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Patrick McCurry

A Little Lunch Music, 11/16/2017: Acclaimed Pianist Performing Music by Granados, Chopin, Beethoven

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On Thursday, November 16 from noon to 1:00 pm, the series will present a free concert in the Auditorium by pianist Vijay Venkatesh, in collaboration with the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta. The program will feature music by Enrique Granados, Frederic Chopin, and Ludwig van Beethoven. Gifts from Virginia Transue, Patricia Giordano, and anonymous friends of the series have helped to make this performance possible.

Click here for our calendar page for the event which includes the series’ fall schedule and more about its performers.

The critically acclaimed Venkatesh is a native of Orange County, California. At age 14, he made his orchestral debut with the South Coast Symphony and since then has performed with orchestras in the United States and Austria.

A winner of first prizes in competitions around the U.S., he was named a Davidson Fellow and honored with an award ceremony and reception at the Library of Congress. He is a 2009 alumnus of National Public Radio’s “From the Top.”

Thursday’s program will feature music by Enrique Granados, Frederic Chopin, and Ludwig van Beethoven.

“Goyescas” is a piano suite by Granados, who lived around the turn of the 20th century. Venkatesh says paintings by Francisco Goya inspired the music. Thursday’s program will include the suite’s first movement, “The Maiden and the Nightengale.”

“It’s actually one of my favorite pieces,” Venkatesh said of the movement. “I try to play it at every concert.”

Venkatesh says Granados later composed an opera based on the piano suite. In the opera version, this movement is an aria. In the scene, two men are sword-fighting for the love of the character Rosario. She flees from the fight to a courtyard where she sings to a nightingale about her distress.

“It’s a Spanish love piece that is full of Spanish themes of Machismo,” Venkatesh said. “There’s a lot of machismo in this scene.”

Venkatesh says he tries to let his own life experiences affect the way he interprets the music he plays. Playing different pieces and immersing himself in other cultures can often reveal things hidden within a piece of music. “Every time I play a piece, there are intrinsic seeds of DNA that are there to be discovered,” he said.

Venkatesh says Chopin’s scherzo, programmed for Thursday, is technically demanding and full of patriotic themes connected to Poland, the composer’s homeland. Though scherzo means joke, he says Chopin’s scherzos are very serious pieces.

Chopin died at 39, sick with tuberculosis and what was likely heart disease. Historians have speculated that he also suffered poor mental health. But Venkatesh says Chopin’s music remained strong.

“I don’t think he let that sickness translate into his music,” Venkatesh said. “‘It’s guns covered in roses,’ is what a lot of people say.”

Venkatesh will also perform one of Chopin’s nocturnes, a genre Chopin made famous. In contrast to the scherzo, nocturne means “night song” or “love song” and is often filled with languid, lyrical melodies.

“Chopin is actually one of the greatest melody composers,” Venkatesh said. “He was great at expressing unrequited love. A lot of these love songs I think are speaking about himself in the third person.”

Also on Thursday’s program will be Beethoven’s final piano sonata, “Sonata No. 32 in C Major.”

By the time Beethoven was writing his last three piano sonatas, he had gone completely deaf. In these pieces, compared to the composer’s earlier sonatas, Venkatesh hears what is possibly a more inward source of inspiration. He says their chromatic harmonies and sudden changes in volume and mood possibly reflect Beethoven’s state of mind and his frustration as he faced the struggles at the end of his life.

“It’s all culminating in this [final] two-movement sonata,” said Venkatesh. He describes the first movement as tempestuous and majestic, the second as spiritual and relinquishing. “It’s almost as if Beethoven’s soul is transitioning from this world to the next.”

A Little Lunch Music is coordinated by Patrick McCurry. It is an informal, weekly series that features national and international performers as well as the region’s professionals and students. The schedule can be found on the museum’s calendar at jcsm.auburn.edu.

For more information, contact Scott Bishop, Curator of Education and University Liaison, at bishogs@auburn.edu or 334-844-7014.

Patricia Crispino

A Little Lunch Music, 11/9/2017: Series Featuring Duo Music for Clarinet and Piano

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On Thursday, November 9 from noon to 1:00 pm, the series will present a free concert by clarinetist Patricia Crispino with pianist Beibei Lin. The program will feature music by Robert Muczynski, Darius Milhaud, Norbert Burgmuller, and Francis Poulenc. Gifts from Phyllis Stanaland, Ruth Crocker, and anonymous friends of the series have helped to make this performance possible.

