Opinion: Chamber Festival At Height of Its Form

“Captivating Combinations”
The Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival presented an animated as well as captivating performance on July 31.

   The Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival presented a concert called “Captivating Combinations” on July 31 at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church, and true to the usual format of this series, each of the four works on the program had a different combination of instruments, offering varying colors, well coupled with the individual character of each composition.
    The program had solid bookends of Beethoven and Ravel, and a poignant Shostakovich trio and less familiar divertimento by the contemporary New York composer John Musto in the middle.
    The Beethoven Trio (Op. 9 No. 2) for violin, viola, and cello, played by Jennifer Frautschi, Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, and Edward Arron, showed the quick-witted, playful early period of the composer, within its classical framework of restraint.
    One thing that was immediately apparent was how closely the players were attuned to each other, with their eye contact and animated facial expressions darting back and forth as the instruments traded motifs and themes, much like actors bantering. Mr. Arron was especially animated and obviously immersed in and transported by the music. It was precise, subtle, and exciting playing. There was so much music in a rather sparse texture, and the audience was fully drawn in.
    Although all of the players in the festival are of world-class caliber, Ms. Frautschi’s tone on the violin was extraordinarily rich, resonant, and beautiful.
    For Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 in C minor (Op. 110), Karen Gomyo joined the three other players on violin. Written in 1960, the quartet was dedicated to “the memory of the victims of fascism and war.” Shostakovich had composed music for “Five Days, Five Nights,” a joint Soviet-East German film that takes place shortly after the devastation of Dresden in World War II, and then in three days he composed this incredible quartet.
    The opening movement was like an elegy, which showed one of the interesting coloristic features of this work: contrasting straight-toned string sound, an eerie quality often on long, sustained chords, with a solo string using normal vibrato. It is a way of getting extra hues of tone from the instruments, and it had an appropriately dark quality.
    There was fury and agitated despair, which required amazing rhythmic accuracy from the players. One section was almost a waltz, but really more like a danse macabre. The listener could easily vivualize a barren landscape and hear the depth of the anguish.
    The ending was one of those most breathtaking moments. Even when the last pianissimo chord was finished, the players couldn’t bear to lift their bows from their instruments right away. When they did, the audience still sat spellbound for a few seconds before the sighs, applause, and bravos.
    I can’t think of any other human endeavor, other than music making of this kind and caliber, in which such desolation and bleakness can be evoked and thereby vicariously experienced by others, and yet, paradoxically, done with such touching beauty and artistry.
    I would like to commend Marya Martin, the festival’s artistic director, especially for choosing the next work, John Musto’s Divertimento, for an unusual and vivid combination of instruments, composed in 1999.
    The scheduled clarinetist apparently had last-minute problems with a visa, and Romie de Guise-Langlois did an outstanding job of filling in for him on a week’s notice. Other instrumentalists were Ms. Martin on flute, Ms. Pajaro-van de Stadt on viola, Mr. Arron on cello, Wendy Chen on piano, and Ayano Kataoka on percussion. The array of percussion added layers of bright color to the other instruments: xylophone, cymbal, bass drum, glockenspiel, and tempo blocks.
    Mr. Musto has said that the Divertimento is “informed by a variety of popular music styles,” and in invigorating contrast to the previous work, it had a festival atmosphere, with the vibrant timbres of each instrument standing out.
    I can’t describe it better than the delightful program notes: Some of the sections include “a jazzy strain to which the dance sequences in ‘West Side Story’ stood as godparent,” “fragments of a cheesy cakewalk and a sentimental waltz,” and “a tango melody with a klezmer-like panache.”
    Even with such disparate elements, Mr. Musto creates an exotic fantasyland or escapade that has its own bright aura. In the end, the tango takes the work to its rousing finish. I wasn’t familiar with the Divertimento, but it should be heard more and could easily become a standard in the repertory.
    To change the palette, we heard the Trio in A minor by Maurice Ravel, with Ms. Gomyo on violin, Mr. Arron on cello, and Ms. Chen on piano. The sources for Ravel’s inspiration range from Basque folk music to a Malaysian poetic form to the Baroque passacaglia dance form. Yet overall there was a more pastel, impressionistic sheen, and the changeable moods were more muted than earlier, and the concert closed with an elegant and decidedly optimistic tone.
    The program booklet proclaims “30 Summers of Music: A Special Anniversary Season.” With this noteworthy background, the festival has also launch­ed its own CD label, BCMF Records, featuring selected summer performances.
    Tomorrow at 6 p.m. is the annual Wm. Brian Little Concert at the beautiful Channing Daughters Winery Sculpture Garden in Bridgehampton. There are four other concerts left this season, on Sunday, Aug. 14, Aug. 17, and Aug. 18, all at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church. More information is at bcmf.org. You won’t find better on the East End this summer.