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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

pianist Mary Slaton

A Little Lunch Music 9/7/2017: Mary Slaton Will Open Fall Season

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On Thursday, September 7, from noon to 1 p.m., we will present a free concert as part of our weekly A Little Lunch Music series. The event will feature pianist Mary Slaton in the Grand Gallery, performing her arrangements of popular music going back as far as the 1940s.

Gifts from anonymous friends of the series are helping to make this performance possible.

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

As the museum reopens after renovations, Slaton will kick off the series’ fall schedule. The pianist has had her own re-construction over the summer, having endured a serious injury last March. She said she broke both bones in her forearm and damaged her wrist. For ten weeks, her hand was immobile.

For decades, Slaton has performed and taught piano. She said she specializes in popular music from the 1940s to the 1970s, but her repertoire includes music from the 1930s to present day.

Musician Patrick McCurry coordinates the weekly series. “I was worried when she said she got hurt,” he said. He has heard Slaton many times, sometimes playing saxophone in her trio. He said when he called to book her for the date, she was still unable to play.

But McCurry said Slaton agreed to perform, saying she would use it as a recovery goal. “She plays these rich, lush chords in her arrangements,” said McCurry, adding that piano music like that requires nimble fingers and hands that can stretch far.

But Slaton said practicing turned out to be a good companion to physical therapy. She said the stretching and exercise it requires helped a lot, and she is now able to perform again. “There are certain chords that I still can’t play,” said Slaton. But she added that she is close to a full recovery, and is ready to play Thursday.

Slaton said she built her arsenal of songs from the gigs she played. “When I started playing, a lot of it happened because people would request songs,” she said. If she didn’t know the song, she would say, “Hum a few bars,” and fake it. Then later she would find the music or the recording and learn the tune.

Slaton said when she was playing the most, in the 1970s and 80s in Memphis and then Atlanta, she would try to keep up with the music that was playing on the radio. After that, the requests at her gigs were mostly from those earlier decades.

“I like the oldies,” she said, adding that she is still learning new songs people want to hear.

Slaton worked briefly for a pest control company in Atlanta and for the IRS in Memphis, the worst job she said has ever had. But her lifetime career has been music. After graduating from the University of Montevallo, she taught piano, chorus, and band at Beauregard School and in Tuskegee before moving to Memphis.

As a single mom with a young son, Slaton was earning her Master’s degree at Memphis State University and playing at the Hilton and Hyatt hotels. She would need babysitters when she played at night, and said she once hired Kerrie McCarver, who would become Jerry Lee Lewis’s sixth wife.

Slaton moved to Atlanta to be closer to family, and played for years there at venues like the Omni Hotel, the Hilton, the Atlanta Country Club, and others.

Now living in Opelika since 1995, she is near the Lazenby family farm where she grew up in Beauregard. She has appeared at venues like the now-closed Terra Cotta, the Saugahatchee Country Club, and the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center at Grand National among others. She teaches a private studio and plays at churches and events when called on.

Slaton said being in the music business for so long, she has met a lot of famous and colorful characters. She said people ask her, “Why don’t you write a book,” and she answers, “I’m afraid my son would read it.”

pianist Mary Slaton

On September 7, pianist Mary Slaton will return to present classic songs from 1940s and later.

Serebryany Will Perform Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata

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On Thursday, March 23 from noon to 1:00 pm, the series will present a free concert in the Auditorium by pianist Vadim Serebryany. The concert will feature Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata (Op. 106) and music by Béla Bartók.

A gift by anonymous friends of the series is helping to make this concert possible.

Serebryany will open Thursday’s program with a short, four-movement suite by the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. Typical of Bartók’s work, the piece draws its influence from the folk music of Eastern Europe.

But Bartok is only a warm up. The main event will be Beethoven’s famous Sonata in B-flat, Op. 106. “It’s just really notoriously hard for the pianist,” he said. At 40 minutes long, he added that it can even take some work from the listener.

Serebryany described the sonata, nicknamed “Hammerklavier,” as extremely complex, dense music. For instance, it includes a fugue section that he described as “relentlessly, densely contrapuntal all the way through for ten minutes.” And he said its slow movement is easily Beethoven’s longest, outside of the string quartets he wrote during the same later period of his life.