Click here for the concert’s event page with more about the performers and the full concert schedule for Fall 2017.

Crispino says she grew up in a military family that moved around a lot. Because of that, she didn’t start learning music when others her age did. But even as a latecomer, she took quickly to the clarinet. “I loved it,” she said, adding that it was so important to her, her parents sometimes used it as leverage if Crispino ever misbehaved.“One of the ways my parents punished me was saying, ‘I’m going to take that clarinet away from you.’”

There are things that are special about the clarinet to Crispino. She says among all instruments, it has one of the widest ranges. She says it is unique in the way its sound is consistent throughout its full range. She adds that it is not only the tone quality of the clarinet that remains consistent, but also how versatile it is.

When Crispino speaks of a versatile sound, she means that the instrument can be played at its highest, lowest, and anywhere in between with the same gentleness or the same force as anywhere else in its range. She says whether it’s using certain subtle ways to play a melody or making a tone-color change, anything is possible at any range.

“The instrument will not prohibit you from getting the sound you want,” she said.

Thursday the duo will perform Robert Muczynski’s “Time Pieces for clarinet and piano, Op. 43.” Crispino says the composer wrote the piece with an awareness that the instrument is so versatile.

“It’s great at showcasing evenness, range, articulations, and balance,” said Crispino of “Time Pieces.” She adds that is it a demanding and well-rounded piece.

The composer Norbert Burgmüller died in 1836 at the age of 26. Crispino says his death was lamented as tragic by his colleagues, some of whom were famous composers such as Louis Spohr and Robert Schumann. They saw Burgmüller’s potential to enter history as one of its greatest composers.

Thursday, The duo will perform Burgmüller’s “Duo for clarinet and piano in E-flat major.” Crispino describes it as having lots of exchange of melody and a big ending.

Crispino has performed with Theatre Tallahassee, the Solon Center of the Arts Opera, Solon Philharmonic, Waco Symphony Orchestra, Austin Chamber Players, and Yakima Symphony Orchestra. She has also performed for the Cleveland Composers Guild, Waco Symphony Sunday Sounds Series, and can be heard in the short film, “Blue Disquietude.”

Based in the Tallahassee area, Crispino freelances in North Florida, directs the clarinet choir Tallahassee Breezes, teaches, and is an Ophthalmic Technician at Southern Vitreoretinal Associates.

Crispino says she and Lin met at a Bible study at Florida State University where they were both doctoral students. After that, they began playing together.

Lin has appeared as guest recitalist, pedagogue, and adjudicator throughout the United States. She debuted as a soloist with the MasterWorks Festival Orchestra at age seventeen, performing Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto. Recent performances include the 2016 International Double Reed Society Conference and the 2017 Women Composers Festival of Hartford.

Lin’s research in the field of piano-pedagogy trends in 21st-Century China has been featured in publications and conferences. She has appeared as a performer, presenter, and panelist at The Sport Professionals’ Experience and Research Conference, speaking on interdisciplinary topics relating to music and sports performance. She currently teaches at Columbus State University.

A Little Lunch Music is coordinated by Patrick McCurry. It is an informal, weekly series that features national and international performers as well as the region’s professionals and students. The schedule can be found on the museum’s calendar at jcsm.auburn.edu.

For more information, contact Scott Bishop, university liaison and curator of education, at bishogs@auburn.edu or 334-844-7014.

A Little Lunch Music, 11/2/2017: AU Faculty Duo Will Perform Nature Inspired Music, Art Songs

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On Thursday, November 2 from noon to 1:00 pm, the series will present a free concert in the Grand Gallery by Plains 2, a duo featuring trombonist Matthew Wood and pianist Joshua Pifer. The program will feature music by Marcel-Samuel Rousseau, Norman Bolter, Lawrence Borden, Brad Edwards, Richard Strauss, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Astor Piazzolla. Thanks to a gift from Bob Ekelund and Mark Thornton and a gift from Anonymous Friends of the Series for helping to make this performance possible.

Click here for the event page from our calendar and more about the performers.

Thursday’s program will include Norman Bolter’s “Arctic Eminations.” It is a musical depiction of sights and sounds from the far north. Pifer said he uses some special piano effects and Wood uses some of the trombone’s extended techniques to mimic sounds from the wintery region. Wood said Bolter used titles like “Aurora Borealis,” “Eskimo Songs,” and “Icebergs and Ice Slides” to describe sections of the piece. “It literally sounds like icebergs crashing down,” said Pifer.

