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CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL – All Concerts at Academy Art Museum (106 South St.)
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Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival 2024

This year’s Festival is generously sponsored by
The Paul M. Angell Family Foundation
Norman and Ellen Plummer

Chesapeake Music is grateful for their support.

All program selections are subject to change.

Festival Firsts

Program Notes for June 7, 2024

Richard Strauss
Sextet for Strings from Capriccio, Op. 85, TrV 279a

Richard Strauss set his last opera Capriccio (1941-42) in the aristocratic milieu of 1775. In keeping with this date and setting, he returned to composing in a lush, tonal style. This Sextet for Strings opens the opera and serves both as its prelude and as the opera’s first plot device. As the curtain rises, the audience realizes that musicians are, in fact, performing a chamber work, one written by Flamand, a composer seeking the affection of the opera’s main character, the Countess Madeleine. She has been pondering the aesthetic question of whether words or music better express deep emotions. Although she cannot decide, the warmth and brightness of the twelve-minute sextet, offered as Flamand’s declaration of love, seems to give proof that Strauss believed music to be the supreme art form.

In the opening measures, the first violin introduces a beautiful motif that is passed among the players and that will recur throughout the sextet. A mysterious section follows, beginning with bowed tremolo strings, and its theme, in minor, is developed with a contrapuntal richness that is elegantly distributed and balanced among the six players. In the closing section, the theme again calmly returns, now in the major. Throughout the sextet, Strauss intertwines the six strings in opulent harmonic textures that hint at both Mozartian classical refinement and lush late Romanticism.

Clara Schumann
Piano Trio in G Minor, Opus 17

Clara Wieck Schumann, well-known as a concert pianist, wrote her only piano trio in 1846, during a period when she needed to remain at home due to her fourth pregnancy and the illness of her husband, the composer Robert Schumann. The Piano Trio was her first mature attempt at writing for forces other than voice and piano, and in the trio, she successfully experimented with the creation of musical lines in counterpoint. Today the Piano Trio is often considered to be the masterpiece among her compositions.

The energetic Allegro first movement is in sonata form. It begins softly with a somber yet lyrical first melody followed by a second that is lighter and syncopated. Throughout the movement, the three instruments are well balanced, each having its own soloist turn. The Scherzo second movement is a rustic yet lighthearted minuet with the violin playing the main theme accompanied by the cello’s pizzicatos and the piano’s chords. By contrast, the middle section  is more lyrical. The piano begins the tender Andante third movement, and its melody is taken up by the violin. This is followed by a pathos-infused, contrasting middle section in the minor. The trio concludes with a dramatically contrapuntal Allegretto Finale with a foreboding first theme followed by one that sounds more optimistic.

Franz Schubert
String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor “Death and the Maiden,” D. 810

Franz Schubert was seriously ill and aware that he would die when he composed his String Quartet No. 14 in 1824. The quartet’s name, “Death and the Maiden,” comes from the theme of the second movement which Schubert took from a song of that title that he had written in 1817. In the song, a terror-stricken girl begs Death to pass her by. Although the music is preoccupied with death, it is also highly passionate and compelling. 

The many mood shifts in the first movement suggest a monumental struggle with death. Two themes are introduced, the first aggressive, the second lyrical, and the music shifts between fast fortissimo and slow pianissimo: violence and quiet, despair and joy. In the Andante movement, the “Death and the Maiden” theme is developed in five variations of differing emotional coloration – some lyrical and some agitated. Schubert again creates dramatic shifts in volume and tempo. The highly syncopated Scherzo third movement seems demonic. Although the Trio section momentarily offers a peaceful respite, this is undone by the frenzy of the Presto Finale. This movement is a tarantella, the traditional dance to ward off madness and death. By the end of the movement, the key has modulated to the major, suggesting triumph over death. But the music suddenly returns to the minor and an abrupt, tragic conclusion.

