By Patrick B. McGuigan
The annual Brightmusic Festival featured “Schubert and Friends” over the course of four lively and enjoyable performances in the worship space at two Oklahoma City churches. The finale, a memorial concert honoring the late Mae Ruth Swanson, was all-Franz Schubert.
That evening of fine music began with Schubert’s “Rondeau Brillant” from Brightmusic Artistic director Amy I-Lin Cheng on piano and Gregory Lee on violin. This work, under 15 minutes in length, was pure, sweet and elevating for attendees.
Tenor Andrew Ranson then presented – ably backed by Cheng on keyboard – 10 “Lieder” songs. In his career, Schubert (1797-1828) experimented (quite successfully) in adapting hundreds of folk tales, stories and poems into short tunes that ultimately brought him world-wide acclaim. Alas, much of that recognition came after his untimely death at the age of 31.
Ranson took a few moments to explain in English each of the songs he sang in German. This gave greater meaning in particular to playful tales from “The Love Miller-Maid,” an ultimately dark story of near-psychotic obsession.
Ranson’s tenor voice was resonant, alternatively meditative (prayerful in a couple of instances) and playful (joyous at times). Lyrics came from the works of a wide range of writers, including Johann F. Rochlitz, Friedrich Ruckert, Helmina von Chezy, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and William Muller.
Ranson closed his stellar portion of the festival with “An die Musik” (music by Schubert, poetry by his friend Franz von Schober), aptly described by Miles Hoffman as “a statement of faith in the wondrous powers of music.”
Cheng took the lead in presenting Schubert’s piano trio No. 2 in E-flat major. Joining her were Hal Grossman on the violin and Jonathan Ruck on cello. Both melodious and complex, the familiar tune has been featured in the musical scores for films like “Barry Lyndon,” “The Piano Teacher,” and the miniseries “John Adams.”
Schubert deeply admired Ludwig von Beethoven, and the “trio” was a worthy tribute from the much-younger writer to one of the greatest composers of all time. Although performed on the first anniversary of the great Von B’s passing, it was not published until November 1828 – the very month that Schubert died too young.
Other performers for the four-part festival included Katrin Stamatis (violin), Mark Neumann (viola), George Speed (double bass), Chad Burrow (clarinet), Carl Rath (bassoon), and Kate Pritchett (horn). Guest performers for this Brightmusic sequence included Christopher Theofanidis and David Shifrin.
The “friends” of Schubert included compositions from Theofanidis, Carl Maria von Weber, Bernard Henrik Crusell, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The festival’s course unfolded in conjunction with the days just before and after the May 20 tornado and loss of life in Moore. Organizers juggled schedules and venues (St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral downtown, and All Souls Episcopal on N. Pennsylvania Ave.) and managed to complete the performances on a Thursday evening, as scheduled.
Brightmusic musicians and leadership are already preparing for an eleventh season. For information, visit www.brightmusic.org.
After the devastation in Moore, Brightmusic musicians on Tuesday night (May 21) wanted to dedicate their performance to the storm victims. In that context, Brightmusic organizer David R. Johnson shared a poem he had found with board member Debra Konieczny, who was passing out program notes before the first post-tornado concert.
Johnson was was not sure he could read the words without losing his composure. Mrs. Konieczny examined the verses, then said, “David, this poem must be read tonight. It is essential to the program and to the healing that we all need. You must read this.”
Johnson told The City Sentinel, “Well, I decided, don’t argue with the Bishop’s wife. But I don’t think I could do it again.” The poem follows:
“For the common things of every day,
God gave men speech in the common way;
“For the deeper things men think and feel,
God gave the poets words to reveal;
“For the heights and depths no words can reach,
God gave men music, the soul’s own speech.”
The poem is often attributed to Charles Wesley, the great Methodist writer and composer, but that is not universally accepted. Many scholars conclude the words were composed by an anonymous early-modern writer.
Regardless of authorship, these verses in simple rhyme capture a spirit that emanated from this year’s festival, and hopes for a future that includes brighter days full of music, “the soul’s own speech.”
“The soul’s own speech” – Brightmusic, Schubert and Friends
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