Another piece that translates nature into music is Lawrence L. Borden’s “Conditions of a Solitary Bird.” Pifer said, “It’s basically one big sound effect.” The duo will also play Brad Edwards’ “Blue Wolf,” which Wood said is slower and plaintive at the beginning and end, but has a more rhythmic section in the middle, influenced by jazz and pop music.

Pifer said musical depictions of nature have been a big part of Western cultures for as long as we have records. He said during the Renaissance, a common practice was using word painting, a way to use musical notes and phrases to project the meaning of a word being sung. A simple example would be a rising scale to go along with the word, “climbing” or a sudden low note for the word, “fall.”

It’s musical experimentation, Wood and Pifer agreed. And though it’s still mostly rhythm and melody, when modern composers interpret nature, it can require more than standard techniques for the performers to pull off. As a result, musicians will often approach the music differently than when it’s based on common scales and harmonies.

Wood said when he’s playing standard classical music, the objective is to make it sound like the best recording of the piece he’s heard. But with music like these modern pieces, there’s a different goal, to sound like nature, or at least to get the idea of nature across to the audience.

“You have to really commit and do all the effects,” said Pifer. “It’s kind of just becoming an actor and selling out to the program on stage,” added Wood, who said he tries to think of the imagery from the composer’s instructions while managing the athletic needs of the piece. In Wood’s case that means changing mutes and creating the non-standard trombone sounds required.

Pifer said he spends a lot more time studying the scores of these kinds of modern pieces than when the music follows more closely to convention. He said it’s like figuring out a puzzle, with clues in the composer’s notes. “Any kind of help the composer can give is like a road map,” he said.

Music that tells a story or that attempts to create sounds and scenes from nature is often called programmatic music. Thursday, the duo will also play more standard types of music, but they say it often becomes programmatic. “We have to kind of create the imagery,” said Pifer.

For instance, Marcel Samuel-Rousseau’s “Piece Concertante,” which the duo will perform Thursday, is in three sections. To the performers, the second part is lyrical and suggests a kind of love song, while the third is similar to the first, suggesting a return of joy.

Plains 2 will play transcriptions of art songs by Richard Strauss and by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Both composers lived around the turn of the 20th century. Wood said Strauss’ “Allerseelen” is a favorite. He said the melodic writing is excellent, even citing a couple of intervals that make the melody effective in an emotional way.

Pifer said he fell in love with Wood’s lyric trombone tone. “I love playing those songs with Matt,” said Pifer.

Thursday’s program will also include tangos by Argentinian composer Astor Piazolla, two for solo piano and two for the duo.

Nikolai Klotchkov

A Little Lunch Music, 10/26/2017: Auburn Student from Russia will Perform Concert Saxophone Music

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On Thursday, October 26 from noon to 1:00 pm, the series will present a free concert in the Grand Gallery by saxophonist Nikolai Klotchkov with pianist Mari Ito. The program will feature music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Jacques Ibert, Ryo Noda, and David Maslanka. Helping to make this performance possible are a gift from Larry Gerber and Louise Katainen and a gift from Anonymous Friends of the Series.

Click here for A Little Lunch Music’s fall 2017 schedule with more about the performers.

Born in Alabama to Russian parents, Klotchkov’s family moved back to Moscow soon after he was born. He credits his choice of saxophone to early teachers who played the instrument. He said in 7th or 8th grade, he started studying with concert saxophonist Alexey Volkov.

In the late 1990s, one of the the only ways for Russians to go abroad was to study American history in the US, said Klotchkov. He said there were a lot of exchange programs in the south, and his mother Elena Klotchkova [CORRECT SPELLING] came to Auburn to study southern US history. He said his father Andrei Klotchkov took a staff job in the engineering school.

When looking into college, Klotchkov said one of the main factors was finding the opportunity to do a double major. “That is impossible in Russia,” he said. But at Auburn, it’s common, and with his family connections to the school, it was an easy choice. Now a senior, he is double majoring in Music Performance and Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in neuroscience, exercise science, and computer science.

Klotchkov said his non-musical studies are intended to enhance his career as a performer and teacher. He is researching exercises that can be used by any musician, mental processes and perceptions of music performers and music listeners, and ways to analyze the data.

