Musical Musings

Chamber Soirées 2021-2022: Where Poetry and Music Meet

Previews by Betsy Hudson Traba

by Betsy Hudson Traba, Principal Flute

If you’ve been around the Sarasota Orchestra as long as I have (28 years!), you’re aware of the tremendous artistic growth that has occurred during the last three decades. In the early 1990s, our Orchestra had begun to morph from a fine community orchestra into a fully professional ensemble, and part of the way we made that transition was to emphasize chamber music.

Having musicians play in small groups without a conductor really exercises all one’s “musical muscles.” We musicians are called upon not only to play the notes, but also to make decisions about interpretation, phrasing, tempo, and style, and to reach consensus on each issue. It is the most intimate kind of music making, requiring constant communication both verbal and non-verbal among the players, and it allows us to take full responsibility for every aspect of a performance. For this reason, playing chamber music is among the most challenging, most rewarding, and most beneficial things an organization can do to build artistic quality, since it requires top-notch players and builds a sense of ownership and pride among the musicians. I give our chamber music program much credit for helping propel Sarasota Orchestra into its current status as one of the finest regional orchestras in the country.

The 2021-2022 season will serve up eight Chamber Soirée programs, each one rich with extraordinary music from the past 300 years. From Mozart and Mendelssohn to Caroline Shaw and Michael Tilson Thomas, the variety is tremendous. For the first time, each program this season has been inspired by a work of poetry, and the intersection between these two art forms will be a focus of each concert.

Chamber Soiree: Music of Youth

September’s program, Music of Youth, was inspired by “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein. It features Josef Suk’s Op. 1 Piano Quartet, written when Suk was 17, and Mendelssohn’s First String Quartet. It also includes two works for winds: Czech composer Leoš Janáček’s suite Mládí (“Youth”) and the rollicking Shout Chorus, a virtuosic, jazz-inspired work by American Kenji Bunch, which should prove once and for all that the woodwinds are by far the “coolest kids” in the orchestra!

Chamber Soiree: Shall We Dance?

“Slow Dancing on the Highway: The Trip North” by Elizabeth Hobbs is the inspiration for Shall We Dance?, October’s program of dance-inspired music from around the world. Haydn’s 1781 String Quartet No. 2, nicknamed “The Joke,” shares the program with Quinn Mason’s 2013 String Quartet No 2, a rhythmically fascinating work that is bursting with joyous energy. The Danza de Mediodia for winds by Mexico’s Arturo Márquez and Astor Piazzolla’s L’Histoire du Tango for violin and marimba will add some Latin heat to the program, which should have even the shyest among us channeling their inner Fred Astaire!

Chamber Soiree: American Lyric

Late October brings American Lyric, a program of music by and about Americans. Inspired by Amanda Gorman’s poem “In This Place,” which she read so magnificently at the 2021 presidential inauguration, the program features Amy Beach’s 1929 String Quartet Op. 89, based in part on music of the Inuit people, and Dvořák’s “American” String Quartet No. 3, alongside Samuel Barber’s atmospheric Summer Music for woodwind quintet.

Chamber Soiree: Sarasota String Quartet

December brings a wide-ranging recital by the Sarasota String Quartet featuring music by Mozart, as well as the Schubert Rosamunde Quartet. Friedrich Schiller’s “The Gods of Greece” is the poem that inspired the program, and in the Rosamunde Quartet Franz Schubert quotes himself, utilizing music he originally wrote for his song based on Schiller’s poem. Also on the program is the extraordinary Plan & Elevation by Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Caroline Shaw. Inspired by the architecture and landscaping at the Dumbarton Oaks estate in Washington, D.C., the work is a mesmerizing reimagination of the string quartet’s potential and marks Shaw as one of the most gifted young composers writing today.

Chamber Soiree: Mendelssohn Octet

Goethe’s “The Beautiful Night” inspired the January 23, 2022 program that includes Schubert’s Nocturne and the iconic Octet by Mendelssohn. Whether you have heard Mendelssohn’s masterpiece dozens of times, or if it is new to you, the sheer joy of the string writing never fails to leave you feeling like all is right in the world.

Chamber Soiree: Inheritance

Four days later, on January 27th, Inheritance offers an early work for piano and winds by Beethoven and a Mozart string quartet alongside Street Song for brass quintet by Michael Tilson Thomas. “The Harp” by Bruce Weigl inspired this program featuring works by composers for whom music was the “family business.”

Chamber Soiree: Voices of Color

February’s program, Voices of Color, was inspired by Nikki Giovanni’s poem “BLK History Month” and features music by three African-American composers from the last 100 years. William Grant Still was the first Black composer to have his works performed by major orchestras and opera companies. His 1948 Miniatures for Wind Quintet is a charming collection of folk music from the Americas. Florence Price’s career was no less impressive, as she was the first Black woman to have her music performed by a major orchestra. Her String Quartet No. 2 from 1935 is a rich, romantic work that incorporates idioms of African-American spirituals. Two works for wind quintet by Valerie Coleman form the centerpiece of the program. Coleman began her career as the flutist for the Imani Winds, a Grammy-nominated wind quintet. She has continued to make her mark as a composer of substance, receiving commissions from major American orchestras. Red Clay & Mississippi Delta and Umoja are works she composed for the Imani Winds and showcase her extraordinary skill at writing for wind instruments.

Chamber Soiree: Quintessential Clarinet

Quintessential Clarinet, a program inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life,” features Sarasota Orchestra Principal Clarinet Bharat Chandra in two masterpieces for clarinet and strings. Afro-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was inspired to write his own clarinet quintet after hearing Brahms’ masterful work for the same instrumentation in 1891. Coleridge-Taylor’s quintet from 1895 owes as much to Dvořák as to Brahms, however, with folk-inspired melodies throughout. Our 2021-‘22 chamber series concludes with that original work by Brahms. Although he had announced his “retirement” from composing in 1890, hearing a performance by the phenomenal clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld led Brahms to believe that perhaps he had more to say after all. The result of the collaboration with Mühlfeld is a piece that many consider to be Brahms’ most profound chamber work. Sad and wistful at its core, it is an exquisite gift from a mature artist near the end of his life to generations of clarinetists (and audiences).

We hope you will join us!

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