Patrick B. McGuigan
Some in the world of fine music affect a studied touch for the average man and woman. For others, however, the common touch is so refined that it crosses all barriers of class, income and partisanship, rising to the level of an anthem for things that unite, rather than divide us.
With every pew full or nearly so, the Brightmusic Chamber musicians on September 25 (“Voila! Viola”) delivered a concert destined to remain a cherished memory for all present, a time that one hopes will remain available online and on disc for years to come.
Guest artist Miles Hoffman praised Brightmusic (“this remarkable group”) before joining pianist Amy I-Lin Cheng and stalwart performer Chad Burrow (clarinet) for the opening pair of numbers.
Cherished for this Brightmusic fan were the five pieces chosen from Max Bruch’s “Pieces for Clarinet, Viola and Piano” (Op. 83). Hoffman elicited a smile after he observed the German composer was a “conservative to the bone, musically” – a fan of order, structure and beautiful musical sequences. To be sure, the trio collaborated deftly on Bruch’s short (20 minutes or so) compilation.
Then followed the more experimental composition of Lowell Lieberman, a living American composer known for …, well, let’s say a different approach. Hoffman encouraged attendees simply to enjoy themselves, saying, “It’s not the job of an audience to pass a musical theory test.”
Hoffman, best known for appearances on National Public Radio (Morning Edition, The Classical Music Companion) delivered excellent commentary before each of the evening’s stellar collaborative efforts with the magnificent members of the Brightmusic ensemble.
After intermission came the big name composer – perhaps the biggest name of all in chamber music in particular, and in classical musical, generally.
Hoffman drew laughter when he pointed out the typical (and always correct) observation that comes forth from musicians concerning the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. When discussing such things with average folks one says, simply: “Oh yeah. Great piece.”
Hoffman reflected that the Mozart String String Quintet No. 4 in G Minor (K. 516) can evoke a sense of “wonder and despair” for some musicians (drawing another chuckle from the friendly crowd) because it is the result of habitual genius.
What provokes wonder, time and again, is the reality that Mozart delivered unparalleled excellence over and over in varied works. Each composition required choices, as Hoffman noted – and somehow Mozart’s choices were perfect, every time.
For that closing presentation with Gregory Lee (violin), Karrin Stamtis (Violin), Jonathan Ruck (Cello) and Mark Neumann (Viola), Hoffman abandoned the customary straight-backed chair, to choose a piano bench as his seated station. The quintet became as one, with only an occasional glimpse at one another. Their brought forth flawless blended pauses and allowed one or the other to shine in moments of personal brilliance.
For the opening Allegro, the group worked so nicely together that the music – truly for this reviewer, not merely in flights of imagination provoked by the setting in the St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral worship space – seemed a deft choice for a band of angels playing in the foyer or anteroom of Heaven itself.
More light and (seemingly) effortless was the Menuetto (in second position), airy and gentle.
The Adagio ma non troppo was a recognizable tune from the start. Ruck’s cello established the beat as deftly as any drum, then came violas and finally violins. Hoffman’s egalitarian excellence reached its summit in this moment and throughout the rest of a final half-hour of musical bliss, with palpable and utterly mutual exchanges of themes and echoes swirling through the air.
The concluding Adagio hinted at that Peace beyond all understanding that we all hope awaits the end of our days.
It is no secret how much this reporter values the work of Brightmusic. Every time, the musical encounter is a joy. But early in a busy week, this particular evening will, now and always, stand out.