da capo chamber players
Merkin Concert Hall
June 2, 2011
Now celebrating its 40th Anniversary, the Naumburg Award-winning, internationally acclaimed Da Capo Chamber Players has built a reputation on working closely with composers, representing an enormous spectrum of compositional styles. Da Capo's five distinguished artists bring years of creative insight, involvement and artistic leadership to performances of today's repertoire, including well over 100 works written especially for the group.
A recent triumph: National Public Radio named Da Capo’s newest CD, Chamber Music of Chinary Ung on Bridge Records, as one of the 5 Best Contemporary Classical CDs of the year 2010. More excitement lies ahead: the Naumburg Foundation has announced two winners of its first ever composition competition – Hannah Lash and Daniel Visconti – and has invited Da Capo and Lucy Shelton to premiere their commissioned works next season.
From Da Capo's beginning, with founding member and pianist Joan Tower, interaction with composers has been part of its identity. The group searches for the best new compositions and gives them a unique and dedicated attention, resulting in acclaimed performances consistent with the highest musical standards found in performances of traditional repertoire. In January 2009, the group celebrated the 100th birthday of Elliott Carter with a performance of his Tempo e tempi, and on the same concert, a 100th birthday salute to Olivier Messiaen with his Quatuor pour la fin du temps. The 2011-12 season will feature the New York premiere of Shirish Korde's chamber opera, Bandit Queen, written jointly for Da Capo and Boston’s Musica Viva.
The Da Capo Chamber Players has twice been featured at Moscow Autumn and St. Petersburg Sound Ways festivals, combining American works with seven by Russian composers (six written for Da Capo) as well as Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire. For more than two decades, the group has been in residence at Bard College, and since 2006 has been Ensemble in Residence with the composition program of the Bard College Conservatory of Music.
Media Representative: Steorra 212 799-5783
Pierrot : Poet among Clowns in the Commedia dell’ Arte
In Certain fiestas the very notion of order disappears. Chaos comes back, and License rules. Anything is permitted: the customary hierarchies vanish, along with all social, sex, caste, and trade distinctions. Men disguise themselves as women, gentlemen as slaves, the poor as rich. The army, the law, and the clergy are ridiculed. Obligatory sacrilege, ritual profanation is committed. Love becomes promiscuity. Sometimes the fiesta becomes a Black Mass. Regulations, habits, and customs are violated. Respectable people put away the dignified expressions and conservative clothes that isolate them, dress up in gaudy colours, hide behind a mask, and escape from themselves.
There is something in human nature that resists, even rebels against, prolonged preaching, academic antiquarianism, and the highbrow, especially in the theater. For more than four hundred years, the Commedia dell’ Arte has been this rebel, an antidote to medieval morality plays and neoclassic theater, the stodgy Comédie-Français, and, Wagnerian mythos and symbolism. From the earliest street theater so Shakespeare’s own “goundling” comic relief, Deburau’s Pierrot in Paris, and the Stravinsky- Diaghilev collaborations, this comedic spirit remained alive, ready to assume any form or medium, ready to breathe fresh air into stale.
The Commedia dell’ Arte was first and foremost street-fair theater, in which secret family guilds of professional actors improvised on skeletal plots-Flamino Scala’s fifty mountebanks, saltimbanchi, or charlatans (sometimes selling remedies and wares) included the “zanni” (hence zany) Harlequin and Brighella, originally from Bergamo. They were the crudest and slyest of the clowns, in contrast to Pedrolino (also Pagliaccio, Gian Farino, or Piero). Pedrolino was played by the youngest son in these family troupes and as such was the scapegoat who often slept in the straw (pagliao) with the animals. At times he was called Gian Farino, for the white flour on his face (from slapstick at his expense, no doubt). This whiteface produced an expressive countenance that sharply contrasted with the masked clowns, who developed mime and acrobatic skills to compensate. Even in these early plots, Pedrolino shows sympathy towards animals and a preoccupation with the moon. Pulcinella (“ little chicken,” ancestor of Punch and Scaramuccio round out the chief characters of the Commedia.
The Commedia is, of course, Italian, and its emergence around 1540 was colorful festive, and proletarian in its appeal. Nonetheless, so chameleon and nobile were these troupes- the Gelosi, Uniti, and Confidenti- that as early as 1576 the Gelosi were established in Paris, bilingual in performance, resorting to pantomime when legally restricted from public speech. Paris became the estuary for the contagion of the Commedia throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries and, ultimately, the cosmopolitan hub of Paris. He was ultimately guillotined in 1798 for his betrayal of the proletariat.
