Extract from Dvořák Society Newsletter 95 (April 2011)
Sonya Szabo Reynolds, an American member, is a pianist and has been a member of the piano faculty at Xavier University in Cincinnati since 1993. As well as regularly contributing a report From the New World to our quarterly Newsletter, Sonya has edited her mother Eva Szabo’s English translation of the memoirs of Bohumil Fidler (1860–1944), the Czech composer, choirmaster, choral conductor, music teacher and friend of Dvořák (Bohumil Fidler: “My Life and Memories”). Sonya is Fidler’s great granddaughter …
For Dvořák Society Newsletter 95 (April 2011), Sonya Szabo Reynolds contributed the following —
From the New World… by Sonya Szabo Reynolds
Chamber Music Cincinnati presented the Escher Quartet on January 17, 2011 in a rare program that featured Janáček’s String Quartet No 2, “Intimate Letters” (1928); Zemlinsky’s String Quartet No 3, Op 19 (1924); and Dvořák’s String Quartet No 13 in G Major, Op 106, B 192 (1895). Over 150 chamber music devotees attended the concert, which took place at 8:00 pm in Robert J Werner Recital Hall at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
British readers of the Newsletter in particular will be interested to know that this season the Escher Quartet has been appointed as one of the BBC’s New Generation Artists, and as part of that program is slated to record two of the above works — Janáček’s String Quartet No 2 and Dvořák’s String Quartet No 13 — for Radio 3.
In Cincinnati, the evening’s program opened with Janáček’s String Quartet No 2, “Intimate Letters”. The Escher Quartet’s vigorous, passionate style is ideally suited to this work that musically encapsulates the composer’s intense feelings for Kamila Stösslová, his muse. The ensemble (Adam Barnett-Hart, violin; Wu Jie, violin; Pierre Lapointe, viola; Dane Johansen, cello) played with equal amounts of energy and lyricism, and exploited a full range of dynamics and expression. There was a remarkable declamatory effectiveness of rhythms in the performance – as if each note was being sung within a Janáček opera, packed with emotion.
Viennese composer Alexander von Zemlinsky (1872-1942) lived in Prague from 1911 to 1927, during which time he composed his third quartet as a sort of requiem for his sister — also Arnold Schönberg’s wife — Mathilde, who died in 1924. For the Zemlinsky Quartet No 3, the Escher Quartet continued to impress with musical depth and maturity that belies their youthfulness. It was a committed performance that bodes well for their upcoming recording of the complete Zemlinsky quartets for Naxos in Spring 2011.
Following intermission, the Escher Quartet maintained their vigorous approach with Dvořák’s String Quartet No 13. Though the work may have afforded occasions for greater sentiment, wit, and the sublime, the performance did not lack for intensity and gusto. The Escher Quartet is to be commended not only for their mastery, but also for their inventive programming, bringing audiences these three quartets — all composed within thirty-odd years in what is presently Czechia — with conviction and enthusiasm.
In other news, numerous events have been scheduled to celebrate and honor Karel Husa in this, his ninetieth birthday year. On April 30, 2011 he will receive the Diploma Dr. H.C. in Music from the University of Florida in Gainesville; the occasion will be followed that evening by a performance of the composer’s Symphonic Suite by the University of Florida Symphony under the direction of Raymond Chobaz.
The North Carolina Symphony opened their January 27–29, 2011 concerts with Husa’s Music for Prague, 1968 in a program conducted by music director Grant Llewellyn that also included Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No 2 and Dvořák’s Symphony No 5 in F Major, Op 76, B 54. Forever young and energetic in dedication to his art, Maestro Husa was present for the dress rehearsal and both concerts in Raleigh, as well as for the concert held in Chapel Hill. Karel Husa’s charming demeanor and characteristic humility is revealed in a related North Carolina Symphony podcast interview with radio journalist David Hartman, published January 27, 2011, which can be accessed by visiting http://www.ncsymphony.org/podcasts
During the course of the interview we learn among other things why Husa entitled his most famous work specifically “Music for Prague” (rather than, say, “of Prague”). And later, a touching exchange regarding his feelings for Prague, his birthplace, and of the United States, his adopted home, takes place:
KH: “I love the city [Prague], I have visited several times, but I have made my family here in the United States… I came here in 1954 at the invitation of Cornell University; in five years I received citizenship… You have to be grateful to the country that gives you freedom.”
DH: “When you go back to visit Prague now, what does that feel like to walk the streets, see the river-?”
KH: “It — I have tears [pause], but [pause] I think I have a home also here, you see. — But you don’t forget where you were born.”
Additional performances of Husa’s Music for Prague, 1968 abound in the U.S. this spring, including those by the University of Michigan Symphony Band (Michael Haithcock, cond), the University of Dayton Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Patrick Reynolds, cond), and the Cincinnati College – Conservatory of Music Wind Ensemble (Rod Winther, cond). In his beloved Prague, the Castle Guard Wind Orchestra, under the direction of Václav Blahunek is presenting the work as part of the Czech Philharmonic series in a concert featuring the music of Czech Composers in the USA after 1948. In addition to Music for Prague, 1968, Husa’s Cheetah as well as works by Karel Boleslav Jirák and Václav Nelhýbel will be performed.
Also this spring, Smetana’s The Bartered Bride served as the vehicle for the “tightest collaboration yet in an increasingly cozy relationship” between the Metropolitan Opera and the Juilliard School, according to Steve Smith of the New York Times. In the article cleverly titled “A Bohemian Marriage for the Met and Juilliard”, the critic highlights the new English translation by poet J D McClatchy, saying “Mr McClatchy’s translation, characteristically clever and packed with cheeky wordplay, neatly serves the characters and situations, and mostly suits music originally tailored to Czech cadences.”
Performances of this new production of The Bartered Bride were staged a mere hop, skip, and a jump away from the Met at Juilliard’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater in a collaborative production involving talent from both the Metropolitan’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and Juilliard’s Ellen and James S Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts. Esteemed Maestro James Levine conducted. An expanded version of this production, directed by Stephen Wadsworth and choreographed by Benjamin Millipied is being planned for a future season at the Met.
SONYA SZABO REYNOLDS
More extracts from Dvořák Society Newsletters
Sonya Szabo Reynolds
BBC Radio 3 page about Escher Quartet
Complete podcast of interview with Karel Husa for North Carolina Symphony Orchestra
Watch this YouTube video — live take from Escher Quartet first Naxos session in Port Charlotte, Florida. This is the last movement from the Zemlinsky 4th String Quartet.