Most chamber music nights at the Eastern Music Festival feature a broad range of duos, quartets, and the occasional quintet and beyond, and involve the piano, string, and woodwind faculty. What to do for all those brass and percussion folks? About midseason, a concert is given in which the first half is a wildly eclectic mix using all these players and sometimes some of their star pupils too. The July 13 concert was this season's "everything but the kitchen sink" evening.
I love antiphonal Renaissance brass music such as that of the Gabrieli family of Venice. A few of their canzoni have been staple fare in past programs that seemed all too brief for my tastes. Over half of the printed program for brass was abandoned and the choicest replacement work was a delightful Suite of Six Dances from Danserye by the Flemish composer Tielman Susato (c.1500-c.1561). The program failed to give his first name or dates, but Google turned up an unsigned biographical note associated with the Naxos recording, "At the Sign of the Crumhorn" (8.554425). Susato's birthplace is unknown. He was a trumpeter, a "town player," and he founded the first music-printing company in the Low Countries. The note describes "his melodic material (as) attractive and... particularly strong in its rhythmic characteristics." His Suite opens with a brilliant Moorish dance and ends with a slow and stately pavane. The performance, by most of the Eastern Philharmonic Orchestra's brasses (two horns, five trumpets, three trombones, tuba) and percussion, was full of color and nuance with a strong rhythmic underpinning.
The marimba is my least favorite instrument; the never-ending vibrato that most composers score for it drives me up the wall. Principal Horn Leslie Norton and her husband Christopher Norton, a fine percussionist and a marimba virtuoso, played Daniel McCarthy's "The Call of Boromir." J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is one of the most significant influences in the composer's life. This piece depicts the fall of Boromir, Son of Denothor. Although I have read the books many times and have seen the extended version of the movies, I found it best to consider the music in the abstract. I failed to make much connection between the horn part and the marimba part. The latter added color, and I ignored most of the vibrato. The horn part is a terrific technical workout, and I'm still puzzling over how Leslie sustained two unusually low notes.
Perhaps as a bow to the "cutting edge," percussionists John Fedderson, Norton, and Eric Schweikert performed the "Table Music" of Thierry DeMay (b.1956). This mix of sound and theatre could have been top drawer at the Bang on a Can Festival! According to Steven Ledbetter's notes, the composer "approached musical composition via dance." Dana Auditorium was plunged into darkness, and then spotlights focused on the percussionists, all dressed in black and seated at a table upon which were three boards. They proceeded to stroke, rub, scratch, and tap upon these. Their actions were amplified by a cheap microphone. Their deadpan expressions fleetingly reminded me of the Nairobi Trio routine from The Ernie Kovacs Show . Their hands were used choreographically, and Fedderson excelled in turning his music's pages with gestures of great portent. It ended with the players bumping their foreheads into the boards. The EMF students - the balcony claque - roared their approval.
Richard Strauss' unpublished "Festmusik der Stadt Wien" (1942) and his early "Feierlicher Einzug der Ritter des Johanniter-Ordens" (1908) made full use of the EPO's brass and percussion talent and a few pupils were added for the second piece. The first piece is a brilliant fanfare while the second is appropriately majestic as befits a solemn procession. The EMF folks played their socks off.
Those ready for more standard fare were rewarded with a glowing performance of the String Quintet in G, Op.77, by Dvorák. By adding a doublebass to the string quartet, the composer freed the cello for a greater melodic role. Leonid Finkelshteyn, Principal Bass of the EPO and the NCS, anchored the low end. His deep, rich sound never covered the lines of his colleagues. The fine warm tone of Erica Wise's cello made the most of its many opportunities to sing. Sarah Cote's viola projected easily with an even, full tone. Violinists Shawn Weil and Courtney LeBauer were excellent. Wise produced a very attractive, mellow tone with precise intonation and clear articulation.