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The most recent offering in the Smedes Parlor Concert Series, given on January 28, was one of its "Emerging Young Artists" events. It featured Ciompi Quartet violist Jonathan Bagg and his two children, 15-year-old Sam, pianist, and 12-year-old Eliza, violinist, in a diverse program of music from the 18th to the 20th centuries that allowed them to present a representative sampling of instrumental combinations and musical styles.
The opener was Handel's Trio Sonata in F, Op. 2/1. Sam managed his instrument well, controlling his touch and the volume appropriately for a work written for the harpsichord, often primarily supplying a continuo. Theirs was a delightful rendering. Sam and Eliza followed with Mozart's two-movement Sonata No. 22, in A, K.305 (1778), for Piano and Violin, likewise well played, with Sam's handling of the keyboard appropriately adapted for its different role in this work. Sam next soloed with four brief Chopin works: the Preludes in B flat and g minor, Op. 28/21 & 22, the Mazurka in f#, Op. 6/1, and the Etude in F, Op. 10/8. He proved he could produce a truly large sound in the second of the group, that he could master a fairly complex rhythm in the third, and that he could really make his fingers fly in the fourth. The nearly full-house audience was duly and appropriately impressed and enthusiastic in its applause.
Sam and Eliza returned after intermission to offer two movements of Prokofiev's Sonata for Violin and Piano in D, Op. 94a (transcribed by him from his 1943 flute sonata, Op. 94), a difficult piece for musicians this young which they nonetheless handled fairly well. Presumably, they will ultimately master the final two movements and present the whole, and their rendering will then be more fully developed, cohesive and coherent. The evening concluded with Robert Schumann's three Fantasy Pieces, Op. 73, for Viola (composed in 1849 for clarinet or violin or cello) and Piano, which was perhaps the finest performance of the evening, thus further demonstrating skillful crafting of a program.
Sam was a fine soloist in the Chopin pieces, which were particularly well chosen to demonstrate the diversity of his talent and skills, but he was an even better chamber player, watching his partners constantly, without burying his head in his scores. It is truly rare to find this kind of communication and sensitivity to ensemble in one so young. His playing also had a great deal of warmth and feeling, and he demonstrated mature confidence and poise in his comportment, better on both counts than his near peer, the slightly older Sergiy Komirenko, whom we have also heard, critiqued, and admired in the past. Eliza is understandably a bit less mature musically, but she, too, demonstrated outstanding skill and impressive confidence and poise for her years, likewise surpassing her slightly older peer, Olena Komirenko. They were both the most confident and at ease when they were joined by their dad, but they are clearly more than just "emerging artists": they are on the verge of taking full flight.
Even page turning was kept in the family for the occasion, this service being provided for Sam by his mother Susan Greenberg, who was also his first teacher. The Baggs are a musical dynasty: Jonathan's mother, who lives in the Northampton, MA, area, where the children spend their summers at the Greenwood Music Camp in Cummington, is a cellist. Might we perhaps one day be treated to a three-generational piano quartet program?
The Smedes Parlor series was begun in 1980 by its current and only director, pianist and St. Mary's faculty member Terry Thompson, who deserves our hearty thanks for her long-term, devoted efforts. It has continued since uninterrupted, except for a one-year hiatus due to lack of funding at the time when the institution transitioned its format to secondary level only, after which Thompson re-focused it to include each year two programs featuring young artists. This is most appropriate for the school which is its venue, giving its students exposure to peers to admire as well as professionals to emulate. This is arguably the best venue in the area for chamber music - having been built in 1839, it is easily the oldest - and likewise arguably the area's best regular chamber music series featuring primarily local talent. We wish it many more years of continued success; with programs like this one, it can hardly fail.