“Hopefully I will be able to find some explanations of how the energy from the performer is received by the audience,” said Klotchkov. When playing a concert, he has the same concerns as with his research. “You need to think about what you expect your audience is experiencing,” he said.

Japanese composer Ryo Noda, born in 1948, also moved to the United States to study saxophone. Klotchkov said Noda often writes saxophone music to mimic traditional Japanese sounds. Noda’s piece “Phoenix” will be on Thursday’s program.

Klotchkov will play a transcription of the “Gigue” movement from Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Violin Partita No. 2.” Both the piece by Bach and the piece by Noda are for solo saxophone. Separated by 300 years, the pieces are different.

Klotchkov said Bach’s music is driven by its harmony, which means how the chords move through the piece. Even though the saxophone only plays one note at a time, Bach wrote the music using the notes to strongly imply a harmonic progression.

Klotchkov said Noda’s work has familiar harmonic sounds, but Bach’s music has more of a harmonic richness. Noda’s music is more about changes in the way the saxophone creates its tone, said Klotchkov, adding that Noda’s pieces are beautiful, and do a great job showcasing the sound of his instrument.

Thursday’s program will include two pieces written for alto saxophone and piano, one by French composer Jacques Ibert and another by American composer David Maslanka.

A Little Lunch Music, 10/19/2017: Award-Winning Italian Classical Guitarist Will Perform

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On Thursday, October 19, from noon to 1:00 pm in the Auditorium, the series will present a free concert by classical guitarist Edoardo Catemario, in collaboration with the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta. The program will feature music by Erik Satie, Johann Sebastian Bach, Heitor Villa Lobos, Francisco Tarrega, Frédéric Chopin, Domenico Scarlatti, Claude Debussy, and Isaac Albeniz.

Click here for the event page on our calendar with more about the performer and the full schedule for fall 2017.

Thanks to gifts from anonymous friends of the series for helping to make this performance possible.

A native of Italy, Catemario was born in Naples. He started his music studies at the age of five and gave his first solo recital at age eleven. He has won first prizes in national and international competitions including the prestigious Andrés Segovia Guitar Competition in Almunecar, Granada.

Catemario will open Thursday’s program with music by Erik Satie, who lived around the turn of the twentieth century. Through his life and music, Satie was reacting against social conventions of his time, said Catemario, adding that he was escaping the common world through drugs.

“His music reflects this world of dream,” said Catemario of Satie. The pieces by Satie on Thursday’s program are extremely fragile and full of reflection, said Catemario. Originally written for piano, they come from two works called Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes.

Even Satie’s titles were dreamlike. Gnossiennes was a word made up by Satie, and though used by others at the time, the meaning of Gymnopédie is unclear. “As a matter of fact, Satie liked to make fun of the words,” said Catemario.

Catemario said on Thursday he will pair Satie’s music, and other pieces with similar sounds and moods, with music whose composers were more concerned with conventions like form, melody, and harmonic progression. He said in doing this he hopes to create what he called “sentimental tension,” or using music to affect the emotions of his audience.

“Performers have a great power,” said Catemario. He said over time he has learned to synthesize what he hears in the music with what people in his audience are feeling. “I recognize in the pieces the structures that can be used to create this kind of tension,” he said.

Catemario compared the ebb and flow of emotional tension and release to building a series of arches, as in architecture. “This idea of balance is extremely common in Italian culture,” he said, pointing out that Italy has many arches. He said he thinks of himself as a storyteller and uses his programs to play that role. “I tell stories with the only thing I know, a collection of sounds,” he added.

Paired with Satie will be a prelude and fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach. Guitar transcriptions of piano music by Romantic composer Frédéric Chopin, a nocturne and waltz, will precede sonatas by Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti.

The audience will hear music by Brazilian Impressionist composer Heitor Villa-Lobos side-by-side with that of Francisco Tarrega, a more conservative Romantic-period composer from Spain. Catemario will finish the program pairing Claude Debussy’s famous and dreamlike “Claire de Lune” with more rhythmic and dramatic music by Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz.

A Little Lunch Music, 10/12/2017: Concert Will Show Classical Guitar’s Spanish Links

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On Thursday, October 12, from noon to 1:00 pm in the Grand Gallery, the series will present a free concert by classical guitarist Dan Kyzer. The program will feature music by Alexandre Tansman, Domenico Scarlatti, Luigi Legnani, and Antonio Lauro. Thanks to anonymous friends of the series for supporting this performance.

