Equilibrium Presents Gleb Kanasevich//Marti Epstein

Having recently gotten married, I’ve fallen a little behind on writing about the concert experiences I’ve had lately. But I want to bring your attention to a show I went to on June 9th. Equilibrium presented local composers Gleb Kanasevich and Marti Epstein on a split-bill at Third Life Studio in Somerville.

Kanasevich, a clarinetist, has appeared as a soloist with various orchestras and ensembles and has been a resident/visiting artist with many institutions and festivals. He is currently working towards a PhD in Composition at Brandeis University. His set began with the world premiere of Penetrations (2016), a piece by Rahilia Hasanova. Performed on bass clarinet, it vacillated between a strained, tortuous sound and a mellifluous melody, forming a dichotomy that felt oddly comforting. Mysterious low to middle range tones that sounded bouncy and jazzy at times, mixed with higher notes peppered with Aeolian frills and flutter tongue. 

Next, we heard the U.S. premiere of swathe (2015)—a piece by Ian Power, who was in attendance. Armed with his clarinet, Kanasevich performed what felt like a sound experiment: the piece began by repeating the same note over and over, the performer extending the note seemingly as long as his breath would allow. Different repeated notes would follow in the same form, and this went on for at least half an hour,  elapsing through the middle and high range of the instrument, creating a hallucinogenic effect wherein one grew hypnotized by the exhaustive and at times, even abrasive repetition. Sustained high notes produced with the performer’s full lung capacity at first induced a level of aural discomfort that was just at the threshold of being plainly uncomfortable. Yet, the ears grew accustomed to the intensity, and before long, fell under its uncanny influence. The performer seemed to be pushing against the tones with his air, mixing Aeolian sounds with notes, and reaching the high range where a sudden shift in pitch done on the same breath induced a surreal sonic effect—like hearing sound underwater. When the tones slowly diminished at a point, one felt a sense of incompleteness, a feeling of not wanting this to end. A sudden return to extended lower register tones completed this profoundly meditative experience.

Another piece by Rahilia Hasanova, Agog (1994), ended Kanasevich’s idiosyncratic set. Siren-like crescendos engulfed a wild assortment of rapidly spun notation. The virtuosic atonal piece for clarinet leapt around the instrument’s range at high speed, making one wonder where and when the performer breathed. As described in the program notes, the agog “is the representation of the psychological condition of people who live in a state of extreme excitement and anticipation…suddenly becoming independent, they desire eagerly about opportunities that…they think, they didn’t have before…Expecting…assuming…wondering…dreaming…they spend their lives in the agog.” Hasanova grew up in Azerbaijan, a post-Soviet republic, and became one of the most progressive composers of her time. She currently lives in the United States.

After intermission Boston-based composer Marti Epstein took the stage. Her music has been performed by various orchestras and ensembles, and she has been commissioned by the Fromm Foundation, Guerilla Opera, and Longy School of Music, among many others. She is a Professor of Composition at both Berklee and the Boston Conservatory. Her set began with François Couperin’s three-minute 6éme Ordre de clavecin: “Les Barricades Mysterieusus” (1717). We the audience learned that Epstein would play this pleasant baroque piece as a “warm up” for Paul Fake’s starkly contrasting 45-minute Piano Sonata, whose world premiere she performed immediately after. According to the program notes, Fake’s piece explores the use of “inharmonic spectral tones, or tones played so quietly above a louder fundamental that they are heard as part of the timbre of the low note rather than as independent tones.” Indeed, like countless rain drops, the many rapid notes along, with their intensity, seemed to appear and fade away like an echo. From where did they come? Where were they going? Soon enough, another wave of notes would materialize out of the remnants of the last upsurge. 

Fake's notes state that another theme explored “is that of harmonic spectral exploration realized through sympathetic resonance.” Undoubtedly, the piece lacked a typical arching flow. Its many micro gaps and forte stops woven within its structure emphasized the spectral tones more than a continuous line of forward momentum, making it a truly unconventional sonata. Its overall effect was contemplative, even with occasional chapters of intense low range, thunder-like grumbling. Epstein received an enthusiastic ovation. 

Equilibrium, founded in 2011, aims to showcase the work of local performers and composers, “bringing new, unheard, and underrepresented music” to the region. The show at Third Life Studio aptly complemented its mission, giving its audience an unusual, highly stimulating evening of uncommonly heard music performed by local composers. 

 

The Inimitable Mademoiselle La Guerre

This review can also be found at Boston Music Intelligencer.  I would like to thank musicologist Liane Curtis for her input and gracious contribution.

