Wild Things: Music of Springtime

Given the theme ‘Music of Springtime:’ many ensembles would choose Vivaldi.  Not the Colorado Chamber Players! Given the additional presence of ‘Wild Things,’ is there perhaps also The Rite of Spring?  Not in a chamber music concert, though the CCP did invite bassoonist Josh Baker to remind listeners of that infamous ballet’s opening theme.  In this virtual program from April 24, spring is defined somewhat broadly; perhaps that’s part of the ‘wild’ connection.  What’s certain is that these ‘wild things,’ like those in Maurice Sendak’s beloved book, can be both graceful and intriguing. 

Lily Primus, Harp

In this case, ‘spring’ was not solely blossoms and birdsong.  There was also young harpist Lily Primus, having just spent her freshman year with Rice University’s remote programs.  It’s the springtime of Miss Primus’ career, but she already demonstrates a mature sense of artistry.  This was particularly well showcased in Handel’s Harp Concerto in B-flat major, in which the bright and sparkling notes on the page were delicately dressed with period ornamentation. 

Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Miss Primus was also featured in a sonata for harp and violin by Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745 – 1799). Faced with a less familiar work than the widely beloved Handel, she yet made the most of its elegant lines, joined by violinist Paul Primus, not only her father, but also a familiar face from the Colorado Symphony – and the Colorado Chamber Players.

Andrew Cooperstock, Piano

Another sort of early artistry came with the Piano Sonata no. 1 in f minor, op. 2, no. 1, of Beethoven – not a gentleman one is usually accustomed to thinking of as a neophyte.  Here, however, it is music from 1796, and the composer, not yet thirty, possessed excellent hearing.  Pianist Andrew Cooperstock offered two movements of the sonata, along with introductory comments and demonstrations of some musical fragments for which listeners were urged to keep an ear tuned.  Cooperstock’s subtle variations of tempo and dynamics brought out the colors of early Beethoven, along with hints of the young composer’s future mastery.  After all, the famed Pathetique Sonata would arrive in only three more years, and Cooperstock made clear that Beethoven’s style was already moving forward.

Bohuslav Martinů

Then there was the springtime of new continents.  Czech-born Bohuslav Martinů (1890 – 1959), already in Paris when the Germans arrived in 1940, promptly departed for the US.  There, he met siblings Lillian and Joseph Fuchs, violist and violinist respectively, and composed for them three ‘madrigals’ – not, in this case, vocal works, but rather instrumental duets in which, as in Renaissance madrigals, the musical lines of the different performers are often closely intertwined. 

Paul Primus and Barbara Hamilton

Paul Primus and Barbara Hamilton (viola) presented the first of these madrigals, song-like and restless in turn, the two performers sharing both sides of that equation. 

Less overtly springlike, though neatly contrasting with other elements of the concert, were two solo performances.  Hamilton offered three movements of Bach’s Suite in c minor, BWV 1011, originally for cello, but here on viola.  Dedicating the music to recent losses in the Colorado community, she proved that, with Bach, one can sorrow while also remembering life.  Very different was Cooperstock’s solo piano rendition of Copland’s El Sálon México, by turn spirited and sultry.  In his hands, one scarcely missed the orchestral colors that one might be more accustomed to hearing:  varied flavors and subtleties were still there.

St. Pete Baroque: Dan Urbanowicz, Yuan Yuan Wang, and Scott Kluksdahl

One advantage of a virtual concert is that colleagues can participate at a distance.  Florida-based St. Pete Baroque, known to the Colorado Chamber Players through violist Dan Urbanowicz, performed the Trio Sonata no. 2 in B-flat major by mid-18th century Venetian composer Domenico Gallo.  The composer’s name is likely unfamiliar, though some of the melodies in Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella, theoretically derived from works by Giovanni Pergolesi (1710 – 1736), were actually written by Gallo.  So the requisite Italian Baroque characteristics were there:  sunniness, serenity, and effusion in turn.  Gallo’s work demands close interaction and response between players, and the ensemble – Yuan Yuan Wang, violin; Scott Kluksdahl, cello; and Urbanowicz, not on standard viola, but on the more richly voiced viola d’amore – offered a seamless performance.

Dan Urbanowicz

Urbanowicz also filled other roles in the concert.  Aptly dubbed by Barbara Hamilton as “video editor extraordinaire,” he embraced the task of compiling the various filmed performances and spoken introductions into a single cohesive program.  Moreover, the last performance on the concert was solely his.  In 2005, American composer/violist Kenji Bunch (b. 1973) composed his The 3 Gs for utterly solo viola, with no accompaniment whatsoever.  As Urbanowicz explained in his spoken introduction, the title derives from the scordatura tuning that Bunch chose, with the first, third, and fourth strings all tuned to G in different octaves, whereas the second string is tuned to D.  Urbanowicz added that the playing style includes some rock and strumming effects, and noted that the overall effect is “eccentric and wild.”  What he might have added is that it is also endearingly quirky, especially in this performance.  Drawing upon his video editing skills, Urbanowicz incorporated visual color and humor that suitably embellished the notes upon the page.   What in a static stage performance might have turned out to be rather dry became instead a delightful finale.

Composer Kenji Bunch

Throughout the pandemic, the Colorado Chamber Players has kept in touch with audiences through deft use of virtual resources.  Well up to the usual high standard, this concert served as a fulfilling reminder of the role that fine music can fill in hearts and minds.  Music is still with us – and ever will be.  If one is not already on the CCP contact list for news of upcoming performances, now might be the time to join!

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