Program Notes for June 8, 2024

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Duo for Violin and Viola No. 1 in G Major, K. 423

The 27-year-old Mozart composed this duo and another in 1783 for his friend Michael Haydn to complete a set of six that had been ordered by Haydn’s employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg. Haydn had fallen seriously ill before completing the set, and the archbishop had threatened to cut his salary until the duos were finished. Mozart quickly completed the set, and the six duos were presented as all being by Haydn. Mozart played both the violin and the viola and, in this duo, has decidedly elevated the partnership status of the viola, treating both instruments equally and creating interesting dialogues, often in counterpoint, between the two.

The violin begins the Duo for Violin and Viola with descending scales that will become a repeated motif throughout the first movement. This Allegro movement is full of high spirits and unflagging energy with the two strings conversing as equals in a “call and response” commentary. Both strings share equally in the opening melody of the lyrical and poignant Adagio, which employs the lilting rhythm of the pastoral “siciliano” dance, developed in sparkling variations. In both this movement and the energetic Allegro Finale, the violin and viola take turns playing the main themes, leading to a more emotional middle episode in the Adagio and a brilliant alternation of contrasting ideas in the Allegro.

Reena Esmail
Zeher (Poison) for String Quartet

The American composer Reena Esmail composed Zeher (Poison) in 2018 at a time when she was suffering breathing difficulties and severe pain from a pernicious case of strep throat. The work was commissioned by the string quartet Brooklyn Rider, and the first recording came out in March 2020, at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. Because, as Esmail has stated, “a virus would render so many people unable to breathe…the piece would take on a new meaning, a more urgent call for healing.”

“Zeher” is the Hindustani word for “poison,” and Esmail, who studied Hindustani classical music in India, often combines Indian and Western musical traditions in her music. This piece employs two Hindustani raags (melodic frameworks associated with moods): the first, Todi, is dark and mysterious; the second, Bhimpalas, is more accessible and stable, if still mournful. These create two contrasting textures, one intense and arpeggiated, the other sustained with long-held instrumental lines (drones). At the end of the piece, after the first violin and cello have traded ornate figurations that are punctuated by the second violin and viola, the discordant Todi melody in the cello is slowly overtaken by the calming Bhimpalas melody in the violins. All four strings reach a sustained harmony and resolution, ornamented by a glissando in the first violin, creating the feeling of release and healing.

Franz Schubert
Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major, D. 898

Schubert composed his Piano Trio in B-flat in 1827, a year before his death. Despite his knowledge that he would die, the B-flat major Trio is nevertheless a lively, lyrical work and one notable for its sheer melodic inventiveness throughout all four movements.

The trio opens with a jubilant and tuneful Allegro moderato. The first theme comes from the piano with staccato accompaniment from the strings. A second theme is introduced by the cello and offers a lyrical contrast. The beautiful second movement is lullaby-like, with the melody moving from cello to violin before being passed among all three instruments. A more agitated section intervenes before the calmly swaying melody returns. The Scherzo Allegro third movement contrasts a ländler (an Austrian rambunctious folk-dance) with a more refined waltz in the Trio section, again with the violin and cello trading the main melody. The Rondo Finale is also dance-like and returns to the cheerfulness of the first movement. The principal theme, however, appears to be derived from an earlier song by Schubert (“Skolie,” D. 306). The song’s text reads in part: “take delight in the brief life of the flower, before its fragrance disappears,” a poignant sentiment, perhaps, of Schubert’s all-too-short life. Nevertheless, just as the music seems to be fading away, Schubert ends the trio merrily with an exuberant Presto coda.

Program Notes for June 9, 2024

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel
String Quartet in E-flat Major

Like her brother, Felix Mendelssohn, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel was an extraordinarily gifted musician and composer. Although during her lifetime it was generally considered unbecoming for a married woman, especially one of the upper classes, to seek a career as a composer, she was encouraged to do so by her husband, the painter Wilhelm Hensel. Her work, however, was mostly unpublished. She wrote the lyrically elegant and poignant String Quartet in E-flat Major in 1834, based in part on an abandoned piano sonata that she had been working on five years earlier. Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s life was cut short at the age of 41 due to complications from a stroke.

