Hudson Valley Chamber Music Circle Concert at Bard

Saturday evening I attended the second concert in the Hudson Valley Chamber Music Circle’s series at Bard College. Playing were Carmit Zori on violin, Beth Guterman on viola, Sophie Shao on cello, and Reiko Uchido on piano. The concert was dedicated to contemporary composer Richard Wilson for his seventieth birthday and featured two of his compositions as well as works by Beethoven and Brahms.

The first piece was one of Richard Wilson’s compositions, “Music for Violin and Cello.” Four movement in total, each is different but they all bear a similar current. The work begins with sheer, dissonant notes before cello plays in a halting, questioning way. Violin and cello rarely play completely as one, in either the first movement or the other three, yet each is always aware of the other’s presence.  Throughout the entire piece the notes are sparse, placing more weight on each one. The notes that are chosen are deliberate and intense, and an interesting mix of staccato, legato, slides, and even shrieks are heard. The two instruments play in a distressed manner, but are also very expressive. Not so much an expression of voice, however, the music is more of an expression of inner thoughts and emotions.

The next piece on the program was Beethoven’s String Trio in G Major, Op. 9 No. 1. The first movement begins with bold, beautiful chords by the three instruments before proceeding with nimble notes marked with a grace that is characteristic of Beethoven’s music. In this piece the instruments are very much three parts of a whole, and those parts are tightly connected. Viola and cello frequently play in unison while violin takes the lead, but cello and viola get moments in the spotlight as well. The delicate second movement is light and cascades through the room, drooping from the instruments and bows before being caught by the air and carried away. The scherzo third movement is full of rapid, heavily accented lines interspersed with lighter passages (although just as rapid). There are also long-bowed legato notes, however, and the contrast between those and the staccato notes creates a very effective tension. The last movement runs onward from the first note and the violin’s bow never stops for more than a fraction of a second until the end, a flurry of notes tumbling from the stage. The music climbs into upward runs, descends briefly, then surges once more as the ending comes upon you quickly, marked by one long note.

After that came the second piece Richard Wilson wrote, “Motivations for Cello and Piano.” Piano opens smoothly and jazzily as cello plucks a few soft notes before singing moodily when played with the bow. Not long after, a dream-like sequence is played which closes the first “motivation.” The second movement is slightly more subdued, although just as dynamic. It has a more bluesy quality to it, yet there are also moments when cello plays with fluttering delicacy. The piano and cello start out playing together but then take turns playing, challenging one another, although for the last few notes they join together once more. The third movement begins with just cello, piano then joining playing dark chords. The music edges shiftily onwards but circles back time and time again, ending surprisingly softly and mellow.

The last piece on the program was Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25. The music opens with piano, but cello joining almost immediately after, then viola and violin. Piano plays with drama matched by the stringed instruments, both strong and gentle at the same time. The music shows the range, tone, beauty, and power or each of the instruments and is charged with angst and mystery while still being tender. Midway through the music lightens, the dynamics lifting and the mood softening. That respite is brief, however, as fury fills the music once again shortly after. It climbs to greater and greater heights, plummets down to the depths of the instruments’ range, rises again, then falls once more to close. The second movement opens as though it has actually been playing already, as though it simply wafts into earshot mid-song. Because of this the listener is eased into the movement, and before you know it the music is gripping you. The melody is utterly compelling, and the lyric beauty is backed by a persistent driving force. The Andante third movement opens warmly, each note melting into the next, yet as it progresses the music becomes march-like. Piano plays strong chords which crash behind the abrupt notes played by the stringed instruments, but just as the music reaches its climax it ebbs. From there it takes on a sweetness and closes with tenderness and warmth. The final movement is full of unbelievably fast runs broken occasionally by long-bowed notes. Parts are also plucked by violin, viola, and cello as piano runs in the background. Darkly thrilling throughout, the music course through bars of music with unwavering strength. As the end draws near a series of strong, pronounced chords are played, followed by runs, and—finally, with increasing tempo—the music circles, bows fly, and arms are suspended in the air as the final notes by all the instruments linger momentarily in the air until fading.

The Hudson Valley Chamber Music Circle was founded in 1950 and continuously features stellar programs by truly outstanding musicians. The concert last Saturday was particularly exceptional and the music was everything you could ask for: beautiful, passionate, thrilling, and invigorating. I love all of the well-known (and long dead) classical composers, but I also love hearing the works of modern composers and appreciate that the Hudson Valley Chamber Music Circle features several each year.

*The last concert in this year’s series will be held Saturday, June 25th and will feature the Johannes String Quartet playing works by Mozart, Dvořák, and Ottorino Respighi. For more information visit hvcmc.org or call 845-339-7907.

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