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Even among the dozens of fine performances available to audiences during the Eastern Music Festival's magical month, the EMF faculty performances stand out. These are some of the finest teaching and performing artists in the world of Classical music, and to see and hear them together in various chamber combinations is dazzling.
Tuesday's concert by the collective known as the Eastern Chamber Players was a variety show encompassing nearly three centuries. With Baroque bookends and some colorful pieces from the 20th and 21st centuries, the program promised to be a sonic journey. The concert began with a sharp, tight, and refined rendition of Telemann's Concerto for Trumpet and Two Oboes in D. Though brief, this piece traverses a wealth of textures.
The trio of soloists was elegant and sparkling. Trumpeter Chris Gekker was careful not to overpower oboists Randall Ellis and Karen Birch Blundell. The ensemble behind them was transparent and supple, maintaining a noticeable rhythmic bounce throughout. All in all, a fine opening.
Filling out the first half was a lovely pair of movements by little-known American composer Charles Griffes. The Two Sketches Based on Indian Themes, scored for string quartet, is anything but sketched: it is a sculpted and deft work with extraordinary quartet writing. Though composed in 1919, this music's open, sparse harmonic language and splashy moments of pizzicato and harmonics would sound equally at home in a contemporary American quartet.
The second half went forward in time, though somewhat backward in elegance. Belgian composer Thierry de Mey's "Musique de Table" ("Table Music") from 1987 calls for three percussionists performing on an amplified wooden surface. Percussionists Matthew Decker, Eric Schweickert, and John Shaw did a masterful job navigating the combination of music and theater, and the piece's moments of comedy provided a welcome contrast to the serious Griffes quartet. However, "Table Music" relies far too heavily on shtick, never delivering what the scenario promises in either compositional interest or performance virtuosity. I couldn't help but wonder what an astonishing, explosive act these fine percussionists could have concocted on their own when presented with a similar concept.
The following selection was Bill Douglas' Quartet for Flute, Oboe, Bassoon, and Piano, written in 2013. This piece is light and approachable, but also vague and clumsy. The four movements juxtapose several genres, ranging from jazz to Iberian to French Impressionist. Unfortunatley, Douglas doesn't explore any of the styles with clarity or care. Rather than an insightful juxtaposition, the piece is an exoticists buffet of sounds lifted from their rich original contexts and placed helter-skelter alongside one another. Despite the flaws in the composition, the musicians performed excellently, and EMF deserves praise for giving so much space to the 20th and 21st centuries.
For the finale, the Eastern Chamber Players returned to the Baroque with J.S. Bach's third Brandenburg Concerto. This piece's rich, resonant complement of strings contrasted perfectly with the opening Telemann's clarity and bounce, and performers and audience alike basked in the rolling counterpoint. Harpsichordist Marika Bournaki provided a fine cadenza atop the two lonely and enigmatic chords that comprise the middle "movement." The closing Allegro was blazingly fast, and brought the evening's colorful sonic journey to an authoritative close. Greensboro, get ready: we're still early in the EMF calendar, and these players are on fire. Bravi to all!
See our calendar for upcoming performances at the Eastern Music Festival.