Click here for a link to the calendar event page with more about the artist and the full schedule for the series.

Classical guitar music has strong ties to the music and culture of Spain. Thursday’s program will reflect some of that influence.

Two sonatas by Baroque Spanish composer Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) will be on the program. Kyzer said that in some of Scarlatti’s more than 500 piano sonatas, the composer appears to have written passages with the intention of mimicking the sound of guitar strumming.

Though the modern design of the guitar did not exist during Scarlatti’s time, Kyzer said some of Scarlatti’s sonatas show influence from Flamenco, a formalized Spanish music derived from the region’s folk music. Guitar has been a common instrument in Flamenco for centuries.

Kyzer said not all piano pieces work well on guitar, but Scarlatti’s music often does, in part because of the Spanish connection.

Kyzer said he credits the 19th-century Spanish luthier Antonio de Torres for creating the modern design for the guitar. Kyzer said in part, it comes from the oud, a middle-eastern stringed instrument brought to Spain by the Moors in the Middle Ages. He said similar instruments in European music were the Baroque guitar and the lute, but they were smaller and quieter.

According to Kyzer, the ability of a guitarist to produce different kinds of sounds comes in large part form Torres’ design of a large, resonant soundboard. The soundboard is the part of the instrument that is most visible from the audience. It’s the flat piece behind the strings.

“We have this whole sort of color palette that we can use,” said Kyzer. For example, he said he can make subtle changes to the angle of the fingernail on a string, or to how much flesh to combine with the nail. He said these kinds of choices can change the timbre of notes from a breathy clarinet to a tinny trumpet.

“It’s one of the most unique things that we can do on the guitar,” Kyzer said. He referenced virtuoso classical guitarist, Andrés Segovia, also from Spain, who said the guitar could replicate all the orchestral instruments.

“Segovia was the most influential classical guitarist of the twentieth century,” said Kyzer, adding that the virtuoso revolutionized the instrument. Many great performers will pay composers to write works for them. But people would freely write music for Segovia, Kyzer said.

In 1949, Segovia chose to include in his repertoire Alexandre Tansman’s “Cavatina,” a four-movement suite of dances written for the virtuoso. Not satisfied that it ended on a slow movement, Segovia asked the composer to write a fifth, said Kyzer. In deference to guitar royalty, Tansman complied, penning “Danza Pomposa” as the finale. Kyzer will perform the piece Thursday.

Italian violinist and guitarist Luigi Legnani lived during the nineteenth century, in the Romantic Period of music when Torres’ guitar design was becoming popular. Legnani’s “Fantasia, Op. 19,” will be on Thursday’s program. Kyzer said it uses ideas from the Classical Period, about 100 years earlier. He said the composer was looking back, using earlier ways to organize the music with more symmetry and fewer melodic ideas.

Kyzer said this was common for classical guitar composers. They tended to write in slightly older styles compared to those writing in more mainstream genres such as symphony and string quartet. “It’s probably because the instrument was in its infancy,” said Kyzer. He added it was a novelty to write melodies for an instrument that had been used for centuries to strum chords.

Yet another guitar connection to Spain is its prevalence in Latin American music. Venezuela was colonized by Spain in the sixteenth century, gaining independence in the early nineteenth. Kyzer will play dance pieces by Venezuelan 20th-century composer Antonio Lauro.

“I play them because they’re just so pretty,” said Kyzer of Lauro’s works. He said if he had a specialty, it would be finding really interesting themes and really good melodies. He said Lauro’s music fits his M.O.

classical guitarist Dan Kyzer

A Little Lunch Music, 10/5/2017: Jeremy Samolesky to Perform Music from Romantic Period

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On Thursday, October 5, from noon to 1:00 pm, the series will present a free concert by pianist Jeremy Samolesky. The program will feature music by Franz Schubert, Frédéric Chopin, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Johann Sebastian Bach (from the Bach-Busoni editions). Thanks to gifts from Drs. T. and Soma Nagendran and from Anonymous Friends of the Series for helping to make this performance possible.

Thursday’s program will be repeated as a ticketed concert at Auburn University’s Goodwin Hall at 7:30 on October 23. The two Auburn performances will be part of Samolesky’s upcoming tour of six schools in the southeast plus Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York.

Samolesky will play Franz Schubert’s “Klavierstück No. 2 in E-flat major,” written the last year of the young composer’s life in 1828. Also on the program will be Frédéric Chopin’s mid-1830s composition “Ballade No. 1 in G minor,” Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Sonata in E major, Op. 109” from 1820, and a Ferruccio Busoni arrangement of “Chaconne in D minor” for violin by Johann Sebastian Bach.

