Friday, March 13, 2009

Celtic music from The Boys of the Lough -- and Swiss winds

We're getting a jump on St. Patrick's Day celebrations with the BOYS OF THE LOUGH on Saturday night. A good time will be had by all. The Boys are great fun. They spin terrific tunes and tell tales in their charmingly low-key way. Dave Richardson, from Northumberland, plays mandolin, cittern, English concertina, and button accordion; he also composes. Kevin Henderson is a prize-winning fiddler from the Shetland Islands. Cathal McConnell, who hails from County Fermanagh, plays flute and whistle and performs vocals, and is a truly legendary figure in traditional Irish music. Brandon Begley, "a genial giant from the Dingle peninsula in County Kerry," plays button accordion and melodeon and supplies vocals. Malcolm Stitt, originally from the Scottish Highlands, is a guitarist barely out of his 20s who adds to the Boys (according to one reviewer) "youthful rhythmical fizz."

What's amazing to realize is that the Boys (the first full-time professional Celtic band to arise on the international scene) have toured in the USA more than 70 (!!) times, and their performances and recordings have been spread over five decades. "True originals coming directly from the tradition," reads their bio, "the Boys have earned respect on both sides of the Atlantic and continue to act as role models for countless younger musicians. Their concerts, recordings, and compositions have been crucial in bringing about the current explosion of interest in all facets of Celtic music."

The Boys are no strangers to Spivey Hall. I really enjoyed them last time there were here and invited them back. I hope their many fans, throughout metro Atlanta and beyond, will abandon their television sets, rise from their couches, head to our beautiful jewel of a hall where superb acoustics and close proximity to the stage enable artists and audiences to really connect, and enjoy excellent Celtic music in the congenial company of the Boys Saturday night (March 14) at 8:15 PM. Or, in simple terms, "Y'all come!"

Sunday afternoon at 3 PM, the focus shifts to Switzerland, when we welcome the SWISS WIND QUINTET. Two of these musicians are native Swiss, and the other three have made Switzerland their home working as professional musicians in leading Swiss ensembles. They're going to perform a 1967 Wind Quintet by Swiss composer Jost Meier (whose opera The Dreyfus Affair was performed by New York City Opera in 1996) -- and it just so happens that Sunday is Mr. Meier's 70th birthday. Also on the program are Ligeti's Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet, one of the best 20th-century works for this combination of instruments and always intriguing to hear.

The Swiss Wind Quintet is joined by Clayton State University's faculty pianist and Director of Keyboard Activities, MICHIKO OTAKI, for a work of German Romanticism by Ludwig Thuille -- his Sextet for Piano and Winds, Op. 6, which will be a happy discovery if you've never heard it -- very gratifying; and, to open the program, Mozart's Quintet in E-flat major for Piano and Winds.

I have a special fondness for the Mozart Quintet. My mother wanted me play the French horn, so I took up the instrument as a third grader in my public elementary school's music program, with free prviate lessons (not such a common opportunity these days). To give me an idea of how the French horn could really sound, she sat me down next to our Magnavox stereo console and made me listen to Dennis Brain's Angel recording of the Mozart Quintet, an LP that included Mozart's D-major Horn Concerto. At first, the Quintet didn't make much sense to me, but I always admired the warm, rounded, elegant horn playing of Dennis Brain. Ultimately, it took root.

The Mozart Quintet and Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite both had a major influence on my earliest classical-music consciousness, followed by my teenaged discoveries of recordings of the Bach Brandenburg Concertos, the Schubert C-major String Quintet with Pablo Casals, and Brahms' Double Concerto, which (still as a horn player) I performed with our community orchestra and members of the Guarneri String Quartet. If I can point to any one single event that led me to a career in music, it was this Brahms Double Concerto experience. I was hooked.

So -- back to the future -- Mozart and much more on Sunday, when we also welcome the new Consul General of Switzerland, Mr. Claudio Leoncavallo, for his first Spivey Hall concert. (I'm curious to learn if he's related to Verismo composer Ruggiero Leoncavallo, whose one-act opera, Pagliacci, ranks high in my pantheon of Italian operas.) The Swiss Consulate General in Atlanta is very generously hosting a post-concert reception in honor of the Swiss Wind Quintet, whose US tour is supported by the Swiss Arts Council, Pro Helvetia (which graciously welcomed me to Switzerland last summer for a study tour of the Swiss music scene -- a wonderful experience I have yet to blog, all my good intentions notwithstanding). Prior to the 3 PM concert, Dr. Otaki and her Dept. of Music colleague, Dr. Kurt-Alexander Zeller, are giving a free talk at 2 PM about the program. I expect Dr. Otaki will illustrate some of the highlights of the Mozart and/or and Thuille at the piano, which is a great way to appreciate some musical moments of interest in the performance that follows.

Next weekend: Guitarist John Williams (March 21 at 8:15) - sold out. Pianist Murray Perahia (March 22 at 3 PM) - sold out. If you want to attend but don't have tickets, call the box office to put your name on the wait list, since tickets do sometimes become available closer to the day of the performance.


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