“The Inimitable Mademoiselle La Guerre: Violin Sonatas of Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre,” Dana Maiben, Longy faculty and violinist, performed with Sarah Cunningham (viola da gamba) and Lisa Goode Crawford (harpsichord) on Saturday afternoon at Pickman Hall. The six sonatas were published in 1707 and dedicated to King Louis XIV, whose court cultivated La Guerre’s extraordinary creative gifts throughout her life (1665-1729).

Elisabeth Jacquet came from a family of musicians and instrument builders. She was celebrated as a child prodigy at Versailles and hailed for her remarkable improvisations, singing, harpsichord virtuosity, and compositions in Paris. Although her two musical brothers went on to work as church music directors, she was excluded from professional employment because she was female, and never received payment for her prolific musical output. However, because she was female and never expected to enter the musical profession, her artistic genius was seen as a novelty and encouraged. Violinist Dana Maiben pointed out in her engaging remarks, that while professional French musicians and composers of the time were expected to strive to be the best at what everyone else was doing, Jacquet was rewarded for her imagination and compositional inventiveness.

The six 1707 sonatas are accordingly a tour de force of artistic inspiration, virtuosic skill, and aesthetic synthesis of the French and Italian musical styles—something professional composers of her time were careful to avoid. Even François Couperin (who was a cousin of her husband, the organist Marin de la Guerre) was careful to circulate his own sonatas under an alias, to avoid tarnishing his reputation in France. Elisabeth Jacquet on the other hand, boldly published her 1707 collection under the name “Sonates,” and called each individual work by its Italian name, “Sonata.” She also designated each sonata’s various movements under Italian names such as “presto,” or “adagio.”

The six sonatas take the listener through a masterful, luscious soundscape replete with dramatic mood and tempi changes, triumphant prestos, and passionate adagios characteristic of the Italian style. Yet, woven throughout this oeuvre, one hears a consistent, quintessentially French refinement that yields countless moments of exquisite finesse.

Sonata I in D Minor, nearly a half hour in length, has eight mellifluous movements that interchange between melancholy and exultation, with D major passages woven within. Sonata II in D Major’s four movements conversely, entwines moments of d minor, cultivating an elegant repast of moods and aural relationships. Sonata III in F’s five movements include an instrumental Aria, and in this, shares a similarity to the first sonata. Indeed, the composer’s Arias are robust, fully-developed pieces that could stand on their own. For her, the Aria is an exploration of variation, often in Rondeau form.

The seven-movement Sonata IV in G Major began the second half of the concert. Following this was Sonata V in A Minor, which included a Courante, reportedly Louis XIV’s favorite dance style. Sonata VI in A Major, another seven-movement piece, closed the concert. It included two Arias, while the other previous two sonatas contained just one.

The three musicians, seasoned veterans of the early music movement, offered nuanced and sensitive performances of these works. Every detail of the ensemble cohered with a perfection only found when the musicians have worked together for years. Particularly in the Adagio movements, one was reminded that Jacquet was renowned as an improvisor, and we might imagine her at the keyboard through the brilliant flights of invention that were unleashed. As Maiben observed, Jacquet generally pairs viola da gamba with the harpsichord, creating a duo texture with the violin, but in some instances a real trio texture is achieved, and the three performers brought out these moments with clarity and fluidity, revealing the brilliance of the composer’s work.

Sated by remarkably refined yet indulgently sensuous music, the audience gave the trio a standing ovation. The three players’ consummate artistry and musicianship and palpable chemistry impressively delivered throughout a hefty performance of virtuosic works, fit for a king.

Duo Maresienne

On Sunday, April 30, Somerville Museum presented the last of this season’s Early Music Afternoons with Duo Maresienne.  Now in their 28th season, the duo continued their mission to expose audiences to music written for lute, theorbo, viola da gamba, and early guitars. They presented newly found and published pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries. 

The program started with Solo 9 in e minor, one of the 12 Telemann Fantaisies pour la basse de violle recently discovered in a German palace near Hannover and published within the past year. Carol Lewis played its four contrasting, virtuosic movements on viola da gamba with exceptional dexterity, while Olav Chris Henriksen interwove the baroque lute’s basso continuo. Next, Henriksen performed the contemplative, labyrinthine Fantasie in a minor by Silvius Leopold Weiss. Published in 2010, the piece comes from a facsimile manuscript of lute tablature from the Rohrau castle in Austria. He then played a dreamlike Presto by Weiss. Lewis responded with Telemann’s elaborate three-movement Fantasie 7 in g minor for viola da gamba. Henriksen continued with Ernst Gottlieb Baron’s Fantasie in C major on baroque lute. Gottlieb Baron’s buoyant three-movement Concerto in C major closed the first half, gaily combining viola da gamba and baroque lute and leaving the audience in uplifted spirits.

