Friday, March 07, 2008

This weekend: Brentano Quartet & pianist Imogen Cooper

It's another weekend of extraordinary artists performing great music at Spivey Hall. Since announcing the 2007/08 season more than a year ago, I've long been awaiting this pair of performances.

We're honored to have the Brentano String Quartet back to Spivey Hall tomorrow (Saturday, March 8, 2008 at 8:15 PM). Their program opens with Mendelssohn's F-minor Quartet Op. 80 (among his final works before his premature death, following the loss of his beloved sister, Fanny) and closes with Beethoven's incomparable Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 127 -- a work that astonishes me every time I encounter its power and eloquence --
Beethoven at his best. Brentano first violinist Mark Steinberg has written extensive and very revealing program notes for both quartets, which will certainly inform listeners' understanding of the Brentano Quartet's interpretation of these masterworks.

So, serious works to start and finish. We may expect full-blooded, passionate performances from the Brentanos, who win accolades everywhere they go. In between the Mendelssohn and Beethoven, we'll hear the Southeast premiere of a recent work, commissioned by Music Accord (a consortium of music organizations dedicated to enriching the repertoire with new music) expressly for the Brentano String Quartet, written by Bay-Area composer Gabriela Lena Frank. It's entitled Quijotadas, and is inspired by Cervantes' tales of Don Quixote (or in alternative orthography, Don Quijote). Ms. Frank writes of her quartet:

Quijotadas (2007) for string quartet is inspired by El Ingenioso Hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616). Widely considered the birth of the modern novel, this tale satirizes post-Conquest Spain by relating the story of a middle-aged lesser nobleman who undertakes absurd adventures in pursuit of romantic — and seriously outdated — knightly ideals. Cervantes’ brilliant and colorful social commentary still reverberates for us today.

Quijotadas, which is Spanish for extravagant delusions wrought in the Quixotic spirit, is in five movements. They are:

Alborada: Traditionally a Spanish song of welcome or beginnings, this is in the style of music for the chifro, a small high-pitched wooden panpipe played with one hand. It is often employed by a traveling guild worker to announce his services as he walks through the streets of town.

Seguidilla: This free interpretation of the spirited dance rhythms of Don Quijote’s homeland of La Mancha also evokes two typical instruments – the six-stringed guitar, and its older cousin, the bandurria, which finds its origins in Renaissance Spain.

Moto Perpetuo: La Locura de Quijote: This movement is inspired by an early chapter in the novel that describes Don Quixote sequestering himself in his hacienda, reading nothing but novels of chivalry, the pulp fiction of his time. The teasing promises of grandeur make him dizzy and he eventually goes mad.

Asturianada: La Cueva: The style of this traditional mountain song (whereby a young male singer issues forth calls that rise and fall with great emotion and strength) is used to paint a portrait of the Cave of Montesinos. In an important episode of the novel, Don Quijote fantasizes about the legendary hero Montesinos trapped under enchantment in a highland cave.

La Danza de los Arrieros: Throughout the tale, Don Quijote constantly rubs up against arrieros (muleteers) who, for Cervantes, are the embodiment of reality in contrast to Don Quijote’s fantasy world. The encounters with these roughnecks are always abrupt and physical, usually resulting in a sound thrashing for Quijote. Each beating brings him closer to reality, and in the end, he must poignantly reconcile himself to the fact that his noble ideals do not find a hospitable home in the contemporary world.

I look forward to hearing this work with great interest, and expect that Quijotadas, heard after the Mendelssohn and before the Beethoven, will make this program both expansive and rewarding listening.

Coincidentally, Spivey Hall audiences will hear another new work by Gabriela Lena Frank later this season: renowned guitarist Manuel Barrueco and the celebrated Cuarteto Latinoamericano will give the Georgia premiere of her Inca Dances on Saturday, May 3, 2008 at 8:15 PM. This work was commissioned by the Baltimore Classical Guitar Society in honor of its 20th Anniversary. Mr. Barrueco lives and teaches in Baltimore, and the piece will be heard there on April 19th, so I'll be keen to learn more about it (we are again promised a program note by Ms. Frank).

Gabriela Lena Frank is a remarkable person as well as a highly accomplished and successful composer -- learn more about her life and her music at

Also tomorrow (Saturday, March 8, 2008), at 11:00 AM, the wonderful British pianist Imogen Cooper gives a master class here, working with three pianists on matters of technique and interpretation in music of Schubert, Mozart and Beethoven, prior to her Spivey Hall recital debut on Sunday, March 9, 2008 at 3 PM. (I believe this is also her Atlanta debut.) She offers us a beautiful program devoted principally to Viennese Classical composer Franz Schubert: his four Impromptus, D.935, and his magnificent Sonata in A major, D.959 (another final work from a composer who died tragically young), both favorites for those who love the piano repertoire.

Imogen Cooper has earned consistent praise for her deeply considered and insightful interpretations of Schubert. Recording enthusiasts prize her critically-acclaimed six CDs on the Ottavo label dedicated to all the piano sonatas of Schubert's last six years, for which the pianist has also written superb CD-booklet essays.

I first knew of Imogen Cooper from Sir Neville Marriner (music director of the Minnesota Orchestra in the early days of my career in orchestra management) and finally heard her perform a decade ago in Australia, where she is a regular and welcome guest. Like Richard Goode and Christian Zacharias (both of whom we've heard here in recent seasons), she is an immensely thoughtful pianist who loves the central European repertoire (Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schubert, Brahms). She appears as soloist with the best international orchestras, and is an avid recitalist in leading music venues around the world, including, of course, Wigmore Hall; she is also well known to people who love good singing for her marvelous Lieder collaborations (in concert and recording) with baritone Wolfgang Holzmair (who has previously performed at Spivey Hall with a different pianist).

Imogen Cooper is without question a virtuoso -- not in flashy, extravagant or grandiose ways, but in masterful, musical, strong, subtly expressive, deeply satisfying ways that faithfully evoke the spirit of the composer, as I'm sure we will hear in her master class and her recital. We're delighted to welcome her to Spivey Hall, and grateful for the kind cooperation of one of our international consular partners, the British Consulate-General in Atlanta, to celebrate her debut. With The Friends of Spivey Hall, the Consulate-General is graciously co-hosting a post-concert reception in her honor. The reception will be held in the Spivey Hall lobby, and the entire audience is cordially invited to attend.


Post a Comment

<< Home