By Michael Johns
USCB Chamber Music Artistic Director, pianist, and host Andrew Armstrong has put together a five-concert series of probing,
satisfying music for every taste ranging from mid-Baroque to world premiere and introverted intimacy to extroverted excess. The 44th season kicks off on Sunday, November 12, 5:00 with a program of brilliant display, passionate tribute, and multi-hued variety. He will be joined by two recent, rising-star performers on the series, violinist Tessa Lark and cellist Alice Yoo, on a program of solo, violin and cello duo, and piano trio repertoire.
The first half of the concert is a series of selections plumbing depths of mood from deep reflection to no-holds-barred virtuosity. It begins with the Artistic Director performing one of his favorite composers, Frédéric Chopin, and the Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp minor, Op. 39. A showpiece of extravagance and compression, it requires an artist-performer capable of unleashing waves of moods, from ecstatic Alpine heights to heart-rending abysses. Alice Yoo follows, performing Kol Nidrei by Max Bruch, arranged for piano and cello. This ancient Hebrew declaration is skillfully crafted to create a timeless, haunting and contemplative aura. Next are two short violin/cello-duet movements by Reinhold Glière from Eight Pieces, Op. 39 for Violin and Cello, a masterpiece of miniature form that elicits a sense of personal and engaging storytelling. A 2016 piece by Tessa Lark and Michael Thurber follows: Wooden Soldier is a violin-and-cello, smile-inducing romp loosely based on a lively 19th-century Irish reel, “Drowsy Maggie.” Tessa then returns to the stage to close the first half with her solo turn: Pablo de Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, Op. 25. Sarasate, a Spanish violin virtuoso, strung together five familiar melodies from Bizet’s opera, Carmen, one of the most popular, familiar, and frequently performed in the classical canon. The soloist’s role is to project the theatrical quality of Bizet’s score while casually tossing off daunting technical challenges of every kind. This music is so evocative that it will make you wish you were playing along on a pair of castanets (but please leave yours at home).
The second half is devoted to a single work, Anton Arensky’s Piano Trio No 1 in D minor, Op. 32. A Russian composer, pianist, conductor, and professor of the late Romantic period, Arensky studied under Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and was a close friend and ally of Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky. The four-movement Piano Trio (1894), a musical-remembrance tribute to a former teacher, is filled with propulsive melodies seasoned with warmth, wit, charm, and swagger. The third movement, Elegia, is the work’sraison d’être, a memorial with sustained, mournful music and blissful memories, concluding in peaceful resignation. Arensky drew on Russian and western traditions but did not copy either while creating music of warmth, human-insight, and skill in a voice and style uniquely his own.
Violinist Tessa Lark is consistently praised by critics and audiences for her astounding range of sounds, technical agility, and musical elegance. In 2020 she was nominated for a GRAMMY in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo category and received one of Lincoln Center’s prestigious Emerging Artist Awards, the special Hunt Family Award. A budding superstar in the classical realm, she is also a highly acclaimed fiddler in the tradition of her native Kentucky, delighting audiences with programming that includes Appalachian and bluegrass music and inspiring composers to write for her. Tessa has also accumulated a long and growing list of solo and chamber collaborations with distinguished ensembles in legendary venues.
Cellist Alice Yoo has been warmly hailed for her sensitive musicianship, expressive nuance, and passionate commitment to teaching. She has performed extensively throughout the United States and abroad as a soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician and been a top prize winner in multiple competitions, including the Holland-America Music Society Competition, Schadt International String Competition, National Symphony Orchestra’s Young Artist Competition, and Klein International String Competition. Alice is also Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Denver Chamber Music Festival, professor of cello at Colorado State University, and on the chamber music faculty at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music.
Artistic Director, pianist, host, and savant, Andrew Armstrong has been praised by critics (and Lowcountry audiences) for his passionate expression and dazzling technique. His orchestral engagements across the globe have seen him perform a sprawling repertoire of more than 50 concertos with orchestra as well as solo recital appearances and chamber music concerts with a wide range of esteemed colleagues. Tours this season will take him around the world for duo performances with violinist James Ehnes and recitals to promote his recently released solo album, In Blue. Whether home or abroad, Andy has delighted audiences with his informative banter and infectious joy for making music with, rather than for, people. He views the audience as an essential teammate in the act of recreating music and bringing it to life.
Experience the life-affirming communication provided by Andrew Armstrong and his amazing colleagues as they perform old favorites and favorites-to-be while demonstrating technical bravura and exceptional engagement with the music, each other, and their listeners. 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. The 44th season’s opening concert is Sunday, November 12, 2023, 5:00pm at the USCB Center for the Arts, 801 Carteret Street in the downtown historic district.