Music News & Reviews

Chamber Festival to commission more compositions

Musicians prepared to perform at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion on Newtown Pike. World-premiere performances will become a regular staple after Saturday's announcement of a joint-commissioning project.
Musicians prepared to perform at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion on Newtown Pike. World-premiere performances will become a regular staple after Saturday's announcement of a joint-commissioning project. Lexington Herald-Leader

Organizers of the 4-year-old UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington have announced that the festival and the Lexington Philharmonic will join forces to commission more new works for coming years — making the festival a continuing showcase for composers.

For the third consecutive year, the festival commissioned a new work that received its world premiere during the weekend.

But before Saturday night's performance of Roger Zare's Geometries, festival president Charles H. Stone, artistic director Nathan Cole and Lexington Philharmonic music director Scott Terrell announced they will continue to showcase new pieces.

Every two years, Terrell and Cole will collaborate on selecting a composer who will write a new work for the festival and then a composition for the Philharmonic the following season. The project will begin in 2011.

Stone said that for several years the festival and the Philharmonic had been looking for, "a program that ... would benefit both organizations and shine a bright light on the musical community in Lexington."

Terrell said the discussion about co-commissioning began in the midst of conversations about the orchestration of Daniel Thomas Davis' Book of Songs and Visions, which was the festival's first world premier in 2008. Terrell said he had commissioned the orchestration of that chamber work while he was resident conductor of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra in South Carolina.

The commission got put on hold and Terrell ended up getting hired by the Philharmonic in 2009. The orchestral premiere will take place early next year in Lexington — so both the chamber and orchestral premiers will have the same home. Future commissions will not necessarily be variations of the same work.

Prior to Saturday's concert, Terrell said he had not found a similar commissioning collaboration anywhere in the country.

"This will draw enormous attention to us on a national scale," Terrell told the audience.

Terrell and Stone said they were in talks with a composer for the first joint commission, but were not yet ready to announce who it will be.

Affirmation of the composer-in-residence program came immediately after the announcement with the world premiere of Geometries.

Inspired by math

Geometries is inspired by math, but what really comes across in the two-movement, 14-minute piece is passion.

In Fractals, the first movement, a theme starts in the clarinet and then moves through the other three instruments — piano, cello and violin. It's a sweet, simple theme that seemed born from sunrise over the landscape surrounding the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion, where the festival takes place.

The second movement, Tangents, introduced several themes that move toward one another for a symphonic finale, with Zare making the quartet sound like a much larger ensemble, particularly through the piano and clarinet.

The weekend started with a composer focus in Friday night's finale, Olivier Messiaen's aching Quartet for the End of Time, a 1940 piece virtually inseparable from the circumstances of its composition in a German prisoner of war camp.

If the audience had not been told that, we still would have sensed it in the performance by clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein, pianist Alessio Bax, cellist Priscilla Lee, and violinist Cole, a Lexington native who is now in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The sensitivity the musicians showed in their earlier performances that evening took full effect here. Each player had arresting solos, Fiterstein being the first as a voice rising from a silent hell.

That and other selections through the weekend highlighted one of the treats of this year's event: the performances of guest clarinetist Fiterstein.

Adding a wind instrument to the festival, which had previously been all strings, brought a new color and vibrance to the event. And Fiterstein's deceptively easygoing style made him a pleasure to watch.

Ping pong and Mozart

Sunday's family-friendly finale paired Zare's music with the work of a man some would call the ultimate composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The performance essentially turned the stage of the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion into Zare's living room, with his fabulously talented friends dropping by to help him get over composer's block.

"You've been up here de-composing for weeks," Bax said, giving Zare a book about Mozart to inspire him to start writing again.

What many will likely remember from this performance is Zare's Dark and Stormy Night, which featured Zare and Bax placing ping pong balls on the strings of the Steinway grand piano on the stage, producing a spooky ping. It started with a few balls, but by the end of the piece, the composer emptied a box of balls into the Steinway.

The casual performance ended the festival by demonstrating that these musicians take their music, but not themselves, seriously.

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