The Intoxicating Romanticism of David Del Tredici

The Fine Arts Quartet plays one of the American composer's works, that ranges from tender lyricism to "Magyar Madness."

By - Jun 25th, 2015 02:15 pm
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Michel Lethiec

Michel Lethiec

The Fine Arts Quartet, in residence at the UW-Milwaukee, closes their Summer Evenings of Music series with a trio of works featuring clarinet and string quartet.  French clarinetist Michel Lethiec will join the Fine Arts Quartet (violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, cellist Robert Cohen and violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez) for the entire concert. Lethiec, internationally respected for his teaching and performance, also serves as the artistic director of the prestigious Pablo Casals Festival in Prades. (The Fine Arts Quartet will be a featured quartet at this year’s festival.)

Lethiec will demonstrate virtuoso performance in the sampler – Introduction, Theme & Variations – of popular themes from Gioachino Rossini’s opera La Donna del Lago. (Rossini is thought to be the composer of these variations as well.)

W.A. Mozart, one of the first composers to incorporate the clarinet after its creation, has elsewhere exploited its virtuoso capabilities, but the Clarinet Quintet, K.581 emphasizes the lovely melodic lines. This work demonstrates how inadequate music history labels can be. The quintet is a warm romantic work. Violinist Ralph Evans finds the slow movement – basically an arioso for the clarinet – to be  “utterly heavenly… some of the most beautiful moments in music.” He marvels at the ingenuity in this advanced work. “I can’t believe how Mozart was able to combine disjointed elements in a way that sounds as logical as can be. There is an undercurrent of deep emotions, but everything has a classical restraint.”

The concert will close with a contemporary work with several  personalities – David Del Tredici’s Clarinet Quintet (2006).  The first movement opens with a hot clarinet cadenza. Interplay between clarinet and strings expands the action, although retaining a passionate, energetic drive until a calm ending.  The second movement seems ideal for the Fine Arts Quartet’s persona – a tender, muted aria for strings alone. (The original source – a song Del Tredici wrote for piano and baritone – leaves a very different impression.)  But the final third movement gives the work its nickname — “Magyar Madness.” Hungarian themes have been borrowed by many other classical composers to provide energy to the finale. But Del Tredici picks up the pace and the challenge to the players in a  grandly conceived rondo. Evans observes that the movement is “wild, emotional,  unconstrained… a whirlwind of energy and passion.”  The entire work can be previewed online.

Del Tredici has established a reputation as a ground-breaking American composer whose return to the emotional elements of classical music has labeled him the founder of neo-romanticism, with works described as featuring “intoxicating romanticism and sumptuous tonal beauty.”

But his 50-plus years as a composer are more complicated than that label suggests, featuring early dissonant works incorporating texts by James Joyce and a 25-year exploration of works inspired by Alice in Wonderland. More recently his focus has moved towards twentieth century American poetry, to the “urban contemporary-tormented relationships, personal transformations, and the joys and sorrows of gay life.”

Later this year, Lethiec and the Fine Arts Quartet will produce a Naxos CD of American clarinet/ string quintets featuring works by Bernard Hartmann and the featured Del Tredici Quintet. Del Tredici will be in Milwaukee this week to advise the preparation of his Quintet.

This concert on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. is the final one of the four Summer Evenings of Music series at UW-Milwaukee’s Zelazo Center. The concert will be preceded by a pre-talk at 6:30 P.M. Tickets may be purchased online at the Peck School of the Arts box office or at (414) 229-4308. Tickets are a bargain $10 ($5 students). Parking is available in the Zelazo Center lot, to the south of the building, and in the Union parking garage across Kenwood Boulevard. Parking is free on Sundays only.

The Fine Arts Quartet returns to Milwaukee for its next season with a concert on Sunday, September 13 at 3:00 p.m. They will perform at the Ravinia Festival on Tuesday, September 9 at 6:00 p.m. as part of the Bennett Gordon Hall chamber music series.

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