Somewhat unusually, the quartet opens in a serious, albeit elegant vein with a slow-movement Adagio. The dramatic major melody is heightened by forceful chords and the pizzicato of the cello. The lilting opening theme of the second movement Allegretto darkens in the center with fervent, almost Baroque-style counterpoint before returning to the initial theme. The following lengthy Romanze is melancholic and full of longing, and seems intensely personal as if illustrative of the composer’s inner thoughts. The concluding Allegro is, as marked, “very lively,” and bursts with energy. An opening whirling theme alternates with a more lyrical but still energetic second theme, all leading to a brisk and decisive ending.

Franz Schubert
Fantasia for Piano Four-Hands in F Minor, D. 940

Composed in 1828, the last year of Franz Schubert’s short life, Fantasia for Piano Four-Hands in F Minor is considered one of his greatest and most original works – a composition of extraordinary depth and emotional power. The piece is notable for the many shifts between major and minor keys that conjure the contrasting emotions of happiness and sadness without any definite resolution. A musical “Fantasy” is, by its nature, a deeply personal creation, and this one reveals the emotional extremes of Schubert’s anger and resignation brought on by his terminal illness and possibly by the unrequited love for his aristocratic student, Countess Caroline Esterházy, to whom the work was dedicated.

The four movements of the Fantasia are interconnected and played without pause. Opening the piece is a beautiful, albeit melancholy melody that transitions to a more agitated second melody that seems almost funereal. The stormy second movement reverses the structure of the first. The movement begins with a turbulent theme that gives way to a gentler, lyrical second theme. Following is the bright and lively, waltz-like Scherzo third movement. The Allegro Finale restates the first movement’s first theme before transitioning into a powerful fugue based on its second theme. The fugue builds to a tense false climax, stops abruptly, and the first theme returns, building rapidly before subsiding quietly.

Ernö Dohnányi
Piano Quintet No. 1 in C Minor, Opus 1

The Hungarian Ernö Dohnányi published most of his compositions using the German form of his name, Ernst von Dohnányi. He wrote his Piano Quintet No. 1 in 1895 at the age of 17 while he was a student at the Music Academy in Budapest. By chance, it came to the attention of Johannes Brahms, who was so impressed by the work that he arranged for it to be performed that year in Vienna with Brahms himself at the piano. Highly Romantic in style, the quintet displays brilliant counterpoint and, indeed, this youthful work is now considered a masterwork of the first order.

The passionate opening Allegro is a march with an expansive main theme in a minor key. The second movement is a lively, dance-like Scherzo with an aria-like Trio section. Beautiful lyrical melodies enrich the third-movement Adagio. The plaintive main theme is first given to the viola alone with soft piano accompaniment and then becomes a duet with the first violin until the cello enters to add even greater depth. The triumphant Allegro animato Finale is an “animated” rondo, as marked, with a waltz-like second theme introduced by the cello. This becomes a lyrical fugue of dazzling beauty. Near the end of the movement, the main theme from the first movement returns bringing the quintet to a joyful conclusion.

Program Notes for June 13, 2024

Franz Joseph Haydn
Symphony No. 104 in D Major “London,” Hob. I:104, (arr. Johann Peter Salomon for Flute, String Quartet, and Piano)

The violinist, conductor, and impresario Johann Peter Salomon (1745-1815) brought Franz Joseph Haydn to London in 1791-92 and 1794-95, engagements that resulted in Haydn’s twelve “London Symphonies.” The last of these in D Major, known as the “London,” dates to early 1795 and was the last symphony that Haydn would write. With Haydn’s permission, Salomon arranged this symphony and the other eleven in 1796-97 for the chamber music forces of flute, string quartet, and piano.

The work begins with a darkly dramatic fanfare that gives way to a fast-paced section built from two related themes. After some charming variations, the development of these two subjects becomes powerful and builds to an intense climax. The second movement begins tranquilly with the strings in the major key and then swells to an aggressive middle section in the minor before reprising the opening theme and giving prominence to the flute. A boisterous Minuet and a cheerful Trio comprise the third movement. Three times in the playing of the Minuet, Haydn plays a joke by breaking off a trill and plunging the movement into silence. The Finale is spirited and the principal theme is based on a Slavonic folk tune. To early London audiences, this tune seemed reminiscent of a contemporary street vendor song, and therefore the appellation “London” was gradually given to the work.