After intermission Telemann’s three-movement Fantasie 11 in d minor displayed Lewis’s interpretive brilliance, each stirring movement enacted with solemnity and consummate musicianship. Next, Carl Friedrich Abel’s three-movement Sonata in F major for viola da gamba and basso continuo—in this case, baroque lute—carried the audience into a languid, sonorous landscape that made one reflect on the vast expanses of time travelled by each musical phrase. Twenty-eight of Abel’s virtuosic sonatas, including the Sonata in F major, were discovered just a few years ago in Poland and published within the past year. Observing the closed eyes and rapt attention of the listeners, one could not help but wonder, who were the last people to actually hear this newly awoken, but living, vibrant music?

Rudolph Straube’s charming Fantasie in C Major and Tempo di Minuet followed, providing concertgoers with its last baroque lute solos by Henriksen. The audience was captivated. Also published within the past year, Andreas Lidl’s three-movement Sonata in C Major closed the program. Here, Lewis’ viola da gamba and Henriksen’s baroque lute gave a stunning performance that once again delivered delightful melodies and harmonies encased in complex, baroque counterpoint. Overall, the duo delivered a refreshing program filled with unearthed musical enchantments that was an ideal component to a perfect Sunday afternoon. 

Duo Maresienne is named after the great French Baroque composer and gambist, Marin Marais. Their next project is a collaboration with Capella Clausura and the Ken Pierce Baroque Dance Company on a program of French music for choir, viola da gamba, theorbo, baroque guitar, and baroque dance. It will be performed on Sunday, May 14 in Newton. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soir des Femmes!

Soir des Femmes presented An Afternoon of Opera by Female Composers on Saturday, April 15 in Brookline Public Library’s Hunneman Hall, bringing new life to historic repertoire not performed since their time of writing. 

The dialogue about gender iniquity in opera has become more prominent, and finally, some high-profile opera companies—like the Met, Santa Fe, and Washington National Opera—are beginning to stage operas by living female composers and hire more women as stage directors. Yet, the divide between male and female creators in opera remains wide, especially in the historic realm. Although women have been composing for hundreds of years, and there are indeed, numerous operas written by women, many opera lovers have never even heard the names, let alone the music, of these composers. The result is that operas by women from previous centuries continue to be obscured and forgotten. 

The discontinuity in the heritage and legacy of female creators in opera inspired Scottish soprano/director Charlotte McKechnie to create the first Soir des Femmes (Women’s Evening) last summer, exposing audiences to operatic gems by women composers that had disappeared from or were completely missed by the repertory. That first concert was such a hit with both audiences and critics alike that McKechnie decided to make it a long-term project. 

Now, Soir des Femmes plans to produce at least one full opera and three smaller concerts each season, with performances in Boston and Glasgow. 

The recent Brookline concert began with Eva Dell’Acqua’s Zizi, published in 1906. Dell’Acqua was an early 20th century Italian composer who wrote pieces for chamber orchestra, voice and piano, orchestral works, and opera. Zizi incorporates the optimism of its Belle Époque era, detailing the confounding twists and turns of romance, yet ending happily. With lovely, pleasing music and airs, it is the portrait of idyllic charm.

Next were excerpts from Justine Chen’s Jeanne, based on Joan of Arc’s capture and death. Chen is a living composer who has been commissioned, among other prominent organizations, by New York City Opera and New York City Ballet. Jeanne (2007) is a starkly moving, powerful piece with lyrical English vocal writing and smart, lucid text. Its performance began and closed with an otherworldly vocalise by Anna Ward, who played Joan. Her acting and presentation was solidly rich in subtext, creating the seamless illusion that one was witnessing the intimate life vignettes of a real person onstage. Baritone Ethan Sagin played a merciless, jealous inquisitor, who could not understand why God had chosen this “arrogant” girl over him, who had faithfully served the Church his entire life. Experiencing Joan’s ruggedly determined defiance and self-awareness clash with the empowered patriarchy was viscerally dramatic theatre.

Amy Beach’s one-act chamber opera, Cabildo (1932) came next. On display was the composer’s fluid and flawless vocal and piano writing. It told the story of a ghostly Lady Valerie who sets free the pirate Pierre LaFitte, her lover who was unjustly imprisoned for her murder, but who mysteriously escaped from confinement. In the opera, a newly married couple come across their story while touring the prison cells of New Orleans’ Cabildo. The wife (McKechnie), entranced by LaFitte’s enigmatic escape, falls asleep and dreams of Lady Valerie’s apparition unlocking the door to her lover’s cell.

