Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Scott St. John leaving St. Lawrence Quartet

And they're looking for a new violinist

Posted by Jeffrey Day on Wed, Jun 5, 2013 at 12:00 PM

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Scott St. John, the most excellent violinist who has been with the St. Lawrence Quartet, will be leaving the group this fall.
St. John joined the group eight years ago after the original second violinist departed and several others filled the slot for short periods. He and his wife, violist Sharon Wei, will be moving back to Canada where she has accepted a professorship. (St. Lawrence is quartet in residence at Stanford University in California.)

A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, St. John made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1988 after winning first prize in the Alexander Schneider Competition; he also won the Young Concert Artists Award and an Avery Fisher Career Grant.

Geoff Nuttall, violinist with St. Lawrence and organizer of the chamber series, said St. John didn't want a big deal made about his leaving.

"It's not a secret or anything, but he's a very private person," Nuttall said.

St. John will be with the group through the fall and the quartet is starting to look around for someone who will be a great fiddler and a great fit.

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Don't f- with the Westminster Choir

Westminster Choir groupies mean business

Posted by Jeffrey Day on Wed, Jun 5, 2013 at 11:00 AM

I’ve always thought that the audience members at the Spoleto Chamber Music Series were fairly rabid in their support and enthusiasm.

But they’re a sedate bunch compared to the followers of the Westminster Choir. At the choir’s last concert a few days ago, the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul was packed to its historic rafters (and very beautiful rafters they are). The crowd just about gave the young singers a standing ovation for just entering the sanctuary. They also liked the concert — which covered music from 1600 to 2011 — and called the group led by Joe Miller back for an encore. (It was the last concert by the class and there was a lot of hugging and crying afterward.)

Now, I am not making fun of fans of choir. Or young people who sing in choir.

After posting on Facebook about the fervent fans of the Westminster Choir, I received a word of warning from Eric Holowacz, who was Spoleto operations manager in the 1990s.

“Don't you go talkin' no trash about no choral people or vocal programs, now. We'll find you the next day, naked and covered in pox, somewhere outside Ravenel. Just don't do it (I once paid the price, so trust me). Ahem, the choir rocks!”

For those of you who wonder what has become of Holowacz, after leaving the festival he ran the Arts Council of Beaufort and arts organizations in New Zealand, Australia, and Key West, and is on his way back from Down Under to head the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge, La.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The festival body count — so far

Dying for the cause

Posted by Jeffrey Day on Tue, Jun 4, 2013 at 4:55 PM

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We noticed from day one there’s a lot of death during Spoleto this year (on stage only, we’re glad to say).

Here is the toll so far:

The opera Matzukaze has one dead poet and two dead sisters. (3)

The double-bill of operas Mese Mariano and Le Villi is scattered with bodies and haunted by ghosts. There’s a dead child, a girl dying from a broken heart, a suicide, and a dozen ghosts of other broken-hearted dead girls. (16 or so)

Mayday, Mayday contains a near-death experience. (0)

The play within a play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream has two suicides. (2)

There’s a suicide in the play Clybourne Park. (2)

The Rite of Spring, celebrated with a 100th anniversary concert, centers on the sacrifice of a girl to the gods of spring in the original Rite. (1)

Franz Schubert died just after completing his String Quarter in C major, one of the greatest chamber works ever, and Claude Debussy planned to write six sonatas but only made it through three, including one for cello and piano, before he died. Both these works were part of the chamber music series. (2)

Someone is killed in the movie Gaslight on which The Better Half by Lucky Plush is based. (1)

Rosanne Cash’s concert includes one song with a murder and execution by hanging and another with a suicide. (3)

And with Requiem, Oedipus, and Bullet Catch, we’re not done counting at 30. And we know this is not in good taste, but it is perceptive.

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Monday, June 3, 2013

You want variety? It's festival musical whiplash

From Vivaldi to Rosanne Cash

Posted by Jeffrey Day on Mon, Jun 3, 2013 at 9:35 AM

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For some people Sunday is a day of rest. For me it was another musical whiplash day.

It started with Vivaldi’s beautiful and familiar Spring from the Four Seasons written in 1723, then moved on to a world premiere of a quartet finished just a couple of weeks ago. Next, we headed to Eastern Europe for Yiddish and Hassidic songs, then a whole concert of music written in the past decade including a piece created by holding a stethoscope microphone to a MacBook, and we ended with well-known country and folk songs and originals by Rosanne Cash.

With that much music and that much range, there was much to like and not like. The Vivaldi was part of an expansive chamber music concert that spanned many centuries and configurations from that Spring, always good to hear when performed so well. There was also an Arnold Bax sonata for the misunderstood and underrated viola, the premiere of an adventuresome quartet by young composer Sam Adams (see earlier posting for more details), and a truly “grand duo” with clarinet player Todd Palmer and pianist Pavel Kolesnikov by Carl Maria Von Weber. In this case, there was nothing to not like except the concert ran too long (as least for those of us who had places to be and things to write.)

The Strauss/Warschauer Duo, a husband and wife singing, playing guitar and violin, were in town as part of Piccolo’s World of Jewish Culture. Performing at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, founded in 1749 and the fourth oldest Jewish congregation in the country, the duo presented a causal concert with stories, a bit of history, and singalongs. The group never really built up much steam and audience participation was minimal, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Composer and performer Nathan Davis was what the second Music in Time Concert was all about. Working with about 20 members of the festival orchestra, he presented five works from the past decade showing his enormous range including the aforementioned rather random amplification of a computer’s churning innards, a solo bassoon (with processing and looping) that really explored what can go on with that old wooden tube, and a piece that used violin, cello, and unusual percussion to capture and redefine weather patterns.

Continue reading »

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

A brief, rough draft of music history

World premiere event

Posted by Jeffrey Day on Sun, Jun 2, 2013 at 4:27 PM

It's been said that journalism is a rough draft of history. This conjures up images of mud-covered writers scribbling out dispatches on paper to be carried to the telegraph office behind the front lines.

This shall be a very brief, rough draft of music history written on an iPhone in the lobby of the Dock Street Theatre. On this day at the Dock Street Theatre, the St. Lawrence String Quartet gave the world premiere of a quirky and witty quartet by Samuel Carl Adams.

Written in five short movements, it was still a substantial work clocking in at about 20 minutes. The movements all connect to other composers (much older than the 27-year-old Adams), the first expanding on a fragment from Couperin, breaking it up and reorganizing it. The second, "Quiet Rocking with Sad Cello Solo" (the movement titles are long), is spare and mournful even before the cello arrives. The movement also has some skittering of bow on strings, setting up a more nervous, jumpy, and at times relentless quality that carries through the other movements. The third and fourth both reference Haydn.

The first thing Adams said in introducing the piece portrays the composer as a rascal — hearing it, one would say a very naughty rascal. The minuet and trio following got a little lost and seemed to go directly into the final movement, "Hymn Vanishing," which did just that in a haunting way.

This work shows the young Adams, son of well-known composer John Adams, has something to say and says it well. It's a challenging, intellectually engaging piece that's also entertaining.

It will be performed again Monday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

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