Pietro Bottesini
Andante and Variations for Flute, Clarinet, and String Quartet

Pietro Bottesini was a prolific composer whose music favored the creation of beautiful melodies much in the “bel canto” manner of his nearly exact contemporaries, Gioachino Rossini and Gaetano Donizetti. The exact date of his Andante and Variations for Flute, Clarinet, and Strings – performed tonight by a string quartet – is not known, but it was published in 1831 and was presumably composed not long before. The work showcases the flute and clarinet as soloists with the string quartet serving mostly as an accompaniment.

During the work’s lengthy Andante introduction, first the clarinet and then the flute take turns playing song-like melodies reminiscent of bel canto “coloratura” arias. They then come together in a beautiful, somewhat mournful operatic-style duet played in close harmony. Following the Andante introduction, the flute and clarinet together initiate a lilting main theme (the tema), which is then developed in four lively and highly melodic variations. The first two and the last are spirited, fast-paced Allegros. The first variation is given to the flute and the second to the clarinet, and, again, they join together for the concluding variation. By contrast, the third variation, played at a more moderate tempo and in a minor key, is once again a seemingly mournful lament first introduced by the flute and then joined in dialogue by the clarinet.

Johannes Brahms
Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major, Opus 8

In 1854, at the age of 21, Brahms composed his first piano trio, the Opus 8 in B major. 35 years later, in 1889, he significantly revised the work, in order, in his words, to “trim away its youthful excesses.” The revision is distinct enough from the 1854 version that it might be considered his fourth piano trio. Scored for piano, violin, and cello, it is this latter version that we hear tonight.

The first movement opens with a beautiful but majestic theme played first by the piano and then joined by the cello until all three instruments are playing almost in hymn-like unison. A contrasting second theme enters, and the two themes evolve into an animated development. The second movement Scherzo is sparkling and at times energetic, but this is counterbalanced by a warm, lullaby-like middle Trio section. The peaceful third movement Adagio offers a dialogue between the piano and strings before a plaintive middle-section melody is given to the cello to be beautifully answered by the piano. The cello begins the Finale in a deceptively quiet mood, introducing the main theme that has a Hungarian folk-music character. The second theme, introduced by the piano, is more lyrical, but the movement soon builds powerfully. After a quietly reflective passage, the work comes to a fast-paced and ringing conclusion.

Program Notes for June 14, 2024

Luigi Boccherini
String Quintet in A Major, Opus 29, No. 4, G. 316

The composer Luigi Boccherini was also a virtuoso cellist, and it is therefore not surprising that he brought the cello to prominence by pioneering a new musical genre, the string quintet, that featured two cellos. In these quintets, the first cello assumes a somewhat soloist status, performing with a string quartet accompaniment. Boccherini had settled in Spain in 1770 to be in the service of King Philip V’s youngest son, for whom he composed the eight Opus 29 string quintets in 1779. Notable for their melodic and rhythmic inventions, they represent the peak of Boccherini’s career as a composer. Tonight’s second cellist, Marcy Rosen, has a long history with Boccherini’s challenging quintets. She began playing them at the age of 18 at the famed Marlboro Music Festival and later performed and recorded several quintets as a member of the Boccherini Ensemble.

The Allegro, Menuetto, and Presto movements of the A major string quartet are characterized by lightness and charm, typical of the elegant and accessible “galante” style popular in the second half of the 18th century. The extended slow third movement Largo, marked Cantabile, segues seamlessly into the fast-paced but short Finale. Boccherini marked this last movement “Il ballo tedesco” (the German dance), essentially a Baroque-era inspired allemande that has been modernized with folk and popular dance rhythms and character.

Kenji Bunch
Vesper Flight for Flute and Piano

The Oregon-born violist and composer Kenji Bunch was inspired to write Vesper Flight in 2021 after reading an essay by Helen Macdonald titled “The Mysterious Life of Birds Who Never Come Down,” published in her book, Vesper Flights. This essay is about the common Vaux swifts that migrate through Portland and that can ascend to extreme heights beyond human vision, especially at night. Tonight’s flutist, Tara Helen O’Connor, commissioned the work in memory of her parents and, in turn, Bunch dedicated the work to her “with deep gratitude.”

