By Michael Johns
On December 11, 5:00pm USCB Chamber Music ushers in the holiday season with a concert featuring four engaging and emotional works. Three composers are represented with masterful summations from lifetimes of creation; the fourth composer was a youth trying to find his own unique voice. Artistic Director and pianist Andrew Armstrong, flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, and cellist Edward Arron will bring the compositions to life through a blend of technical mastery, evocative colors, insightful interpretations, and high-spirited energy. Their joyful merging of these elements will create a memorable experience that exceeds the sum of its parts. The concert will be book-ended with trios by Louise Farrenc (Trio in E minor, Op. 45) and Claude Debussy (Trio in G Major, L.5). Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata, Op 119 and Arron Copland’s Duo for Flute and Piano will be heard before and after intermission.
Louise Farrenc was a formidable nineteenth-century piano prodigy and composer. For thirty years she served as Professor of Piano at the Paris Conservatoire, the only woman to continuously hold such a prestigious European position during the entire century. Her composing career began with piano miniatures and progressively expanded to include chamber ensembles and larger pieces for orchestra. Chamber music is generally considered her finest genre and the last of these, Trio in E minor, is a skillfully crafted, accessible, and self-possessed work with considerable appeal.
In 1936, expat Sergei Prokofiev returned to Russia to claim a position as one of Russia’s great composers. His timing could not have been worse. Prokofiev’s passport was revoked, he never again traveled outside the country, much of his music was banned, and he was required to compose reams of Soviet-realist claptrap. In 1950, Cello Sonata, Op 119 miraculously slid past the censors and its earthy, rich, direct, and remarkable expression was brought into the sunlight.
Aaron Copland set out to create a new “American” sound by incorporating folk music and wide-open-spaces into an approachable musical language. Copland described his 1971 Duo for Flute and Piano as lyrical and in a pastoral style: “…a work of comparatively simple harmonic and melodic outline, direct in expression.” As if to preface these qualities he titled its three movements Flowing, Poetic, and Lively.
Claude Debussy desired to create a French musical style rivaling German traditions. To this task he applied new formal, harmonic, and tone-color approaches that revolutionized western music. Before this could be accomplished, however, he needed to learn the craft of putting tones together. Trio in G Major, L.5, composed at age 18, was part of this process. In the style of light and pleasing French salon music, the trio’s four movements leisurely unfold with lyricism, clarity, and charm. It points in the direction of the mature Debussy’s 1904 statement that “The primary aim of French music is to give pleasure.”
To play this attractive, passionate, pastoral, and expressive music are three superbly qualified artists who are in the chamber music vanguard. Flutist Tara Helen O’Connor was a recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant, is a two-time Grammy nominee, and continues as a multiyear Season Artist of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Ms. O’Connor is a sought-after chamber music colleague who regularly participates in festivals such as the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Music@Menlo, Spoleto USA, Chamber Music Northwest, Mainly Mozart Festival, the Banff Centre, Chesapeake Music Festival and Bravo! Vail. Former USCB Chamber Music Artistic Director and current University of Massachusetts Amherst Associate Professor, cellist Edward Arron makes a welcome return with his warm humanity, insightful musicianship, and impeccable technique. Ed’s appreciation for the communicative power of chamber music has been at the center of his distinguished career, leading to performances throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Festival appearances have included Ravinia, Salzburg, Mostly Mozart, Bravo! Vail, Tanglewood, Bridgehampton, Spoleto USA, Santa Fe, Seattle Chamber Music, Bowdoin, Telluride Musicfest, La Jolla Summerfest, and Bard Music Festival.
It is an axiom of the human condition that over time ‘familiar’ may settle into ‘comfortably-respected.’ This expression does not do justice to pianist and host Andrew Armstrong, now in his third season as USCB Chamber Music Artistic Director, who is the epitome of a unique and electrifying individual. His witty, self-effacing remarks, hyperkinetic personality, and seemingly effortless pianism have regularly delighted audiences across Asia, Europe, Latin America, Canada, and the United States as a recitalist and concerto-soloist, in chamber music concerts with the Elias, Alexander, American, and Manhattan String Quartets, and as a member of the Caramoor Virtuosi, Boston Chamber Music Society, Seattle Chamber Music Society, and Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players.
Support the Arts! Come and listen to these remarkable artists perform intriguing and gratifying music. There are multiple ways to enjoy the concerts—In Person, Live-Stream and On-Demand. All virtual concerts are professionally produced, creating great viewing opportunities. On-Demand is accessible four days after the concert and available to view at your leisure for three weeks. For concert/ticket information, go to www.uscbchambermusic.com or call 843-208-8246, Monday through Friday. The concert is Sunday, December 11, 5:00pm at the USCB Center for the Arts, 801 Carteret Street, Beaufort.