Keowee Chamber Music is a highly flexible group when it comes to their performance venues, their programming and the composition of their ensembles. For this concert, artistic director and co-founder Kate Steinbeck was joined by guitarist Amy Brucksch (a regular of the Keowee group) and the young cellist Elizabeth Gergel.
In the past, I have heard Keowee perform at churches in Hendersonville, Asheville and Greenville SC, at Pretty Place Chapel (a stunningly beautiful outdoor location in Cedar Mountain), at the Reuter Center of UNC-Asheville, in the Asheville Public Library and other locations. For this late afternoon concert, the venue was a River Arts District studio where painters Grace Carol Bomer, Christine Longoria and Shelley Pereda-Camp actively painted while the trio played.
The first half of the program featured each instrument in solo works. First was an Astor Piazzolla tango for guitar. This was followed by three movements of Bach’s Suite No. 2 in D minor, (BWV 1008) for solo cello: Prelude, Allemande and Courante. Many young cellists play Bach as though it were an exercise, but not eighteen-year-old Ms. Gergel. She produced a resonant sound on her instrument, and shaped an intelligent rendition that displayed empathy and feeling. In three Irish-inspired airs by Boston-based Tom Febonio, Ms. Steinbeck showed the great warm tone that a modern Abell wooden flute can deliver. The upper register, in particular, never became strident in the second of the three dances.
The major work was “Canciones y Danzas,” a five-movement trio for guitar, flute and cello by American composer Vivian Fine (1930-2000). In the first movement “Farewell to Bilbao” (a serious reflection on the Spanish Civil War), the flute sends strident Morse code signals against a repeated thrumming by the other instruments. After the poetic “Ode to Frogs,” the third movement “Frog Prince and the Señorita” is a whimsical tango. The fourth movement “Soliloquy” was hauntingly beautiful, performed exquisitely on solo guitar by Bruksch. The final “Jiga de la Muerte” – a “Dance of Death” – makes splendid use of two-octave (and other interval) doubling of the flute and cello. Steinbeck and Gergel deserve accolades for their mastery of ensemble playing; I have seldom heard such close rapport in exposed passages where the slightest hesitation by either player could have destroyed the dramatic impact.
As an encore, the Keowee Chamber group played another brief Piazzolla work. An audience of about thirty was attentive to both the music and the art. The railroad even cooperated: the only freight train to pass did so during intermission.