Although the flute clearly evokes the birds and their flight in the evening sky, there is considerable melancholy, even anguish in both the flute and piano parts. Kenji Bunch has said of this piece: “the swifts appear to even partially sleep while they are high up in the sky. This phenomenon … and the rich potential for metaphor in this time of loss and upheaval were the inspiration behind my new work.” Toward the end of the piece, Bunch alludes to part of Henry Purcell’s “Evening Hymn,” specifically the melody to which Purcell set the lines: “Now that the sun has veil’d his flight and bid the world good night … Then to thy rest, O, my soul!” With the last soft, mysterious high note of the piano, the swifts are gone.

Competition Winners

Rebecca Clarke
Piano Trio

British-born violist and composer Rebecca Clarke spent much of her life in the United States. Faced with the then prevailing prejudice against women composers, she submitted in competition her two best works, Viola Sonata (1919) and tonight’s Piano Trio (1921) under the pseudonym “Anthony Trent.” Today Clarke’s music is becoming better known and is praised for its use of modernistic harmonies, intense emotionality, and rhythmic complexity.

The Piano Trio opens darkly with the piano playing fortissimo chords imitating clanging bells, all over a sustained chord in the strings. (Clarke will dramatically transform this theme, what she called the “motto,” in cyclical form throughout all three movements.) The strings then pick up the theme and bring it to a climax before a pianissimo trumpet-like lyrical second theme appears, and the movement enters a long development leading to a striking coda. The slow, second movement reprises variations of both themes, albeit here played softly and sinuously by the muted strings against a shimmering piano accompaniment. The vigorous Finale introduces a new theme with an Asian folk character that alternates with recurrences of the two previous themes, leading to an energetic, affirmative conclusion. Given the work’s creation in the interwar years, the trio’s three movements appear to reflect in succession the devastation, sorrow and, ultimately, hope that followed the First World War.

Dmitri Shostakovich
Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Opus 67

Shostakovich composed his second piano trio in 1943-44 at the height of the Second World War and upon the death of his close friend, Ivan Sollertinsky, to whom the work is dedicated. Throughout the trio, Shostakovich gives intense emotional expression to the tragedy and horror of the period, albeit in the intimate voice of small-scale chamber music.

The Trio opens quietly with the cello’s high-pitched lament, subsequently imitated by the violin and piano and developed into a melancholic fugue. The music then segues into a faster section that leads to a climactic recapitulation, before ending quietly. The following Scherzo is both lively and frenzied – at times effervescent and mirthful and at others evincing anger and anguish. The slow third movement is a passionate funeral dirge. The piano initiates a darkly beautiful, hymn-like melody that develops into dense variations. This elegiac movement leads without pause into the grotesque dance of the Finale. This “dance of death” has a Jewish-style melody that builds to a furious climax before collapsing into seemingly nothingness. Shostakovich was deeply affected by news stories of Nazi guards forcing Jewish prisoners to dig their own graves and dance upon them. The Finale also reprises material from the previous three movements, bringing together Shostakovich’s lament for his friend and his response to the horror of war and the Nazi death camps.

Program Notes for June 15, 2023

Arthur Foote
A Night Piece and Scherzo for Flute and String Quartet

Arthur Foote graduated from Harvard University in 1875, the first recipient of a Master of Arts degree in music awarded by an American university. He was a member of a group of composers known as the Boston Six, who championed German 19th-century Romanticism, including the late Romanticism of Richard Wagner. Written in 1918 and originally titled Nocturne and Scherzo for Flute and String Quartet, the “nocturne” section was published in 1922 as A Night Piece for flute and string orchestra and became Foote’s best-known work. The Scherzo is Foote’s arrangement of the second movement of his unpublished second string quartet. The combined work is essentially a beautifully melodic Fantasy with alternating passages for the flute and strings and contrasting moods in the nocturne and scherzo movements.