In the early-to-mid 1800s, the piano began its final development into its modern form. This came at a time when Romantic-Period composers like Chopin and Franz Liszt were writing almost exclusively for the instrument, ushering in a kind of golden age of the piano.

Samolesky said many of the most famous piano pieces are from that time. The Classical Period had all but ended, its music known for musical ideas developed with symmetry and organized into established forms. The Romantic composers broke from that tradition, writing music that was more intense and dramatic, driven by beautiful melodies.

Even Beethoven, whom Samolesky said took Classical forms about as far as they could go, in the end began to abandon those ideas. The “Sonata in E major” was Beethoven’s 30th piano sonata, and began his movement toward romantic and spiritual themes, said Samolesky.

“He’s expressing a new voice,” Samolesky said of the sonata. “The form is still there, but there’s a profound message within the music,” he said, adding that it is nostalgic and more reflective.

During the life of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), the piano was in its infancy. Bach’s keyboard works included music only for harpsichord and organ. But as the piano became more popular, so did Bach’s music. For instance, Samolesky said Liszt arranged of all of Bach’s organ sonatas for piano four-hand.

The Steinway company was founded in 1853 building concert pianos. In the decades that followed, other companies began mass-producing them. More and more, the piano became common in Western homes. Samolesky said with no radio yet to broadcast performances, these arrangements were a way people could enjoy Bach’s music at home.

Busoni, who lived around the turn of the 20th century, was a very famous concert pianist, said Samolesky. “His music was full of extreme virtuosity,” he added. He said pianists like Busoni were literally rock stars of that generation. Also a composer and arranger, Busoni is possibly best-known for his editions of Bach’s music arranged for the piano.

The instruments Bach had to work with, such as the violin and harpsichord, were mostly smaller and limited in their abilities compared to the modern piano. The pianist said for this reason, many might think of Bach’s music as quiet and perhaps unable to express the full range of human emotion. But he said he believes that with access to the modern piano, Bach would have used its full capability. And Busoni would have agreed, judging by his version of the Chaconne.

Samolesky believes that Busoni’s interpretation of the solo violin piece is as romantic in its expression as the masterpieces of Chopin and Liszt. Though Samolesky said Busoni kept the notes and harmonies true to Bach’s original, he uses the full physical and emotional range of the piano to build to a victorious finale.

Chopin’s ballades are his hits, said Samolesky. “They have everything in them,” he said, adding that they are a storytelling journey, with many different moods and characters. Samolesky said that most of the pieces on Thursday’s program display the very Romantic notion of struggle toward redemption at the end. But Chopin’s “Ballade No. 1” is the exception. He said it has the struggle, but “comes crashing down onto a minor chord.”

Samolesky said he enjoys playing the entirety of piano repertoire. But returning to the more famous and dramatic Romantic music is helpful. “I’ve taught most of these pieces, and put together a program of some of my all-time favorites,” he said. He added, “You get a lot of emotional and physical satisfaction from playing Romantic music.”

A Little Lunch Music 9/28/2017: Cello-Piano Duo Will Perform Shostakovich Concerto

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On Thursday, September 28 from noon to 1:00 pm, the series will present a free concert by cellist Laura Usiskin with pianist Ting Li. The program will feature music by Dmitri Shostakovich, Igor Stravinsky, and Johann Sebastian Bach. Thanks to gifts from anonymous friends of the series for helping to make this performance possible.

Click here for the event page with the full calendar for the fall 2017 series.

A Columbia-, Juilliard-, and Yale-educated Chicago native and former Montgomery Symphony Fellow, Usiskin is now based in Birmingham. She teaches at area colleges, is involved in chamber-music projects, and travels to serve as principal cellist with Orchestra Iowa in Cedar Rapids.

In October, she will perform Dmitri Shostokovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 with Orchestra Iowa. Thursday at the museum, she will preview a cello-piano arrangement of it with Li, along with music by Igor Stravinsky.

During Shostokovich’s time, the Soviet Union was a dangerous place for artists and composers. The communist party leaders wanted art and music to be positive and uplifting with nothing that challenged the idea off a strong, stable nation. The composer’s Fifth Symphony, for instance, was celebrated by the party, said Usiskin.