Next was an excerpt from Lucile Grétry two-hour opera, Le Mariage d’Antonio, written in 1786 by a fourteen-year old prodigy. In her short life, it was performed 47 times at Paris’ prestigious Comédie-Italienne theatre. The composer died of tuberculosis just three years later. Her opera’s beautiful music tells the lighthearted tale of a young couple—Colette and Antonio— whose parents disapprove of their desire to marry on account of the bride’s young age. McKechnie played a superbly comical mother, inducing genuine laughs from the audience as she grimaced at her daughter’s saccharine suitor. After the performance, she explained that the opera ends with Antonio fortuitously helping a beggar who turns out to be a king and rewards the young man with riches. Finally, the bride’s parents approve of the wedding! 

Closing the concert was Pauline Viardot’s Cendrillon, whose elegant music essentially details Cinderella’s story. David Evans and McKechnie portrayed the prince and Cendrillon’s romantic moments with grace and charm. Anna Ward and Evans delivered an outlandishly comical portrayal of Cendrillon’s superficial step-siblings. 

After the show McKechnie explained that in compiling materials for this concert she first had a thorough search through the Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy Society database. From there, she narrowed down a list of what scores still existed, were legible, and accessible. Then she assembled them and examined each one to find the highest quality music to best complement one another across multiple music periods. 

Since there are no recordings of any of the works except for Cendrillon, she “only really knew what was excellent once we began rehearsing. Luckily, the music was as good as I'd thought it might be!” As happens with performing the often centuries-old works of female composers, performers must treat them as, essentially, new music.

The Brookline performance would not have been possible without the work of music director, Max Philips and pianist Stephanie Mao. Philips coached the ensemble in historical context, musicality, and diction, and according to McKechnie, “gave very pertinent insights into each compositional style.” After the show, via email, Philips explained that Mao played from a piano-vocal score for most of the operas. They did not have a reduction for Le Mariage d’Antonio, however, and had to play from the full score.  “On the other hand, Viardot's Cendrillon was written originally for only piano and singers, so here we were simply performing the work in its original form. Cabildo was written for singers with piano, violin and cello, so here the piano "reduction" was much more similar to the original setting than in Zizi, which was written for a full orchestra.” Philips explained that though it is likely to still exist somewhere, they had not been able to locate a full score or parts for Zizi—though ultimately their search for a full score was curtailed due to the concert’s being accompanied solely by piano. McKechnie added that she has since made greater efforts to locate a full score in order to stage the complete opera, but nothing is available through public archives: “My next step is to make contact with specific musicologists in different archives and find new directions in which to look.”

Soir des Femmes’ ongoing efforts to revive the operatic works of historical women composers will continue this August, when it will perform Amy Beach’s Cabildo throughout Scotland in honorof the composer’s 150th birthday.

 

La Donna Musicale

Still no pictures on account of a broken phone at the time.

But here's a description of a wonderful concert by an incredible ensemble. Read at the Boston Music Intelligencer, or below.

Saturday March 25, I had the pleasure of hearing the internationally acclaimed Boston-based ensemble, La Donna Musicale. They specialize in discovering, preserving, and promoting music by women composers from the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, and contemporary periods. Their recent concert, All Around Love, was given at the United Parish in Brookline and featured works from the 17th and 18th centuries. Their use of period instruments and historically-informed performance practice, along with expert musicianship and sincere passion created a transcendental atmosphere, in which one felt transported to past centuries, or visited by the spirits of those long-gone, nearly forgotten artists.

An uplifting excerpt from Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero opened the program. Accompanied by mute cornetto, viola da gamba, harpsichord and violin, mezzo soprano Daniela Tošić and soprano Camila Parias sang lilting melodies filled with praises of love: “Noble Ruggiero, Love’s warrior, well may you call yourself blessed.”

Next was an excerpt from Camilla de Rossi’s cantata, Frá Dori e Fileno. A passionate dialogue between two lovers, it showcased the complimentary qualities in both singers: Tošić’s voluptuous timbre paired sensually with Parias’ light, clear tone. Laury Gutiérrez, La Donna’s founding director and viola da gamba player, explained that Frá Dori was unpublished and had to be unearthed from manuscript in order to be performed. Nathaniel Cox traded his mute cornetto for a theorbo as the lovers sang: “What unity great beauty has with great fidelity.” Unlike Caccini, there is not much known about de Rossi, other than that she lived in the very early 18th century.

