Fuse Concert Review: Winsor Music Chamber Series at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
The Arts Fuse, April 18, 2014
By Jonathan Blumhofer
Praise is due Peggy Pearson and Winsor Music for providing a forum for the talented young composer Lev Mamuya.
The turn of the calendar to April means mostly happy things (at least weather-wise), but also something a bit sad: the beginning of the end of the regular concert season. On Saturday, the Winsor Music Chamber Series closed its 18th season with a performance at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brookline, MA. The program, typical for the series, included two world premieres alongside pieces by Haydn, Bach, and Vivaldi.
The evening’s first premiere belonged to the Syracuse, NY-based composer, Andrew Waggoner. His Down/Up, for oboe, violin, viola, and cello draws its inspiration from a quote by the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart (“a sort of goofball philosopher who’s been a major influence on me,” to paraphrase the composer). The piece begins with an introduction made up of pungent chords before giving way to a driving, groove-based section. This is followed by music that’s more ethereal, higher in register and floating over arpeggiated string figures. These two musical characters – the earthy and the celestial – alternate before a quizzical flourish wraps things up.
It’s a striking piece that received a riveting performance from oboist Peggy Pearson, violinist Gabriella Diaz, violist Stephanie Fong, and cellist Jan Müller-Szeraws. Waggoner’s musical language is complex, to be sure, but not in an off-putting way: in Down/Up, the musical structure reveals itself clearly, and the music’s recurring (or slightly transformed) gestures lend it a kind of Classical quality – a feature that was perhaps emphasized on Saturday by placing it on the program just after a Haydn quartet.
Expressively, this is highly intense music and its inner fire was matched by the playing of the ensemble. Cellist Müller-Szeraws anchored the group’s sound with his rich tone, and oboist Pearson’s delivery of her involved part was full of color and nuance.
The program’s second premiere was of Lev Mamuya’s Ingrain, a set of three variations on an original theme. Mamuya, a 16-year old senior at Boston Latin School, mentioned the influence of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and Latin popular music on the piece in his introductory remarks, though, to judge from the work’s spunky, pizzicato-accompanied opening and its lush, slow section, he’s been studying his Ravel, too.
Whatever his starting points, Ingrain works on a number of levels. For one, it’s invitingly tuneful. Mamuya’s writing for all the instruments (oboe and strings) is highly idiomatic. In both the opening presentation of the tune and the closing, Latin-infused variation, the music moves in wonderfully unpredictable harmonic directions.
His sense of texture is also very refined. The slow variation, with its sumptuous scoring, and the finale, which at one point features a rocking pattern for low strings over which the oboe and violin wind melodic paths, demonstrate uncommon confidence from so young a composer, not to mention some serious musical maturity.
In all, it’s a winning piece and Mamuya an impressive composer, his music already sounding fresh, personable, and distinctive. Saturday’s performance (on which the composer, a Winsor Music Young Artist, performed) was sprightly and energetic. Praise is due Pearson and Winsor Music for providing a forum for this talented young man.
The rest of the program formed a striking contrast to both new pieces, starting off with a 200+ year-old work by Haydn and then going backwards in time.
That Haydn was an arrangement, for oboe and strings, of the String Quartet in E-flat, op. 71, no. 3. Saturday’s players – Pearson, Diaz, Fong, and Müller-Szeraws – took a little while to balance together, but, once that was achieved, gave a performance of sparkling vivacity. Most striking were the second movement – with its flowing, lyrical melodic writing – and finale – one of Haydn’s more subdued rondos. The quartet tapped into the relaxed charm of the latter, while mining an impressive degree of poignancy out of the former.
Bach’s Vater unser im Himmelreich opened the evening’s second half. One of Bach’s “catechism chorale preludes,” it was originally written for organ and features a demanding series of canons that unfold in (almost) timeless fashion. The extended ensemble delivered a focused performance that, if a little dry, was still marked by a sense of deep devotion.
In many ways, though, the most impressive old piece of the evening proved to be Vivaldi’s D minor Concerto, RV 565. It’s a score that seems not to waste a note – short, sweet, and to the point. Saturday’s reading brimmed with energy, nowhere more so than in the brisk finale; the famously bittersweet slow movement, with its plaintive melodic sequences, was also charged with a similar urgency.
Jonathan Blumhofer is a composer and violist who has been active in the greater Boston area since 2004. His music has received numerous awards and been performed by various ensembles, including the American Composers Orchestra, Kiev Philharmonic, Camerata Chicago, Xanthos Ensemble, and Juventas New Music Group. Since receiving his doctorate from Boston University in 2010, Jon has taught at Clark University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and online for the University of Phoenix, in addition to writing music criticism for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.