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April 2013

St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble: "Three Part Inventions" at the Brooklyn Museum

by Michael Cirigliano II

St Luke's Chamber Ensemble, Three Part Inventions, Feast of Music

The St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble crossed the river and descended upon the Brooklyn Museum’s Cantor Auditorium Sunday afternoon, presenting a varied, yet cohesive, afternoon of trios that traced an unlikely stylistic lineage between two Viennese titans and a Hungarian ethnomusicologist.

Paired with a one-movement Schubert piano trio on each half were two large-scale works featuring the clarinet: Brahms’ autumnal A minor Trio and Bartók’s blues-inflected Contrasts. Hardly presented in chronological order, the Bartók’s spiky rhythms were well matched with Schubert’s early B-flat Major Trio, composed at the tender age of 15. Although simplistic in its construction, the work provides many glimpses into the sophisticated sense of melodic contour Schubert was to develop in his later output.

Unfortunately, only guest pianist Benjamin Hochman truly excelled in delivering an energetic sense of style, playfully accenting the many march figures peppered throughout. Violinist Naoko Tanaka and cellist Myron Lutzke were both reticent to make their voices heard, often leaving Hochman to lead the direction and color changes, even when the strings should have been the dominant voices.

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Salerno-Sonnenberg and McDermott Perform with Parker Quartet at 92Y

by Melanie Wong

Tisch_041313_Nadja_SalernoSonnenberg_AnneMarie_McDermott_Parker_StringQuartet_LG

Last Saturday, pianist Anne-Marie McDermott and the Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet joined violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg for a performance at the 92nd Street Y. Both avid chamber musicians, Salerno-Sonnenberg and McDermott are longtime partners and perform together quite frequently. 

The violin-piano duo opened with Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel [Mirror in the Mirror], a sweet, minimalist lullaby, where the piano set the mood with simple triads and soft, ringing bass notes while the violin slowly rose and fell with complete transparency. Although McDermott played beautifully, with a quiet energy, Salerno-Sonnenberg was unable to find purity in her sound and lacked the delicacy required for the piece. Alas, what could have been quite special ended up less than so.

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Clarinetist Jon Manasse Prepares Bartók and Brahms for Upcoming St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble Series

by Michael Cirigliano II

Jon Manasse, Feast of Music Interview 1
Jon Manasse has brought career versatility to a whole new level in today’s classical-music landscape. In addition to his roles as principal in the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, as well as the orchestras of the American Ballet Theater and Mostly Mozart Festival, Manasse has recently received wide acclaim as half of the Manasse/Nakamatsu Duo, commissioning and touring across the world with pianist and longtime collaborator, Jon Nakamatsu

Known for his laser-sharp technique and unique vocal sound, Manasse is a lifetime New York resident, having grown up on Long Island before moving to New York City for his extensive degree work at the Juilliard School. And although teaching and performing engagements have him zigzagging across the globe these days, the clarinetist finds himself at home this week, as he prepares for a diverse program of trios with the St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble. I had the chance to sit down with Manasse to discuss life as a dynamic artist, his meditative performance style, and heralding the next generation of elite musicians.

FoM: Let’s start off by talking about your early studies. For a substantial period of time, you studied with noted clarinet pedagogue David Weber. What aspects of your time with him helped you to hone your craft, transitioning you from Juilliard and into the early stages of your professional career?

JM: Well, it’s interesting to know that he was actually my first clarinet teacher. Prior to that I was playing the saxophone, since I actually really disliked the clarinet and had never heard it played in a way that attracted me to it.

I came into contact with Weber in a serendipitous way. My father used to take me to a famous music store at the time called Ponte Music Company. Charlie Ponte, the owner, brought my father and me to the back of the store one day, and I was like a kid in a candy shop. I was entranced by all of the equipment, and according to my father, there was something that Mr. Ponte heard in my clarinet playing. He thought I should take serious clarinet lessons, and said there was only one name he would recommend in New York City at the time: David Weber.

I still had no interest in the clarinet at the time. Even when I would go to orchestra concerts, I was bewildered that there was no saxophone section. My early interest was in swing and jazz, but I always loved the sound of classical music, too, so that was the incentive to eventually immerse myself in the clarinet.

David Weber was a strict and dogmatic teacher—very specific in his concept, which was a beautiful bel canto sound. His whole approach was that if you didn’t have a voice, you couldn’t sing. The pure, bell-like, smooth, and velvety sound was extremely compelling, and I took off from there. I did as he told me to do from early on, becoming my teacher for two degrees at Juilliard and beyond.

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Jonathan Biss and Elias String Quartet Come Together at Carnegie Hall

by Melanie Wong

Biss

Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega

Last week on the intimate stage of Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, Jonathan Biss, in collaboration with the Elias String Quartet, explored the role of the piano within a chamber-music setting. A prominent North American soloist in his own right, Biss and ESQ have maintained a musical friendship, recently recording an album of Schumann and Dvořák quintets together.

The program opened with a perfectly executed chamber rendition of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 13. While incredibly light and stylistic, Biss’s performance of the Mozart lacked some presence and the overall dynamics left the audience wanting; while the pianissimos were incredible, the forte sections were far less grand than they could have been. Biss used the soft pedal throughout, an artistic choice that allowed for extreme control over the instrument, but greatly dampened the sound. The soft and simple second movement, however, was delivered with great nuance.

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