Spoleto Music Festival Offers Array of Talent

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein, Violist Hsin-Yun Huang, Flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, Pianist Pedja Muzijevic and Violinists Geoff Nuttall and Daniel Phillips performed three exhilarating pieces Saturday during the Spoleto Music Festival USA.

The Bank of America Chamber Music concert at the gorgeous and newly restored Dock Street Theatre, Charleston, SC, began with Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) Serenade for Flute, Violin and Viola in D major, op. 25. Daniel, Tara and Hsin-Yun were animated during the lively variety of stylistic, short and tightly structured movements. Their facial expressions in the back and forth musical conversations created a relaxed and fun atmosphere. The audience was drawn into their loquacious moments expressed with their eyes and smiles. Even Tara showed the audience how to “rock” a flute with her energizing body language in between her gorgeous trills and more subdued tones. Before they began, she had described the final movement as “unbuttoned” and all three became “unbuttoned” as though they kicked off their shoes and danced through the night.

The second piece on the concert program was by Composer John Cage (1912-1992). His Third Interlude and Sonata V were interesting because they require a two- to three-hour preparation of the piano itself, involving elaborate placement within the piano’s strings of screws and bolts, 15 pieces of rubber, four pieces of plastic, six nuts and one eraser. Geoff Nuttall explained to the audience that John had toured with a dance company and only had a piano, so he re-created his own sound. When Pianist Pedja Muzijevic played the first few notes on the small, prepared piano, the audience was excited to hear a one-man band. Sounds included drums and chimes and a note or two of piano. The brief piece garnered a lot of applause and curious attention at the end of the concert when children (and many adults, including me) went onstage to view the inside of the reconstructed piano.

The final piece of the concert was Ernest Chausson’s (1855-1899) Piano Quartet in A major, op. 30. Chausson grew up among artistic people and studied and hung out with Jules Massenet (1842-1912), César Franck (1822-1890) and Richard Wagner (1813-1883), all an interesting blend of musical tastes and styles, which Chausson incorporated into his own work. He wrote this particular piece in less than a month in 1897 and it is a vivacious, grand piece. Pedja, Geoff, Hsin-Yun and Alisa could hardly remain still as they performed with passion—passion for the music and for the moment. Alisa melded with her cello, hugged it to her as if it was a part of her.

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein (photo: Jamie Jung)

The Quartet is in four movements—Animé, Très calme, Simple et sans hâte and Animé—and can be compared to a ship at a stormy sea. The first movement is like the stormy waves thrashing against the ship, but the ship remains in control. The second movement opens with the soft, deep voice of the viola, accompanied by the piano. The violin and cello eventually join them, the waters of the sea have calmed and they are telling each other the tale of how they survived. The third movement opens with the cello and the music conversation is a bit lighter. The final movement is stormy again, almost chaotic. Yet, there is both a grace and intensity in Chausson’s music and in the performers. For a moment, the waters were calm and serene, then the musicians had to ride out the storm toward shore once again. The conclusion was rousing and thrilling, and the audience responded with a grand applause. The performers returned to the stage twice for bows.

The Spoleto Festival continues through June 12 with more Chamber Music concerts featuring other notable artists such as Pianist Inon Barnatan, Violinist Livia Sohn and Soprano Elizabeth Futral. Most of these concerts are at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. for $25-$40. If you can make at least one, you’ll be glad you did!

Have you already been to the Festival? What did you enjoy most?

Spoleto’s Bank of America Chamber Music




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