Though Usiskin said the Cello Concerto No. 1 on Thursday’s program is likable, accessible, and cool to listen to, it is not altogether uplifting. She said a former teacher called it The Beast because of its ferocious moments and its massive, monumental feeling. The piece has parts she described as icy, freezing, and “too cold unto death.”

There were three times in Shostokovich’s life when he thought his government would imprison him, or worse. Usiskin said the time right after he composed this concerto was one of those times. And although he did, in fact, see friends and colleagues taken away, nothing happened to him. “He managed to stay in their good graces, but barely,” she said, adding, “There was that tension throughout his compositional life.”

The concerto has four movements, but is played as a continuous piece. The third movement is a seven-minute cadenza, a section performed freely without any other players. “The orchestra fades away, and then it’s just gone,” said Usiskin. She said the movement’s overall theme is quiet and low, but it has a big climax. “The great thing is there’s this wonderful freedom,” she added, “but you have to do everything.”

But Usiskin said the cello is well-suited to solos. She said it has the ability to be played very loudly and very softly, very low and very high. “It can imitate a lot of the orchestra, in a way, while also creating the lonely sense of one person playing,” she added.

Bach composed his six suites for cello in the early 1700s. Usiskin said those were the first major solo pieces for cello. After that, she said it didn’t really catch on until the 20th and 21st century. She said Shostokovich, who wrote this concerto in 1959, wrote well for the instrument’s range of emotion.

Usiskin said the composer had a close relationship with Mstislav Rostropovich, a Soviet virtuoso known for being one of the greatest cellists of the 20th century.

Usiskin has performed throughout North America and Europe in such venues as Alice Tully Hall, Weill Hall, Palazzo Chigi Saracini, Barge Music, and others. She has held orchestral positions with the New Haven Symphony and Jacksonville Symphony, in addition to those with Montgomery and Iowa. Her website is www.laurausiskin.com.

Li earned her Bachelor’s degree, double-majoring in piano performance and vocal performance at Sichuan Conservatory of Music in China. In 2009, she was awarded full scholarship to attend New Mexico State University’s Master’s degree program. She became the first Asian pianist to win the Music Teachers National Association southwest-region piano competition. In 2012, she was admitted to the Collaborative Piano program of the Cleveland Institute of Music.

A Little Lunch Music 9/21/2017: Auburn Native Returns to Sing Art Song, Opera, and More

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On Thursday, September 21 from noon to 1:00 pm, the series will present a free concert by soprano Kathleen Buccleugh with pianist Laurie Middaugh. The program will feature music by Joaquín Rodrigo, Gabriel Fauré, Richard Strauss, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Leonard Bernstein, and selections from musical theater and popular music. Thanks to gifts from anonymous friends of the series for helping to make this performance possible.

Click here for our calendar event page with more information about the artists.

Buccleugh (pronounced like Buckley) said a recent search into her music collection resulted in a program covering a wide range of styles. Thursday’s music will feature art songs by Gabriel Fauré, Joaquín Rodrigo, and Richard Strauss. She will sing a Mozart aria, selections from music theater, and a song by Joni Mitchell. “I wanted to show as much diversity of repertoire that I could,” she said.

French composer Gabriel Fauré’s song cycle 5 Mélodies is nicknamed “de Venise,” because his ideas for the songs were developed during a vacation to Venice. Buccleugh said the music is full of lush harmonies, and the melodies are about as romantic as you can get. “It’s just pouring romance musically and with the words.” she said.

The duo will present Cuatro madrigales amatorios by Joaquín Rodrigo, four songs that set a darker mood. Written in 1947, the composer used sixteenth-century poems. The songs highlight an intense and sometimes painful side of love.

Buccleugh will sing three Richard Strauss songs including “Morgen!” translated “Morning!” a song she said she has wanted to do since she was a student at Auburn High.

The aria “In uomini, in soldati” is sung by the character Despina in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera Così fan tutte. It is a role Buccleugh has played before and will revisit next month in her debut with the Mobile Opera. She has also sung roles with Utah Festival Opera, St. Petersburg Opera, Opera Birmingham, New Rochelle Opera and others.

Buccleugh said singing Mozart is a privilege because his melodies are so beautiful. She said while his musical phrases are exquisite and speak for themselves, that doesn’t mean the text should suffer. “That’s my job as an opera singer, to balance telling the story with serving the music,” she said.

