By Michael Johns
While you were enjoying Lowcountry summertime delights USCB Chamber Music was hard at work putting together a concert season unlike any previously offered. Now in his third full season as Artistic Director, host, and pianist, Andrew Armstrong has raised audience expectations each year with new composers and works, new artists, new performances, and familiar favorites served with irrepressible, swashbuckling, can-do style. The repertoire, a mix of old and brand-new, reflects Andy’s firm belief that committed, passionate performances elevate all types of music to high art. For the new season, he has assembled a stunning array of prize-winning young virtuosos and seasoned, praiseworthy artists. A brilliant performer with an audience-engaging personality, Andy will preside over the concerts with serious intent and a twinkle in his eye. He has never met a concert-goer he didn’t like and is dedicated to making each concert a personal, unique, and unforgettable experience for each audience member.
The season opens on Sunday, November 12, with two returning artists, Tessa Lark, violin, and Alice Yoo, cello, joining Mr. Armstrong. The first half of the program is book-ended with brilliant, European show stoppers: Frédéric Chopin’s Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp minor, Op. 39 for solo piano and Pablo de Sarasate’s devilishly difficult Carmen Fantasy, Op. 25 for violin and piano. Ms. Yoo will perform Max Bruch’s rhapsodic declaration, Kol Nidrei, for cello and piano. Tessa and Alice will combine on two works, the first a classical pair of movements by Reinhold Glière from 8 Duets for Violin and Cello; the second a cheeky bluegrass romp, Wooden Soldier, by Tessa and her husband, bassist Michael Thurber. The second half is devoted to a brawny, multi-movement, late-Romantic work, Anton Arensky’s Piano Trio in D minor.
On December 10, the young Barbican String Quartet makes their Beaufort debut as part of their first-ever American tour. They have bounded into the chamber music world with first place wins in major string quartet and chamber music competitions, glowing reviews, and extensive festival and concert bookings. The concert begins with a “short evocative outdoor adventure,” She Fell for a Flyfisher, by the Artistic Director. The quartet then plays Henry Purcell’s carefully-crafted Fantasia in Four Parts No. 8 in D minor, the oldest work of the season (1680), and Benjamin Britten’s eerily colored and virtuosic String Quartet No. 1. Mr. Armstrong joins the quartet to close the program with Anton Dvorak’s Piano Quintet in A Major, Opus 81. Come hear the extraordinary Barbican String Quartet at the start of their career.
Two brilliant, prize-winning performers—Kevin Zhu, violin, and Jan Vogler, cello—will join Andy for the January 28, 2024 concert. Mr.
Vogler opens the concert with a well-loved dance suite, J.S. Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007. Mr. Zhu will display his dazzling technique on a pair of blisteringly difficult études, Nos. 1 and 24 of Niccolò Paganini’s 24 Caprices for Solo Violin, Op. 1. The music then jumps to the twentieth century for works of warmth and sauce: Henry Mancini’s Moon River, arr. for cello and piano and George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue for solo piano, commemorating its 100th anniversary. The concert comes to a grand conclusion with a major work by one of the most popular and beloved classical composers, Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Piano Trio in A minor, Op 50 is a work of winning lyricism, passionate expressivity, and sumptuous color that deeply evokes Russian culture and character.
Each of the six artists on the March 3rd concert takes a turn in the soloist’s spotlight: Violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti, cellist Raphael Bell, and Andy Armstrong start the program with Sergei Rachmaninov’s haunting Trio éléiaque No. 1 in G minor. Andy then accompanies French hornist RJ Kelly (Saint-Saëns gentle Romance, Op. 36), violist Gabriela Diaz (Rebecca Clarke’s journey-through-a-dreamscape Morpheus), and clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein (Florence Price’s semi-sacred, meditative Adoration and Gershwin’s jazzy Prelude). They then combine on the dazzling and hyper-romantic final work: Ernst von Dohnányi’s Sextet for Violin, Viola, Cello, Horn, Clarinet and Piano, Op. 37.
The season concludes with a weekend of art and music-including our first-ever Youth Concert on Saturday afternoon, a high school art show at four, followed by our Sunday, (April 7) concert, and a Monday morning concert for area high school students. Sunday’s concert features composer and saxophonist Alison Shearer, the season’s largest compliment of players, a spectacular array of sights and sounds, and the exciting world premiere of a new piece. Walda Wildman and Kathrine Wells have commissioned Ms. Shearer’s original work in conjunction with a grant from the S. C. Arts Commission. In December Ms. Shearer will be presented artworks by talented regional high-school artists. She will then transform her impressions of selected pictures into music for an ensemble of alto saxophone, strings, and piano. This project, entitled The Sound of Art, gives voice to the visual art and brings great musicians together to showcase prize-winning local student artworks. Ms Shearer is an accomplished alto saxophonist, and in her hands the instrument will mimic the wordless-voice qualities of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, Op. 34, arr. for alto saxophone and piano. A talented flute doubler, Ms. Shearer will also perform Arthur Foote’s A Night Piece for flute and strings and Cecile Chaminade’s Capriccio, Op. 18 for Flute and Piano. Ernst von Dohnányi is represented with Serenade for String Trio, Opus 10, a multi-movement, Hungarian-inflected suite packed with musical riches. Ralph Vaughn Williams’ creamy-thick, tuneful Piano Quintet in C minor closes the program. The four strings are violin (Abilgél Králik), viola (Joan DerHovesepian), cello (Ani Aznavoorian), and double bass (Maggie Cox). The bass on the bottom enriches the sound of the entire ensemble giving it an almost orchestral resonance.
Each of the five season concerts is a one-off mix of familiar staples and interesting, accessible music played with bravura and consummate musicianship. The 44th season is the most ambitious of the Series and offers far more than the five-Sunday concerts: Friday, September 29, Mr. Armstrong presented his second, free pre-season, solo piano recital at Port Royal’s St. Mark’s Church; Friday, November 10, 5:00pm, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute presents Bourbon, Bach and Bluegrass featuring Chamber Music Artists at USCB’s Hilton Head campus; Saturday, April 6, 3:00pm, USCB Chamber Music, with a generous gift from Nancy and Howell Beach, offers its first-ever Youth Concert at the USCB Center for the Arts (free for youth) where the eight artists will discuss and perform classical works; Sunday, April 7, 4:00pm, one hour before the final concert, the works from the regional high-school art show competition will be displayed in the Art Center’s gallery.
Experience the life-affirming communication provided by Andrew Armstrong and his amazing colleagues during what promises to be an outstanding season. There are three ways to enjoy the concerts: In-Person and virtually by 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, event, or ticket information, go to www.uscbchambermusic.com or call 843-208-8246, Monday through Friday. All Sunday concerts are at 5:00pm at the USCB Center for the Arts, 801 Carteret Street in the downtown historic district.