Love Songs with Chamber Music Milwaukee
Metropolitan opera soprano Susanna Phillips is in town to help Chamber Music Milwaukee celebrate Valentine’s Day. Love songs by Schubert, Dowland, Schumann, Mozart, Massenet, Bellini and Martini are on Thursday evening’s program.
Clarinetist Todd Levy, CMM co-artistic director, brought Phillips to Milwaukee. It helped that she was nearby; she is currently starring as Adina in L’Elisir d’Amore at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
“She’s a good friend and colleague,” Levy said. “We read through Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock over the summer. [Both performed at Santa Fe Opera over the summer.] We really wanted to find an excuse to perform it. I looked at her Lyric schedule and she had a few days in between performances.”
Phillips comes to Chamber Music Milwaukee following critically-acclaimed performances of Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni in Sante Fe Opera and as Pamina in Die Zauberflote at the Metropolitan Opera. As Levy puts it, “She’s a top-rate, superstar soprano.”
Shepherd on the Rock is a tour de force for soprano, clarinet and piano. Schubert wrote the piece presumably for soprano Anna Milder-Hauptmann, who had asked Schubert to compose a brilliant concert aria for her. The result is more operatic than Schubert’s other lieder. The singer and clarinet imitate each other, leading and building upon each other’s material.
It’s as much a vehicle for Levy as it is for Phillips. Levy, principal clarinet of the MSO, is also principal of the Santa Fe Opera during the summer months. He made his solo debut at 17, in Hindemith’s Clarinet Concerto at Lincoln Center. Highlights of his solo career include concerto appearances at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival and with the Israel Philharmonic in Tel-Aviv.
Levy will also collaborate with pianist Judit James and Fine Arts Quartet violist Nicolo Eugelmi in Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen meaning, literally, tales of fables. (We’re likely to hear a lot of Schumann in 2010, the bicentennial of his birth.) This piece was written relatively late in the composer’s creative life, shortly before his mental breakdown.
“You could tell that he was kind of crazy by that point,” Levy says. “The differences between the intimate and personal music and the bigger emotional sections are a lot more extreme. The mood and color changes need to be greater. As performers, we need to keep an eye on that.”
Märchenerzählungen is also more condensed than Schumann’s earlier output. The four-movement work builds with a sense of increasing agitation and seems to be pervaded with a deep melancholy. The winding road of love is not an easy one, apparently—just ask Schumann.
Chamber Music Milwaukee, under the direction of Levy and horn player Gregory Flint, brings together music faculty from the UWM Peck School of the Arts and friends and colleagues from around town and around the world. The series, a music department project, has been an increasingly important presence on Milwaukee’s classical music scene over the past six seasons.
This Songs of Love program also features pianists Judit Jaimes, Elena Abend and Jeffry Peterson; Gregory Flint, horn and René Izquierdo, guitar.
The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday Feb. 11 at the UWM Zelazo Center, 2419 E. Kenwood Blvd. Tickets are $15 ($9 for students, seniors and UWM alumni, faculty and staff) at the Peck School of the Arts box office, 414-229-4308.