The commedia was appropriated, then discarded, by the court : Italian clown-servants became French valets, and comic prototypes developed subtlety and refinement. Perhaps the distillation of Pierrot that has permeated our consciousness most deeply is that of the great French actor-impresario Deburau at the Funambules Theater from 1825 to 1846. He was celebrated for his pantomime, exhibiting white face and white costume with black skull cap, “ pale as the moon, mysterious as silence, supple and mute as the serpent, straight and tall as the gallows.”
It is not a great leap from this image to the fifty poems of Pierrot lunaire by Albert Giraud, written in 1884 (Schoenberg set twenty-one of these), or the Complainte of Jules LaForgue, written in 1881. LaForgue was obsessed with Pierrot and the circus, parodied Hamlet vis-á-vis Harlequin, and exerted a powerful influence over the early comedic works of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Hart Crane. The new wrinkle in the Giruad version of Pierrot, which also crept into many fin-de-siécle entertainments such as the Grand Guignol Theater, was the decadence adn the surreally nightmarish variants of tPagliacci, Busoni’s Arlecchino, Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, Debussy’s Suite Bergmasque and the Violin and Cello Sonatas, and Stravinsky’s Petroushka and Pulcinella.
The commedia influence reverberated throughout Europe like a fever from 1890 to 1930. England already had its Punch and Judy; Germany its carnival in Schwabing, as well as the Bretti Cabaret and the Buntes Theatre; and Russia its Carnival, Petrushka, and Meyerhold’s Moscow art Theater. American had Chaplin and Keaton in silent movies and Spain the clown canvases of Picasso. The period from 1911 to 1913 was characterized by as powerful and groundbreaking a ferment as any in the history of music.
GRAVITY was commissioned by and composed for my good friends of Da Capo. The work is in three movements, each of a different, if you will, “weight”.
Moon’s Shadow is a three-minute mini-fantasia, alternating gentle melodic fragments with gestural flourishes. Levity is of a similar length, but very mono-riffmatic (I just made that word up) and offers some gravitational toe tapping. Light in Night’s Garden is longer in duration than the other two combined and explores inwardness and salty mysteries, definitely nocturnal worlds and psychological layers in dark and light shadow. It ends with a modest tribute to my good buddy, André, who has been the rock for the ensemble ever since I’ve known the band. In it, his partners shadow his “unprepared” (musically), out-the-back-door melodic utterance.
Thank you, my friends, for all the great music making and opportunities you have afforded all of us living composers. Many more wonderful years to you all (André included!)
— George Tsontakis
Some works are written on commission; others are written simply out of love. Midnight Rounds most certainly belongs in the latter category. I have known the individual members of the Da Capo Chambers Players in various capacities for close to a decade and a half (in fact, although we didn’t know each other at the time, Blair McMillen played piano in an orchestral work of mine while a student at Oberlin in 1992!). In the years I taught at Bard College, I was fortunate enough to work with them as an ensemble – in my own music, in the traditional repertoire, and in student works. I have always had the highest admiration for their commitment to new music, audience development, and, in particular, their unwavering commitment to nurturing young composers. When I decided to bring them to the Cleveland Institute of Music in Fall 2010 for a residency celebrating their fortieth anniversary season, the idea of writing a new work for them seemed only natural. Hence, Midnight Rounds. Da Capo premiered the work on October 28, 2010, at the Cleveland Institute of Music; this evening's performance is the work's New York premiere.
And...They’re Off! is a short piece for violin, cello and piano commissioned by the Scotia Festival for Gwen and Desmond Hoebig. It moves fast and is basically motoric in a kind of obsessive flow of fast sixteenth notes. The piano acts as a percussion "hit machine" to push the fast moving violin and cello parts along—only joining them at the end with scales.
Très Lent was written in 1994 as an homage to Olivier Messaien's "Quartet for the End of Time" which I performed with the Da Capo Chamber Players for many years when I was their pianist. I grew to love the many risks taken in the work—particularly in the use of very slow time—both in the tempo and flow of ideas. Très Lent is my attempt to make "slow" music work. It is affectionately dedicated to my long time friend and colleague André Emelianoff who never stops growing as a musician and cellist.
Die Laterne, for soprano, flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, was composed in 1988. It was commissioned by the Schoenberg Institute at UCLA for the “Pierrot Project,” conceived by Leonard Stein, director of the Institute. The work was premiered by Lucy Shelton and the Da Capo Chamber Players at a conference held at the Schoenberg Institute in 1989. The text is one of the poems of Albert Giraud’s Pierrot lunaire not set by Schoenberg, the 44th of the collection. As would be expected in this context, the music deliberately evokes the world of Schoenberg’s masterwork.
Die Laterne uses gestures and motivic figures typical of Mamlok’s music of the 1980s. The music closely follows the text, reaching a climax as Pierrot falls. The work ends quietly as Pierrot re–lights his lantern.
— Barry Wiener