“His late music is unique as far as how deeply personal it is,” said Serebryany of Beethoven’s last ten years or so of compositions. “It’s not unfair to say that they are all uniquely strange pieces of music,” he added.

Beethoven is often painted as a tortured person. Some connect his complex and intense music with the struggles of his life. But Serebryany doesn’t see it that way.

Serebryany acknowledges Beethoven’s troubled life, especially during the last years. In addition to the composer’s famous loss of hearing which forced him to stop performing, Serebryany noted the extreme toll taken on him by turn-of-the-century European politics.

Beethoven took much hope for mankind from what was happening in France after its revolution, said Serebryany. He said the composer was a great believer in the steps Napoleon was taking, moving forward in the new democracy of the French Republic. But when Napoleon declared himself Emperor in 1804, Serebryany said Beethoven was crushed.

The subsequent Napoleonic Wars that included two campaigns through Austria put further stress on Beethoven, said Serebryany. Though a proponent of universal brotherhood, the composer’s closest friends were in the Viennese aristocracy. The wars forced them to flee the country.

Despite all of this, Serebryany sees Beethoven’s art as less affected by his troubles and more by his artistic temperament. Unlike Beethoven’s contemporary, composer Richard Strauss, who wrote his waltzes in his signature way until the end, Beethoven was always looking for solutions to musical problems, said Serebryany.

“He was the epitome of the idea of never being satisfied,” said Serebryany. “He pushed the boundaries of the harmony he inherited.”

In fact, the “Hammerklavier” sonata was the first piece Beethoven wrote after a ten-year period of producing nothing. Serebryany said Beethoven felt he had nowhere to go, so didn’t see any reason to write anything at all.

But even if Beethoven’s work, and especially his later work, seems at times dark and brooding, Serebryany said there is evidence of hope. He referenced Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony setting of Friedrich Schiller’s poem, “Ode to Joy,” as evidence of the composer’s persistent faith in people’s ability to come together for the sake of a better world.

Serebryany said Beethoven’s life and music support the idea that all was not gloomy for the composer. “Beethoven ultimately doesn’t have a pessimistic worldview,” he said, adding that there are always glimpses of Paradise, even in the intense and complex “Hammerklavier.”

Serebryany has performed in Europe, South America, Australia and throughout the US, Canada and Japan. He has been a guest soloist with the National Arts Center Orchestra, The Kingston Symphony, the Osaka Century Orchestra, and the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra.
In 2005, Serebryany founded Trio+ with violinst Yosuke Kawasaki and cellist Wolfram Koessel. The trio has performed to critical acclaim throughout North America and Japan.
Serebryany is a graduate of the Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto, the Juilliard School and Yale University. From 2008 to 2016, he was professor of music at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, and in 2015 was named Huntingdon’s first ever Belcher-Cheek Artist in Residence. He joined the piano faculty at the Ithaca College School of Music in 2016.

Solo Cellist Will Feature Works Created to Pair with Bach Suite

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Former MSO Fellow Laura Usiskin Will Perform for Museum Series

