Normally, I upload cool pictures of the concerts I attend. Unfortunately, I recently broke my phone (dropped it), and the pictures from this marvelous concert were on that device. So, you'll have to suffice with a portrait of Marianna Martines (above), who I have written about before. Read on to discover the experience that was, To Sing Again...
Sunday, March 12th, I attended an annual concert that I wish took place more than once a year. Presented by the Women and Music Mix of the Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center, this year’s Alfredo and Dimitra Deluzio Concert was entitled To Sing Again. In honor of Women’s History Month, it featured music by Amy Beach, Rebecca Clark, Ruth Lomon, and Marianna von Martines, whose gorgeous, masterful works remain woefully underperformed in today’s classical concert world.
After a warm, informative welcome by its organizer, Liane Curtis, the program began with Beach’s devastatingly beautiful Dreaming. Originally composed for solo piano and published in 1892, it was arranged by the composer in 1937 for cello and piano. Rhonda Rider’s cello sang sensuously expansive phrases as Sarah Bob’s piano spun fine harmonic webs, making this opener a lyrical gem. Its entrancing music built into a climactic crescendo, and then dissipated into a peaceful, suspended beauty. Rider’s passionate, lucid playing complimented Bob’s tasteful dexterity, leaving the audience captivated.
Binnorie: A Ballad by Rebecca Clarke followed. Although she composed many pieces that went unpublished during her lifetime, today she is best known for her 1919 Violin Sonata. Binnorie: A Ballad was discovered in Clarke’s estate in 1997 and was most likely completed in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Its text is a traditional Scottish ballad, telling the story of a young princess who is murdered—drowned—by her own sister over the love of a knight. A musician builds a harp out of her body, and upon entering the court where the maiden once lived, it begins playing by itself—revealing truths and cursing the treacherous sister. Accompanied by Sarah Bob, baritone Brian Church sang this haunting, epic tale. His resonant voice intelligently captured the lengthy song’s tragedy while simultaneously making it a dramatic show-stopper.
Next came Ruth Lomon’s piece, Metamorphosis. It transforms thematic elements throughout its three movements—Source, Emergence, and Imago. Motivic quarter tones are reworked into focal points in the first two movements, with otherworldly plucking of the piano strings creating a numinous mood from the outset. A dramatic cello entrance enhances the surreal atmosphere. Lomon’s spellbinding use of dynamics, resonance, tone and texture, coupled with modern techniques, strumming, and cello slides crafted a spell over the listeners. Ms. Bob’s fierce, confident playing enlisted the attention of everyone present, while Rhonda Rider’s consummate cello chops highlighted the instrument’s extended possibilities. The second movement ended in a fury of bowing cello, and Rider’s passion was such that after the conclusion of her very last phrase, her bow hit the side of the instrument. The atmospheric sound created by this chance collision was a perfect accomplice to Lomon’s musical incantation. A disjointed, hypnotic third movement involving percussive piano textures and excited momentum left one in awe of how masterfully crafted and trailblazing this piece is. Written in 1984, it is a must for every aspiring contemporary composer and lover of contemporary classical works.
Ms. Lomon, who was present, received a loving ovation from the audience. Born in 1930, she has been a scholar and composer at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis since 1998 and is perhaps best known for her song-cycle, Songs of Remembrance and her oratorio, Testimony of Witnesses. Both pieces are based on the poetry of Holocaust victims and survivors. During the applause she received two large bouquets of flowers, which she sweetly handed over to each of the performers onstage. It was a heartwarming, unforgettable moment.
After intermission we were treated to two psalm settings by 18th century Viennese composer, Marianna von Martines. A contemporary and friend of Mozart, she was known in Vienna and throughout Europe for her compositional genius and remarkable vocal talents. Eudaimonia, a conductorless period orchestra co-led by Vivian Montgomery (harpsichordist and scholar at the WSRC) and violinist Julia McKenzie, performed In Exitu Israel de Aegypto and Quemadmodum desiderat cervus. The two psalms set Italian translations of the traditional Latin and manifested rhapsodic vocal writing, showcasing the beauty and fluidity of the human voice. With graceful and balanced instrumental textures interwoven throughout, Martines’ psalms are brilliant examples of the elegant galant style. Eudaimonia’s eight instrumentalists and five singers (two female and three male) encapsulated the auditorium in Martines’ acoustically gorgeous harmonies. Soprano Kathryn Aaron’s dulcet voice along with Carrie Cheron’s soothing mezzo, helped conjure the composer’s sonorous magic. The ensemble played continuously throughout In Exitu’s six movements and Quemadmodum’s eleven. Montgomery, seated in the center with her harpsichord, cultivated an unrelenting, impressive musicality, rounding off each fascinating movement with Martines’ exquisite cadences.
After the show the performers revealed that learning this centuries-old music is akin to undertaking contemporary work because there are no recordings or previous performances to draw from. Essentially, for the interpreter—as well as for the listener—this is new music. If this concert is any indication of the future of classical music, it is this: the future is female.
You can also find this review on the Boston Music Intelligencer.