Tannery Pond Concerts / Berkshire Bach Society: Musical messages from afar
First, a fellow chamber-music lover told Christian Steiner, "They’re absolutely fantastic." You "should really pay attention to them."
Next, "they" -- the Dover String Quartet -- won the grand prize and three special prizes in the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition. Curious about the group, Steiner called one of the competition judges he knows. The judge said that in a strong field, the Dover was overwhelmingly dominant.
As director of Tannery Pond Concerts, Steiner was getting intrigued. Then, coincidentally, he got an email from pianist Alon Goldstein, a Tannery artist, inquiring whether the Dover would be a suitable partner for a recording project he planned.
Steiner likes to hear musicians in person before engaging them for his chamber series, but he had never heard the Dover. In this case, word of mouth was enough. He invited Goldstein and the quartet to try each other out in a Tannery concert.
They’ll play the opening concert of series’ summer season 6 p.m. Saturday in the former Shaker tannery in New Lebanon, N.Y. The Israeli-American Goldstein, making his third Tannery appearance, will join the debuting Dover in Dvorak’s Piano Quintet No. 2.
Also on the program are Haydn’s Quartet, Opus 76, No. 1, and Samuel Barber’s only string quartet.
Word of mouth isn’t the only way to assemble a concert. The Berkshire Bach Society, closing its winter season, claims direct communication with old Johann Sebastian as aegis for its 7:30 program Saturday night in the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington.
The concert is billed as "The Great Quintet Caper," although 11 members of the Berkshire Bach Ensemble will take part and only two of the six works on the program are listed as quintets.
Director-harpsichordist Kenneth Cooper, who apparently has a link in heaven, received an "email" from jsbach @elysianfields.com commending the programming.
"Bach" waxed especially enthusiastic about a "Suite in the Style of Bach" that will climax the program. Originally for piano, the piece is by Brahms -- pretty daring for an organization that normally stays within bounds of the baroque.
The story, according to program notes dictated on high, goes like this:
Bach composed the set of pieces for pianist Clara Schumann for her birthday in 1855. It was she who bestowed the name "Suite in the Style of Bach."
"Bach" goes on: "The individual movements have since been published in bits and may have been performed occasionally by enterprising pianists looking for unusual Brahms works, but I have never heard this work re-assembled into its original form. Dr. Cooper has orchestrated it with his usual devotion to style and character, and he says that the instrumentation ‘is intended to explore the work’s potential as a chamber work.’ "
Such is sometimes Cooper’s way with works by Bach himself, as the society’s followers know.
The Brahms orchestration will be performed by large ensemble, as will the opening work, a concerto for two horns by Johann Friedrich Fasch. In between, for smaller ensembles, come pieces by two of Bach’s sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel (in celebration of his 300th birth year) and Johann Christian, and by Haydn and Mozart.
After venting his enthusiasm, "Bach" hurries off because up there in the Elysian Fields, "my 20 kids and two wives are summoning me to breakfast, a leisurely event I rarely enjoyed in my years on earth -- and never with all of them together."
Over at Tannery Pond, meanwhile, there is particular symbolism in the Dover’s performance of the Barber quartet. The group takes its name from Barber’s song setting of Matthew Arnold’s poem "Dover Beach."
Barber composed the work while he was a student at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music in the 1930s. It was as 19-year-old Curtis students in 2008 that the four Dover members banded together. They originally called themselves the Old City String Quartet.
Recognition soon followed. Prizes and awards have included appointment as the Curtis’ first quartet-in-residence and a similar residency at the Caramoor Festival for the 2013-14 season. At Banff, in addition to the grand prize, the group walked away with prizes for its Haydn, Schubert and performance of a newly commissioned work.
The Dover leads off seven programs in the 2014 Tannery series. As usual, the season features emerging musicians. In a telephone interview, Steiner, who is also a pianist and well-known photographer of musicians, said he culls many of his artists from among winners of the annual Young Concert Artists auditions.
Having arrived little known, at least in the Berkshires, some Tannery discoveries go on to renown. Pianist Jeremy Denk, for instance, who has appeared three times at Tannery, will play an important solo recital at Tanglewood this summer.
The bad news? The Bach and Tannery concerts overlap. You can catch one but not the other.