On March 2 from noon to 1:00 pm, the series will present a free concert in the Grand Gallery by cellist Laura Usiskin. The concert will feature Johann Sebastian Bach’s third cello suite and two pieces commissioned by the performer to complement it.
A gift from Bill and Josie Walsh has helped to make this concert possible.
Composer Peter Susser is on faculty at Columbia University, and was there when Usiskin was earning her undergraduate degree. Composer Patrick Greene wrote “abstractEXTRACTION” a chamber piece Usiskin once played and really liked. Johann Sebastian Bach is arguably the most famous composer in all of western music. Now, the three composers have Usiskin in common.
Motivated by the desire to bring about more music for solo cello, Usiskin contacted Susser and Greene to commission a new piece from each of them. She asked them to use Bach’s third cello suite as inspiration, with the intent to use the new works as companion pieces to the suite. “I wanted to make a cohesive program,” said Usiskin.
Usiskin said it was really interesting how the two new composers were inspired by Bach’s music in similar ways. She said they both used ostinato, which is a note or short sequence of notes that is repeated while harmonic and melodic material change around it.
Also like Bach, Usiskin said the new composers used repeated rhythmic ideas and changed their rhythms, often suggesting a different basic pulse, or meter, from what came before. She said since the new pieces are modern concert pieces, the composers took more liberties with rhythm than Bach did. Bach’s suites were Baroque dance pieces, and so required a more consistent meter for people to dance to.
Usiskin said Susser somewhat paired his six short movements with the six dances in Bach’s third suite. The new composer pays homage in his own Prelude to the famous Prelude from Bach’s first cello suite. Greene’s four movements were less connected to the original structure of Bach’s suites.
Usiskin said she has recently recorded Bach’s third suite and will do the same with Susser and Greene’s pieces as part of a new CD to be released by the end of summer.
A regular performer for A Little Lunch Music since 2010, Usiskin has performed throughout North America and Europe in such venues as Alice Tully Hall, Weill Hall, Palazzo Chigi Saracini, Barge Music, and many others. Recent performances include concertos with the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra and performances of the complete Bach Suites in Los Angeles and Connecticut. She has held orchestral positions with the New Haven Symphony, Jacksonville Symphony, and is currently Principal Cello of the Orchestra Iowa.
From 2011-2013, Usiskin served as Founder and Executive Director of the Montgomery Music Project, a program that provides intensive string-music instruction to underserved children in Montgomery. Based in Birmingham, She is on faculty at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Birmingham Southern College, and STEP Birmingham. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Neuroscience and Behavior from Columbia University, Master of Music from The Juilliard School, and Doctor of Musical Arts from the Yale School of Music.

Pianist Brings Beethoven’s “New” Music to Museum Series

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Lawrence Quinnett Returns to A Little Lunch Music

On February 23 from noon to 1:00 pm, the series will present a free concert in the Grand Gallery by pianist Lawrence Quinnett. The concert will feature Ludwig van Beethoven’s first three piano sonatas. Thanks to Bob Ekelund & Mark Thornton for helping to make this concert possible.

Gifts from Bob Ekelund & Mark Thornton have helped to make this concert possible.

When Beethoven wrote his first sonatas, committing full piano concerts to memory was well on its way to becoming standard practice for pianists. But the music Beethoven wrote was so new and different that many performers refused to do it, said Quinnett. The idea was that no wrong note would be played, honoring the genius of the composer.

Quinnett said even the renowned composer Clara Schumann, who championed Beethoven’s works in her late career, was disparaged by critics for playing his music from memory.

Musicians had good reason to put Beethoven on a pedestal, said Quinnett. Many things about these pieces were markedly different from what came before, challenging music conventions of the time.

And Quinnett said he enjoys challenging himself with the pieces. “All these sonatas are new to me,” he said.

Quinnett said Beethoven had a brilliant mind, and was known for his ability to play difficult music at high tempos. He said Beethoven’s compositions showcased these abilities and that the sonatas display this technique clearly. “They tend to land better at slightly quicker tempos,” said Quinnett.

Beethoven also used a new approach to tempo, said Quinnett. He said though the composer included conventional tempo markings in his music, he didn’t use them in the same way. Not only did Beethoven usually intend the music to be played a bit faster than the tempo markings instructed, he also took liberties with the tempo. When he performed, he made tempo adjustments even during the course of a short musical phrase.

“Contemporaries of Beethoven would say than he rarely played a couple bars the same tempo,” said Quinnett. “He had a sense of freedom with his performances.”

Beethoven’s music is complex, said Quinnett. It makes use of harmonic shifts that hadn’t been heard before and cadenzas, or extended virtuosic passages. Quinnett said Beethoven had a penchant for playing impressive improvised solos, and that the cadenzas he wrote sounded like the music he improvised. Though cadenzas are mostly found in his concertos, Beethoven included one in his third sonata.

Quinnett said in Beethoven’s time, it was commonplace for classical performers to improvise. “There was a culture of improvisation,” he said, adding that it was found not only with Beethoven, but in earlier music as well.

Born in Montserrat, Quinnett has played solo and chamber music in the Caribbean, United Kingdom, and United States. He has judged competitions, given masterclasses, and been featured as performer and pedagogue in festivals including the 2015 Montserrat Music Festival, the Colour of Music Festival, the 2013 Ligeti Symposium, and the Fayetteville Piano Festival. He holds a doctorate from Florida State University and teaches as professor at Livingstone College in Salisbury, NC.

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