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Bright music

Colorado Colleges Summer Music Festival turns 20

Scott Yoo (in jacket), music director of Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra in New York City, pictured with the 2003 Colorado College Summer Music Festival Orchestra.
  • Scott Yoo (in jacket), music director of Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra in New York City, pictured with the 2003 Colorado College Summer Music Festival Orchestra.

Classical music is in abundance through July 6 at The Colorado College, which is celebrating the 20th year of its annual Summer Music Festival. With complimentary tuition (in honor of its anniversary) for the music students, the Festival attracts national and international faculty musicians, and concerts range from Festival student orchestra performances to faculty chamber recitals. The repertoire runs the gamut, and the faculty chamber performance on Wednesday, June 23, was an excellent marriage of an intriguing program and superb musicianship.

The evening began with a lyrical and lush rendition of Robert Schumann's Andante and Variations for Two Pianos, Two Cellos and French Horn. Written in 1843, this is an odd yet effective pairing of instruments. Due to its acoustical challenges, Schumann rescored the work for two pianos alone and it was premired soon thereafter by his wife Clara and Felix Mendelssohn.

While at times the two pianos appeared to overpower their cellos and horn partners, some of the most effective moments were the antiphonal conversations alternating between the pianos and their cello counterparts. Both Susan Grace and William Wolfram tackled the piano's acrobatics with zest, and cellists David Ying and Bion Tsang played with grace and the camaraderie of old friends.

The "big piece" of the evening was Richard Strauss' "Metamorphosen. " Many will recognize the work, as it is often included in orchestral performances for the string section. It is a mournful depiction of the devastation of war written upon the conclusion of World War II, and Strauss' grief over the destruction of Dresden, Weimar and Munich. As he was quoted in 1945, "History is almost entirely an unbroken chain of acts of stupidity and wickedness, every sort of baseness, greed, betrayal, murder and destruction. And how little those who are called upon to make history have learned from it." The chamber version upon which the popular orchestral version was based was not discovered until 1990 and was written for two violins, two violas, two cellos and a bass.

The Strauss ensemble featured violinists Steven Copes and Stefan Hersh, violists Phillip Ying and Virginia Barron, cellists David Ying and Tsang, and bassist Susan Cahill. Notable for her warmth and tenor of sound, violist Barron played with great depths of feeling and skill. There were moments when Copes overpowered the group; however, toward the final movements of the piece, there was sheer artistry in the ensemble playing. Rich and languid, the grief-stricken Strauss was brought to life and we once again, through the power of music, were reminded of the horrors of war.

Surprisingly, the highlights of the evening were the two works in the first half of the concert: Aram Khachaturian's Trio for Violin, Clarinet and Piano, and Ned Rorem's "Bright Music" for flute, two violins, cello and piano. Khachaturian, a Soviet composer held prominent in the 1940s and 1950s, composed the Trio in 1932. Full of folk and native imagery and melodies, the Trio exuded fiery gypsy playing by all three musicians --Grace on piano, Jon Manasse on clarinet and Mark Fewer on violin. Manasse played with astonishing lyricism and musicality, while his colleague Fewer performed with such fervor he was dancing in his chair (and no doubt has a little gypsy in his soul). Their musical conversation, culminating in the third movement, was brilliant in execution and delivery.

Similarly Rorem's "Bright Music" was a near-perfect example of true ensemble work -- from beginning to end. Written in 1987 in five movements, Rorem's piece was commissioned by flutist Marya Martin. Wednesday's performance featured violinists Copes and Fewer, flutist Marina Piccinini, cellist David Ying and pianist Wolfram. The quintet, brilliantly led by Copes, moved with ease from movement to movement -- balance, intonation and interpretation were remarkable. Of note: Mr. Copes' violin playing -- his rich, warm, honeyed tones were a delight, and Wolfram's work at the piano was first-class.

The Festival continues through July 6 when it culminates with a performance by the Festival Student Orchestra and conductor Scott Yoo playing the works of two of classical music's great icons -- Beethoven and Brahms. Featuring guest violinist and faculty member Robert Chen, the Orchestra will perform Beethoven's Violin Concerto, and Brahms Symphony No. 1 in C minor.

Beethoven's Violin Concerto, truly one of the great violin concertos, was premired in 1806 by his friend and colleague, Franz Clement. Rumor had it that Beethoven had only just finished the piece and Clement saw it for the first time that night at the performance. As is often true of great works of art, the piece fell out of favor, and it was not until the concerto was rediscovered by child prodigy Joseph Joachim, who gave a memorable series of performances with Mendelssohn conducting. Chen, concertmaster for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is the featured soloist.

-- Carolyn Carroll


The Colorado College's Summer Music Festival

Tickets still available

For a complete schedule of faculty concerts, chamber concerts and festival orchestra concerts and ticket availability, call 389-6098 or visit (click on Summer Arts Festival)

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