The Maverick Concerts season opens this weekend with a Young People’s Concert by Elizabeth Mitchell & Family on Saturday, June 25, at 11 a.m. That evening at 8 p.m., Actors & Writers presents a reading of Laura Shaine Cunningham’s screenplay “Sleeping Arrangements,” based on her memoir.
Then the Big People’s concerts kick off on Sunday, June 26, as the Escher String Quartet plays works of Beethoven, Bartók, and Dvorák (his great Op. 106, not the usual “American”). All these events take place at the Maverick Concert Hall off Maverick Road in Woodstock. If you’ve never been there before, just drive down Maverick Road until you see the Maverick Concerts sign. Next week I will have a full season preview. Maverick schedules are available all over town. Take one and mark it up with your favorites.
As in recent years, the Maverick Hall was the scene of a pre-season performance by Ars Choralis, under the direction of Barbara Pickhardt, on Saturday, June 18, and Sunday the 19th. The hall was packed on Sunday, as I presume it was on Saturday. This program was entitled “Música Hispánica: Then and Now,” and covered a range from 12th century Spain to living Brazilian and American composers. The big piece on the program, about 20 minutes long, was the “Misa Criolla” by the Argentine Ariel Ramirez. It was one of the first masses composed in a local language after that practice was authorized by the Second Vatican Council, which may account for its celebrity, since the music is entertaining but nothing special. This performance, extremely well sung, was greatly enlivened by a glamorous percussion quartet led by the estimable Karen Levine, using what looked like a variety of folk percussion instruments. I also enjoyed the brief motet by Fernando Sor, known for his pioneering guitar works. Guitarist Greg Dinger must have gotten a kick out of singing one of the solo parts! A movement from a baroque mass by Zipoli was also particularly beautiful; a choral arrangement of a well-known tango by Piazzolla seemed not very necessary. Sometimes Ars Choralis performances can seem rhythmically stiff, but this concert got off to a bouncy start with a psalm setting by Ernani Aguilar and stayed on track throughout. The whole afternoon was entertaining.
For once I got to hear the whole three-concert series of the Hudson Valley Chamber Music Circle, which presents high-octane concerts at Bard College’s Olin Hall every June. The season began on June 4 with a rare area appearance by the Emerson String Quartet, which was once a regular presence at Maverick until it got too popular. This was my first chance to hear the ensemble’s new cellist, Paul Watkins, a superb player, and to see the Emersons’ new practice of standing while playing (except, of course, for the cellist). The program opened with Schubert’s Quartet in A Minor, D. 804, known as the “Rosamunde” because Schubert reused a theme from his incidental music for that play. Some of my music friends complained that they found this performance dull, but to me it seemed wonderfully subtle and emotional. The Emersons have long been known for their Bartók playing, and this version of his Fourth Quartet was powerful and miraculously well played, with a very wild finale. I wasn’t quite as happy with Brahms’s String Quartet No. 2, Op. 51, No. 2, which I’ve sometimes heard played with greater and more appropriate weight, but this was still distinguished playing.
The music directors of this series, Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson, like to perform in it when they can, usually as members of their long-running part-time trio with pianist Joseph Kalichstein. (Next season they celebrate their 40th anniversary!) Their concert on June 11 was interestingly arranged in reverse chronological order, beginning with the Trio No. 2, “Tatiana’s Dream” (inspired by Shakespeare) by David Ludwig, who was present to introduce the piece and then to receive enthusiastic applause. This 21 minute piece has five movements based on the five acts of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but I was content to hear it as pure music, full of imaginative effects and very well scored for the trio. I was particularly impressed by Kalichstein’s exquisite delicacy in the Scherzo. Shostakovich’s Trio No. 2 is one of his, and the 20th century’s, masterpieces. Unlike a recent performance I heard in Saugerties, this one was full-out intensely emotional from start to finish, and in the second movement these greatly accomplished musicians roughened their tone to suit the music. The piano, lid open, sounded powerful but never swamped the strings. Brahms’s Trio No. 1 (actually a very late reworking of an early piece) was thoroughly satisfying, the Adagio memorably beautiful.
The Calidore String Quartet, which concluded the series on June 18, has collaborated in performance with the Emersons. It has a list of credits and accomplishments which runs several paragraphs, and it recently was the first winner of a new $100,000 prize from the University of Michigan. But I wasn’t very happy with this concert. A nagging discontent soon resolved itself as I realized the articulation of the cello (very clear) didn’t match that of the first violin (very slurry). This difference remained obvious throughout the works of Mozart, Rachmaninov, and Mendelssohn, and I kept thinking that the cellist was right and the violinist wasn’t. The ensemble’s precise coordination was up to contemporary (very high) standards but the discoordination in articulation really bothered me. Also, it’s kind of interesting to know that the young Rachmaninov tried writing a string quartet and completed two of the movements, but they’re not really worth an audience’s time.
I evaluate the success of my summer partially on the number of Aston Magna concerts I get to. The season opened on Friday, June 17, at Bard’s Bitó Conservatory Hall, a smaller and perhaps more appropriate venue than Olin Hall for these concerts, which sometimes play to distressingly small audiences. I have no idea why, since they represent a gathering of some of the world’s best early music players and singers.
I might have ordered this concert, “Love and Lamentation: Monteverdi’s Legacy in Rome” differently. It started with music by the giant Monteverdi and continued with three decidedly lesser early Italian baroque composers: Biagio Marini, Marco Marazzoli, and Luigi Rossi. That’s OK, I’d never heard of them either. The two vocal works of Monteverdi, excerpts from his “L’Orfeo” and the famous “Lamento d’Arianna” (all that remains of a complete opera) were simply gorgeous music. Nell Snaidas sang the first item, Kristen Watson the second, with different but equally beautiful voices and equal command of style. After these masterpieces, the other composers seemed quite minor, particularly the generic sadness in the “Death of Euridice” excerpt from Rossi’s “Orfeo.” However, as always with Aston Magna, the performances enlivened all of the music, being very well played and well balanced and as stylish as anything you could hear anywhere in the world. Watching Laura Jeppeson play baroque violin and viola da gamba is a treat in itself. Hearing her playing is wonderful too, but I have seldom seen a performer who gives off such a palpable sense of pure joy while performing.
Jeppesen has a major role in next week’s concert, “The Trio Sonata,” June 24 at Bitó. It includes music by nine composers, including a newly-composed piece by Alex Burtzos for baroque instruments. These concerts start at 8 p.m. and they are preceded by pre-concert talks at 7 p.m., which can be enlightening if the speakers remember to project clearly.
Bard has loads more music coming up this summer but I’ll have plenty of chance to write about it later as this column now goes bi-weekly for the summer.