I Baci (Kisses) by Barbara Strozzi followed, putting a spell over all present with its incantation-like poetry and music: “..with a kiss souls make great wounds occur in hearts.” Isabella Leonarda’s Sonata quinta scored for viola da gamba, harpsichord, cornetto, and violin came next.The ensemble’s passionate, seamless playing filled the quaint chapel room with a historical faithfulness that made us feel like we were in a palazzo in the late 17th century, hearing the finest court musicians of the day. 

Ushering in the darker sentiments of love was Strozzi’s serenata, Hor che Apollo from Arie, Op. 8, 1664: “…if you are sorry that I am in pain be less cruel or be less beautiful.” This twelve-minute piece was originally written for soprano, but transposed to suit Tošić’s bewitching mezzo. Following this was aria adagio, Habbi pietà di me and Mi basta cosi from Antonia Bembo’s Produzioni armoniche, which enveloped us in the sounds of viola da gamba, harpsichord and soprano. The 17th century Venetian left her husband and children for Paris, where she went on to sing and compose in the court of Louis XIV. Parias’ poetic performance left one enamored with these pieces. Finally, Strozzi’s La vendetta (Revenge) from Cantate, ariette, e duetti, 1651 completed the first half of the program. Its lyrics warned: “Revenge is a sweet thing…A woman who is not yet revenged has peace in her mouth and war in her heart!” Once again, Parias gave a splendid performance, leaving the audience on a high note despite the foreboding tone of the song’s words.

The second half of the program featured French pieces, the first being a solo theorbo performance by Nathaniel Cox of Julie Pinel’s Sarabande de Madame Pinel (1675). It was probably the first U.S. performance of the piece, and it set a contemplative mood, deepened then by Pinel’s prayer-like Echos indescrets, taisez vous (Be still, indiscreet echoes). This slow, quiet piece, enchantingly performed by Tošić, entreated: “Do not repeat the name of my beloved. The Gods themselves would be jealous to see my fortune equal to their supreme bliss.” La Donna Musicale has been the first to publish and record Pinel’s music.

Vous partez, belle Iris (You depart, beautiful Iris) by Mademoiselle Herville, published in 1710, followed. Sung by Parias, this lovely song was filled with sadness and sinister hope: “I sense that Love will end my agony, which is less inhumane than your allowing me to die.” Then came excerpts from Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre’s four-movement Violin sonata in D minor, from Sonates pour le viollon et pour le clavecin, 1707. Like Barbara Strozzi, Jacquet de la Guerre was fortunate to have her music published during her lifetime. Both composers came from highly musical families, the latter’s being master harpsichord builders. Her violin sonata revealed an Italian influence in its second and fourth Presto movements, as the French of Louis XIV’s court were more accustomed to slower, elegant phrasing. Violinist Yi-Li Chang played with an avant garde flair and serious acuity rarely found paired in the same classical instrumentalist. Her playing was fluid and engrossing. Dressed all in black and in a leather shirt, she seemed totally unselfconscious— a pleasure to both hear and watch.

Pinel’s Boccages frais (Refreshing woods) then filled the chapel with a melodious duet: “Happy retreat, peaceful exile, in whose every delight I see my lover.” Adding charm, Gutiérrez held her viola da gamba like a guitar, holding and strumming it sideways next to her body. Concluding the romantic, whimsical night was Aux plus heureux Amants, published in 1696 by an anonymous “Mademoiselle.” Gutiérrez explained that women of the aristocracy in that era could not publicly write or publish works because it was considered “beneath” their social rank, and for this reason, Aux plus’ composer remained anonymous. The entire ensemble—along with theorbo—participated in this celebratory song as the singers chanted: “Do you know what renders such a peacefulness in my life? I drink constantly. I have always drunk, I am always drinking, and I shall forever drink.” 

This splendid performance was made even more congenial by an after-show reception complete with hors d’oeuvres and wine. The audience had the opportunity to meet and mingle with the performers, each one of them outstanding in their vocation: Camila Parias, soprano; Daniela Tošić, mezzo-soprano; Yi-Li Change, violin and viola da gamba; Ruth McKay, harpsichord; Nathaniel Cox, theorbo and cornetto; Laury Gutiérrez, viola da gamba. The complete concert experience delivered by La Donna Musicale was made all the richer by Gutiérrez’s engaging, scholarly commentary on individual pieces and composers. This outstanding ensemble is a must see for all music lovers, champions of early music and for those who wish to discover the works of women composers whose stories and music still remain hidden treasures.