano Quintet, likewise, moves between venues: he starts off with a tender art song (with a cellist playing the role of baritone), but in a flash, the movement explodes onto the concert stage with what’s called the “brilliant” style. In the second movement, the Slavic genre of the “dumka” (an epic, melancholy ballade) invites us into old-world storytelling, with the antiqued voice of the viola bridging the Slavic and Germanic, a mirror of the Austrian Empire. (If you doubt this movement is Germanic, compare it with the slow movement of Schumann’s Piano Quintet!) Dvořák shows us another glimpse of the living room in his final movement: even as he flexes his composerly muscles by giving us counterpoint and fugue, the very end of the movement surprises us with a poignant return to art song, to graceful simplicity, a memory of the past.

It is no coincidence that both pieces end with memory. In the nineteenth century, friendship and memory were closely intertwined, especially in the common practice of keeping a friendship album, an older form of what we today recognize as a scrapbook. If you attune your ear to contrasts in venue—from the living room to the concert hall to the palace and back—you can hear chamber music through nineteenth-century ears.

For more on music in the living room, I highly recommend a book by the brilliant musicologist Marie Sumner-Lott, who is a professor at George State University. Her book, The Social Worlds of Nineteenth-Century Chamber Music, taught me to hear this repertoire with a newly attentive ear—and it’s a delightful read, to boot!

https://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/69rxp7wq9780252039225.html

Brahms Makes a Vulcan Cry

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

by Avery Hsieh

 

The first time I heard the Brahms Sextet No.1 was not in concert, but in a sci-fi TV show. Star Trek: The Next Generation had been a show that I watched with my dad frequently while growing up and I encountered the Brahms Sextet 2nd movement through episode 23 of season 3 titled “Sarek.” 

 

Set in the future, Star Trek: The Next Generation follows a galactic ship named the USS Enterprise and its crew through the exploration of the universe where they encounter several alien species. Vulcans are an alien species on the show whose culture and mannerisms are built around logic and prohibit any expression of emotion. When the legendary Vulcan leader, Sarek, arrives on the USS Enterprise, he is invited to attend a concert in which the chamber group plays the 2nd movement of the Brahms Sextet. As the opening notes of the violin solo waft over the audience, the camera zooms in on Sarek, revealing a single tear rolling down his face. Moved by the music, he is unable to contain his emotions any longer. This monumental scene is the first time that a Vulcan has ever shown any emotion making the moment shocking and memorable.

 

This episode is a clear example of the mixture of classical music and pop culture. Although the audience for Star Trek: The Next Generation may be different from those who would normally find themselves in a classical music concert, the significance of this music in the show has led many people to search up and listen to the Brahms Sextet themselves. This allows people to be exposed to music beyond what they are used to.

 

I enjoy the thought that hundreds of years into the future, Brahms will still be revered among humans and will be moving to our new intergalactic friends. Like Lieutenant Commander Data, I will be performing as the first violinist for the 2nd movement of the Brahms Sextet with Chamber Music Amici. I hope that I can summon the emotion to bring even a Vulcan to tears!


Here is a link to the scene I described: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URZLKECFjaY