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Every time I attend a concert in the Gallery of the Jon Kuhn Studio, I think of the aria "Scintille, diamante" sung by the villainous baritone Dapertutto in the Venice Act of Les Contes d'Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach. Kuhn has a tradition of lending his intimate venue to support local musical efforts. Limited to exactly 100 seats, any concert is rapidly sold out. While his modest folding chairs hardly conjure up the plush couches of a nineteenth century Parisian salon, the ambiance is as close as it gets in the Triad. Kuhn and his assistants laboriously create prismatic sculptures that transfigure plain white light into a myriad of colors. It is a Scriabin-like experience to sit in the gallery basking in the sounds of beautiful music while being bathed in a complex rainbow of colors.
Kuhn said this concert featuring members of the Carolina Summer Music Festival was the public debut of his Kuhn-Bösendorfer #1 half concert grand Model 225. He had been inspired by the Steinway & Sons' Legendary Piano Tour in 2002 which he had seen in High Point. After two years of negotiations with Bösendorfer, he contracted to make unique glass jewels to be inlaid into the wood of the piano. It took three years to make the jewels which were shipped to be installed at the company in Vienna, Austria. The jet black piano is gorgeous with geometric jewels set into the wood along all of its sides with an even larger setting inserted through the piano lid. The sound is full and robust.
The theme of the festival's program was "Summer Music," featuring piano and winds in a delightfully eclectic combination of works by Beethoven, Barber, and Poulenc. Pianist Alex Maynegre, based at the University of Colorado, studied with Luis de Mura Castro who gave several memorable recitals at Duke University in the 80s. Co-director Joseph Mount played horn in the Beethoven while co-director Elizabeth Ransom played flute in the Barber and the Poulenc. Other musicians were oboist Anna Lampidis, clarinetist Anthony Taylor, bassoonist Carol Bernstorf, and Robert Campbell, principal horn in both the Greensboro Symphony and the Winston-Salem Symphony.
The Quintet in E-flat for piano, oboe, clarinet, French horn, and bassoon, Op. 16 (1797) by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) is closely modeled after Mozart's Piano Quintet, K. 452. The opening movement mixes pompousness and playfulness in equal measure. The solo piano part that opens the long-phrased melody of the second movement is very Mozart-like in style. The concluding rondo is boisterous and high-spirited. Maynegre's piano playing was very clear and robust. Mount brought a welcome rustic quality to the horn part. They blended together very well with colleagues Lampidis, Taylor, and Bernstorf.
Flutist Ransom gave brief and apt comments about the origins of Summer Music for Woodwind Quintet, Op. 31 (1956) by Samuel Barber (1910-1981). It was commissioned by the Chamber Music Society and Ransom recalled a letter detailing the work's genesis written by flutist Samuel Baron, a member of the New York Woodwind Quintet. Their playing inspired the composer as he worked closely with these players, exploring every aspect and range of their instruments. The festival players gave a breath-taking performance with seamless lines and beautifully judged expressive nuances. The work reveals new things at every listening.
The Sextet for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn (1930-32) by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) made the perfect light dessert, like a cross between champagne and tiramisu! There is a music hall quality about much of the music. The first movement dashes along at a fast 'n furious pace followed by a poignant slow song before a sparkling finale which seems to mix jazz and the neoclassicism of Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite (1920). All the players excelled in bringing out the myriad of colors and timbres of Poulenc's score. Everything exuded elegance, lightness, and grace. Bravo!