Grammy Winner Comes to Town
Cello superstar Lynn Harrell will perform with Frankly Music.
Frankly Music concludes the 15th season next Monday night with an assembly of players playing Felix Mendelssohn‘s String Octet and Arnold Schoenberg‘s string sextet, Transfigured Night. Cello superstar Lynn Harrell and violinist Helen Nightengale will join local talent for this all-string ensemble affair.
Harrell has enjoyed a distinguished carrier as soloist with the world’s great orchestras, at key summer festivals and as a two-time Grammy winner for chamber trio works.
Artistic director Frank Almond reflected on Harrell’s first appearance with Frankly Music. “Lynn has been here a number of times with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. He was way too famous to play in our series. I asked him. We treated him well and he enjoyed it. People want to come. It’s a different vibe.”
In addition to Almond himself, the local talent includes Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra players Alex Ayers, and Yuka Kadota violins; Wei-Ting Kuo, and Nicole Sutterfield, violas; and Madeleine Kabat, cello. (Wei-Ting Kuo played with the MSO from 2011 to 2014 and is now a member of the CSO.) Almond observes, “The Milwaukee Symphony is so good now. There are many virtuoso players to choose from.”
A string sextet will perform Transfigured Night (Verklärte Nacht) by a “pre-Schoenberg” Schoenberg. Arnold Schoenberg was influenced by 19th-century romanticism in his Transfigured Night, but this music foreshadows his tradition-breaking Expressionist work in the 20th century.
A summary of the story (from Wikipedia): Richard Dehmel‘s poem, Zwei Menchen, describes an unnamed man and a woman walking through a dark forest on a moonlit night. The woman shares a dark secret with her new lover: She bears the child of another man. Schoenberg’s music reflects the stages of Dehmel’s poem, beginning with the sadness of the woman’s confession, a neutral interlude wherein the man reflects upon the confession and a finale that embodies the man’s bright acceptance and forgiveness. (Full text of the poem here.)
We hear emotions – anxiety, regret, compassion, love – expressed at the very limits of conventional harmony. Schoenberg did not need atonality to express these emotions. The story is faithfully rendered without words, including the emotional transitions (transfigurations) in the dialogue between the lovers.
All players join in Felix Mendelssohn’s popular String Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20. It may be misleading to remember that Mendelssohn was only 16 when he wrote this, considering what a masterwork it is. Critic Wilfred Mellis observes that Mendelssohn “pays tribute to his predecessors not only by adhering to sonata form in all four movements but by incorporating the contrapuntal mastery of Bach, the lyrical grace of Mozart, the dramatic vigor of early Beethoven and the rich sonorities of Weber.” This work is symphonic in style, although occasionally subdued.
Almond sees opportunities for all. “There are no subordinate parts. That is why it is a favorite of string players.” The third movement incorporates Mendelssohn’s signature “fairy music,” swirling gossamer music played as light as possible. A dramatic fourth movement leads with the first cello. That sets the pace for the rest of the players, who may be struggling to keep up through a dramatic eight-part fugato.
Almond reflected on the busy season for Frankly Music. The group’s 15th year included more concerts than usual. “If we can get a level of playing from concert to concert that is diverse and connects with the audience in this community, there is room to go in different directions. I’m amazed that it is still here after 15 years. We have a great board and great audience that continue to support it.”
The Frankly Music concert begins at 7:00 p.m., Monday, May 13 at Schwan Concert Hall at Wisconsin Lutheran College, 8815 W. Wisconsin Ave., Wauwautosa. Tickets ($35 reserved seating – $10 for students) may be purchased online or at the door. Free parking is available in a parking garage to the east of the hall.