Friday, August 01, 2008

Gretna Music: The Summer Season (finally) Begins!

With the advent of August and the start of Dog Days – and let me tell you, my cats are not pleased about that one, either – it is also time for more summer concerts.

For those of you who’d gone into Summer Concert withdrawal, you can now gear up for a whirlwind of programs at Gretna Music where this year everything is concentrated into one month. It’s not just Sunday evenings, now - there are lots of concerts throughout the month, on different days of the week, even different times of the day: check the calendar carefully so you don’t miss out!

The first classical concert takes place this weekend - Sunday at 7:30 – when the Wister Quartet, players from the Philadelphia Orchestra and regular inhabitants of the Gretna Music summer roster, will be joined by pianist Natalie Zhu for the Schumann Piano Quintet. Speaking of which, I did a post on the Schumann Quintet just a few weeks ago for another summer performance – it’s part of my “Up Close & Personal” series, continuing them from my former, now defunct Dr. Dick's Blog – so don’t forget to check that out, too.

The Quartet will be playing Haydn’s “Sunrise” Quartet and a quartet that came about because a soprano was sick and a composer was bored: while waiting for rehearsals to resume for Aida. Giuseppe Verdi, since he didn’t have the internet to help him waste his time, decided to do something constructive and write a string quartet instead (we should all be so productive in our down time...). It’s full of beautiful melodies which is what you’d expect from the greatest Italian opera composer – and at the peak of his career, too – but since he hardly ever wrote anything other than operas, it’s a real blessing to have at least this one instrumental work.

If you’re not familiar with the name, Natalie Zhu, do you remember that really dynamite recording of Mozart Violin Sonatas that Hilary Hahn released a couple years ago? Well, Natalie Zhu was the pianist she collaborated with on that CD. I loved that recording not just because they chose some wonderful sonatas to play, but because they made such an amazing team together, violinist and pianist on the same wavelength (something that, admittedly, doesn’t always happen). You can listen to a movement of the E Minor Sonata from their recording in this YouTube post (audio but still publicity photos, not a video from a live performance).

Anyway, you’re in for a treat because Natalie Zhu’s going to be here for the next concert in the series, too, with violinist Maria Bachmann. That program, on Friday night at 8:00, will include Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor along with sonatas by Enescu and Ravel (the earlier posthumous one, not the famous one in G Major) as well as John Corigliano’s “Red Chaconne,” based on material he used in the film score for “The Red Violin” and initially turned into a work for violin and orchestra that eventually became the first movement of a whole violin concerto: this is a reworking of the Chaconne for violin and piano.

In addition to the great music and music-making you’re used to in Mt. Gretna, don’t forget to check out the pre-concert conversations or whatever they call them (pre-concert ‘talks’ sounds so lecturey - pre-concert preface?) but whatever they’re called, they’re a great way for you to find out a little bit more about the music you’re going to be hearing, maybe find some information and insight about the composers or the performers that will enhance the concert for you. And they’re always an hour before the concert.

To begin the series this Sunday evening, Davyd Booth, the Wister Quartet’s 2nd Violinist, will be telling you about their performance.

While I’ll be doing the last one on August 31st with the Lark Chamber Players and pianist Anna Polonsky, my fellow ex-colleague from WITF-FM, John Clare, will be coming back from his new digs in San Antonio to talk before Maria Bachmann’s program on Friday night, August 8th. John and Maria are friends from way back and in addition he’s also interviewed composer John Corigliano in the past, so he’ll be able to give you some good behind-the-scenes insights.

So I hope you'll be able to include the Mt. Gretna Playhouse in your concert-going excursions this month. If you go and you enjoy yourself, tell your friends about it -- word-of-mouth is really a great way to interest new people in attending live music events! Enjoy!

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