Buccleugh said working in a recital format like this allows her to have fun switching between different styles. She will sing “Will He Like Me?” by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick from the musical, She Loves Me. She said the style allows her some looseness when she interprets the music, even with the option of sometimes speaking rather than singing lyrics. “You can’t sing it like Mozart opera,” she said.

Though Buccleugh said she didn’t have in mind a particular theme for Thursday’s recital, she said love is the theme. But she added that love, in some form or other, is almost always the theme, when it comes to a concert of songs.

These selections show many kinds of love, said Buccleugh. Fauré and Rodrigo’s songs present romantic love in its happy, painful, and sexual expressions. She said Mozart’s Despina sings of a kind of disposable love, fickle and playful.

A song by Leonard Bernstein, “Glitter and Be Gay,” from his operetta Candide, sings of a love of possessions. Buccleugh paraphrased the song, “Times are hard, but I’m being covered in jewels and lavish clothing, so things could be worse.”

soprano Kathleen Buccleugh

soprano Kathleen Farrar Buccleugh

baritone Matthew Hoch

A Little Lunch Music 9/14: AU Faculty Will Tackle Schubert’s Final Song Cycle

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On Thursday from noon to 1 p.m., the series will present a free concert featuring baritone singer Matthew Hoch with pianist Jeremy Samolesky in the Grand Gallery. The duo will perform music by Franz Schubert. Gifts from anonymous friends of the series are helping to make this performance possible.

Click here for the full schedule for A Little Lunch Music and more about the performers.

In addition to a solo piano piece by Schubert, the duo will perform the composer’s final song cycle. Titled “Shwanengesang” and translated “Swan Song,” the publisher released it a few months after Schubert’s death in 1828.

In 2016, Hoch and Samolesky performed Schubert’s first song cycle “Die schöne Müllerin.” Next year, Hoch said they will learn the composer’s second, “Winterreise,” finishing out the composer’s canon of song cycles. “Jeremy and I view this as a rite of passage,” said Hoch.

Hoch said that Samolesky is a fantastic performer of Romantic music, which he added can be difficult to interpret. He said it has an expressive quality that requires a certain looseness that Samolesky can really pull off. “He just has a great way of communicating a piece to an audience so that it makes sense,” said Hoch.

Hoch said he entered music school in college as a saxophonist, but soon became jealous of the singers’ repertoire. He said as a freshman, he heard a concert by famous Dutch soprano Elly Ameling during her farewell tour. “She sang an all-Schubert recital and I was hooked,” he said. Soon after, he switched to study vocal performance.

“Schubert for me is kind of like Shakespeare might be for the English teacher,” said Hoch. “I just find a richness there that I’m never going to get to the bottom of,” he added.

“Schwanengesang” is a collection of fourteen songs that were unpublished when Schubert died at age 31. Hoch said this has caused some debate on the subject of whether it can, in fact, be called a song cycle. Often, a song cycle is a composer’s musical setting of a collection of the work of one poet. This is true of Schubert’s other two cycles, but “Schwanengesang” includes the poems of three poets.

The song cycle’s poets are Ludwig Rellstab, Heinrich Heine, and Johann Gabriel Seidl. Hoch said though there are different poets, the songs are connected by thematic material. He said many of them are in the voice of a man separated from his beloved. Secondly, the idea of a type of character Hoch calls “the wanderer,” common in Romantic German poetry, appears frequently. He also noted the recurrence of melodic ideas.

Rellstab’s work makes up the first seven songs. This group includes the song titled “Ständchen,” translated “Serenade,” which Hoch said is one of Schubert’s most famous melodies. After Rellstab’s poems, Heine’s work makes up the next six songs. Then the final song is the only setting of Seidl’s poetry. “It’s kind of obvious that the publisher put that in to give it some cyclical unity,” Hoch said.

Hoch defends the publisher’s decision to add the third poet. In his program notes, Hoch uses “sinister” to describe the cycle’s second-to-last song, “Der Doppëlganger,” translated “The Wraith.” He described this setting of Heine’s poetry as delivering “a recitative of thrilling terror.”

In contrast, Hoch wrote that the final song with Seidl’s poem “elegantly reflects a more joyful side of the composer’s spirit.” Hoch said it gives listeners a reprieve from the adventurous harmonic language and dark imagery of “Der Doppëlganger.” He said it nicely ties together the full song cycle, even bringing back thematic ideas from the Rellstab poems.

baritone Matthew Hoch

photo credit: Lesley Foote

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