The Night Piece movement begins with the flute playing a melody that is dream-like in character. This and other languid melodies are passed between flute and strings, occasionally being interrupted by darker, more dramatic passages, especially in the middle section. However, the tranquility of the opening flute melody returns at the end. The light-hearted and rhapsodic Scherzo follows and offers an upbeat and charming change of pace, albeit with a subdued ending.

Claude Debussy
Rêverie (arr. Ferdinando Ronchini for Cello and Piano)

Debussy sold his now famous Rêverie, written for solo piano, in 1890, but it most likely was composed sometime between 1880 and 1884, at the beginning of his career. Ironically, when this iconic work was first published, Debussy wrote to his publisher: “It was a mistake to bring out the ‘Rêverie.’ It is an unimportant work which was written in a hurry, purely for material considerations. It is a work of no consequence and I absolutely consider it no good!” Rêverie has been arranged for many instrument combinations, and tonight’s arrangement by Ferdinando Ronchini (1865-1938) for cello and piano gives the beautiful melodic line to the cello with the piano playing Debussy’s lush harmonies in accompaniment. As the title suggests, the music conjures a sleepy, dreamlike state, and the work stands as a superb example of the Impressionist musical movement of the last decades of the 19th century.

Rêverie begins with a serene melody – four simple notes, rising and falling, almost like a breath taken in and then released – that is repeated throughout the work, becoming ever richer, warmer, and more meditative as the piece builds. A second theme introduces various shimmering, almost jazz-like harmonic dissonances, a compositional trait that will become a hallmark of Debussy’s later works. The piece reaches no definite climax, but ends much as it began – peacefully.

Emil Hartmann
Serenade for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano, Opus 24

The Danish-born Emil Hartmann composed the Serenade for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano in 1877. Hartmann is especially known for creating national music inspired by the folk music of Scandinavia. Indeed, the composer Edvard Grieg proclaimed: “What composer with genuine feeling for the spirit of Scandinavia does not remember today what he owes to Hartmann! The best, the most profound thoughts…have been first expressed by him.”

The opening movement, Idylle, alternates a dreamy but short pastorale Andante theme given to the clarinet and answered by the cello with a brighter Allegro section of arpeggiated chords given to the piano that is Scandinavian folk-music-like in character. These themes are developed until the movement ends much as it began. The beautiful Romance movement that follows is the true heart of the serenade. The cello first offers a somewhat sentimental melody and is joined by the clarinet. The piano then introduces a lively Scandinavian fairy dance before the movement returns to the Romance theme and moves towards a delicate, pianissimo conclusion. The Rondò Finale is upbeat and highly melodic, although the clarinet and cello begin the movement gently with another Scandinavian folk-music theme, which is brought back several times. A second episode, however, builds to a “great passion with fire,” as marked, and brings the piece to an energetic ending with virtuosic playing.

Edward Elgar
Piano Quintet in A Minor, Opus 84

The 61-year-old Edward Elgar was living in Sussex, England in 1918 when he began his Piano Quintet. This work was likely the direct result of those surroundings as well as his desire to distance himself from the horrors of WWI. An unabashedly Romantic work, the quintet has, at times, an almost orchestral quality.

Elgar’s wife wrote that the rather ghostly first movement represented a group of “sad, sinister” trees in Sussex that, according to legend, were the metamorphosis of cursed Spanish monks. Indeed, the quintet begins darkly with an eerie motif that will recur throughout the movement. The strings nervously rustle until a vigorous melody intercedes, and a second, somewhat Spanish-sounding melody is introduced by the violins. The movement builds in a frenzied fugal passage, but, by the end, the music softly fades away. The emotional heart of the quintet is the second movement. The viola opens with a sublime melody that is followed by a yearning piano and cello duet and a development that is at first agitated and then exquisitely lyrical. After a brief introductory Andante motif, the third movement’s Allegro theme is robust. The piano and strings then engage in a somewhat chaotic exchange of melodic fragments until the piano reprises the introductory motif from the first movement and the work comes to a bright but powerful close.

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