Monday, July 17, 2017

World premieres of music by Agóc and Lash highlight two CMNW concerts

Claremont Trio playing Agóc's "The Queen of Hearts"
I am not sure if Chamber Music Northwest has ever programmed two world premieres for the same concert, but it did so and with smashing success for the performance on Thursday, July 13th at Kaul Auditorium. The concert presented brand new works by Kati Agócs and Hannah Lash that CMNW commissioned. How audacious was that! To top that off, CMNW sponsored a second round of performance the next day (Friday, July 14th) in its New@Noon series to a capacity audience at Lincoln Recital Hall. Holy smokes!

To the benefit of my own ears and understanding, I attended both concerts. I have to admit that hearing a brand new piece twice is really beneficial. Upon hearing the works by Agócs and Lasha second time, I had more appreciation for their music. Both pieces resonated well with the audiences, which responded with standing ovations.

Agócs’s “The Queen of Hearts” beguilingly wove a five note chaconne (that constantly changed) against a melodic line. The rhapsodic and very emotional one-movement work was played with intensity by the Claremont Trio (violinist Emily Bruskin, cellist Julia Bruskin, and pianist Andrea Lam). The piece offered a lot of dynamic contrast and ended on high notes triumphantly.
CMNW septet in Lash's "Form and Postlude"

Lash’s “Form and Postlude” had an impressionistic feel that evoked a lush flower-garden and an aviary. Written for a septet of strings and woodwinds, the beginning of the piece was laced with a series of ascending lines that bubbled up freely. The players (harpist Lash, flutist Joana Wu, clarinetist David Shifrin, violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama, violinists Rebecca Anderson and Emily Bruskin, plus cellist Julia Bruskin) achieved an excellent balance throughout. Lash led the way with her emotionally-charged harp playing, which included some of very focused and loud notes. One of the terrific oddities of the pieces involved a phrase played in unison by Wu and Shifrin. There seemed to be a reference to Debussy’s “Afternoon of a Faun” and another to something by Ravel.

For the concert on Thursday night, Ravel’s “Introduction et Allegro” followed Lash’s piece, which could have been too much of a good thing, yet in the hands of the same septet, it brought everything to a close perfectly. Again the instrumentalists did a fine job of listening to each other while playing and again showed an excellent blend and balance throughout the piece.

Friday’s New@Noon concert also included Bonnie Miksch’s “Song of Sanshin” (2012) and Ngwenyama’s “Sonoran Storm” (2016). The Claremont Trio graced “Song of Sanshin” with gentle, sliding glissandos over a pentatonic structure, creating an Asiatic atmosphere that was calm and reflective. “Sonoran Storm” took listeners in a completely different direction with its propulsive, repetitive rhythms that were overlaid with a melodic line. This virtuosic piece was played with stunning technique and artistry by Ngwenyama. The music conjured storm over the desert with a double-stopping Bach-like drive interspersed with restful passages that included eerie half-tones. This was a stunning piece!

Thursday’s concert opened with the Claremont Trio performing Fanny Mendelssohn’s “Piano Trio in D Minor.” The wonderfully sweet sound from the violin matched up well with the rich tones from the cello and the supporting color from the piano. The fiery finish to the first movement was breathtaking, and wonderfully set up the graceful and slower, second movement. The piano overwhelmed the cello for some of the last movement, but the ensemble recovered in time end the piece with a flourish and to thunderous applause.

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