You Only Turn 500 Once

When Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) nailed his now infamous 95 Theses on the doors of the castle cathedral in Wittenberg, October 31, 1517, he took aim at practises accepted, taught, and regulated by the church. Upending the institution’s trickle-down doctrine of rituals and behaviour, Luther instead advocated a religion based on grace and a personal faith. This was not a policy debate, this was a contest for minds and hearts, and one of the chief arenas for this battle was within the service itself. Luther would find no better champion in this struggle than Johann Sebastian Bach.


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750), held various church jobs in his lifetime, including his last and longest post at St. Thomas’ in Leipzig from 1723 – 1750. As a result, there are over 200 extant cantatas (used in weekly church services) and two complete passion settings (used for the Good Friday service).

In this concert we will consider the inner workings of the St. Matthew and St. John Passions through the performance of various arias and chorales. Bach’s overarching architecture and ingenious development of musical material are signature marks here, as they are in his compositions for non-liturgical purposes. These aspects assert the unequivocal intellectual force that was Bach’s. But, it is in the ordering of movements, the moments of detailed symbolism embedded into melodic lines, the pathos and emotional breadth that are steeped into the bones of these works, that the profound, personal faith of Bach is revealed.

Bach’s renderings of the passion of the Christ are multi-layered – musically, dramatically, and theologically. The gospel narratives (often sung in the voice of the tenor narrator, though sometimes in another solo voice, or in the chorus) act as the framework onto which are woven poetic texts and Lutheran chorales, which serve as meditations, exhortations, and reactions to the scenes of the passion. Bach’s transcendent settings of these already-familiar passages pull the congregant in, inviting them to partake more deeply, widening the mind and lifting the heart.

 

Sunday, Oct 29th @ 2 p.m.
Grace Church Toronto
383 Jarvis Street
Tickets: $15 at door (cash only please)

Katherine Whyte, soprano
Jazimina MacNeil, mezzo-soprano
Colin Ainsworth, tenor
Doug MacNaughton, baritone
 Sung Chung, baritone
  Suna Chung, piano

 

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Heine, the Poet

Hamburg 1800s
Hamburg (1800s) ©Patrick Guenette

A portrait of Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856) is a difficult one to trace as it incorporates so many opposites. Still, three structural lines in this image would have to be that this most German of German writers spent the last twenty five years of his life in Paris, that this powerhouse intellect was housed in a frail and failing body, and that Heine was a Jewish man in a very Gentile world.

These fed into his perspective as outsider and shaped his lyric poems, which Theodor Adorno describes as “ready mediators between art and an everyday life bereft of meaning”. Instead of solving discrepancies, Heine manoeuvred them to cast light and shadow onto the objects observed. Forever the skeptic and never truly aligned with any movement, Heine was hero to some, enemy to others.

Nonetheless, Heine’s intense brand of Romanticism – a romanticism that dared to look dubiously at its own devices – was a beacon to composers. This recital presents a collection of Heine poems in settings by myriad composers, from Schumann and Schubert, to Liszt, Wagner, and Boulanger. For such a complicated figure as Heine, a refracted picture seems apposite.

Fri, Oct 6 @  7:30 p.m.
 150 W. 83rd Street (W83 Ministry Center)
Tickets @ door (cash only): suggested $20
(all proceeds go to International Justice Mission)

Nigel Smith, baritone
Suna Chung, piano

The Gospel According to Bach

Albrecht Dürer, kleine Passion (ca. 1510)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750), who held many church posts in his lifetime (most notably St. Thomas’ in Leipzig, from 1723 – 1750), is said to have written music to each of the four gospel “Passions”; that portion of the New Testament which recounts the suffering and death of Christ. These would have served as the music for Good Friday services, surrounding the sermon in two parts, with interspersed congregational singing, prayers, and readings from the Bible rounding out the hours-long service. Of these, only the musical settings for the St. Matthew and St. John Passions survive in full.

These massive works are multi-layered, musically, dramatically, and theologically. The backbone of the text is the rendering of the gospel narratives, often in the voice of the tenor narrator, sometimes in another solo voice, or in the chorus. Interwoven between the gospel text are poetic texts and Lutheran chorales which serve as meditations, exhortations, and reactions to the scenes of the Passion which would have been incredibly familiar to the congregational listeners.

In this concert we will consider the inner workings of these two great structures through the performance of various arias and chorales. Bach’s overarching architecture and ingenious development of musical material are signature marks here, as they are in his other compositions for non-liturgical purposes. These aspects assert the force of mind that was Bach’s. But, it is in the ordering of movements, the moments of detailed symbolism embedded into melodic lines, the pathos and emotional breadth that are steeped into the bones of these works, that the heart of Bach is revealed, revealed in a profound profession of faith.

Fri, June 2nd @  8 p.m.
 150 W. 83rd Street (W83 Ministry Center)
Tickets: suggested $20 
(all proceeds go to International Justice Mission)

Katherine Whyte, soprano
Jazimina MacNeil, mezzo-soprano • Sam Chung, tenor
Magnus Billström and Sung Chung, baritone
Roland Gjernes, cello • Suna Chung, piano

sonneto

sonnet-heart

The sonnet, a 14-line phenomenon of rhyme and drama. Developed in Italy in the 13th century, the sonnet’s lines are most often measured out in iambic pentameter, with a hallmark volta (or turn) to its final section in which lies argument, answer, or perspective to its preceding lines. This shift is underpinned by a change in its rhyme scheme.

Rhyme templates are associated with two of the greatest progenitors of the sonnet (both featured in this concert), Francesco Petrarch (1304 – 1374) and William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616):

  • Petrarchan: ABBA ABBA (volta) CDECDE or ABBA ABBA (volta) CDCDCD
  • Shakespearean: ABAB CDCD EFEF (volta) GG

These reflect an interesting discrepancy between English, a language that does not lend itself to rhyming; and Italian which (with its pure, liquid vowels) generously offers many pairings.

To  these famous Fathers of the Sonnet, we add the voice of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 – 1564), that master of the High Renaissance. Painter, sculptor, architect, poet, Michelangelo’s sonnets burn with the passion, beauty, and intensity that radiate from his visual art.

“Sonnet” is derived from the Italian sonetto, which means “a little sound or song.” It seems only fitting then that these lines should be presented as melody.

Sat, March 4th @ 7:30 p.m.
Ann Goodman Recital Hall
Kaufman Music Center
129 W. 67th Street


Colin Ainsworth, tenor
Suna Chung, piano
Kelly Strandemo & Zander Kirby, readers

 Tickets: $20 Cash only, at door

Opus 1

(Sept 2016)
schubert erlkonig
Autograph of Franz Schubert’s Erlkönig (1815), The Morgan Library.

The Opus 1: A composer’s first published work. It is certainly not a composer’s first piece. Rather, it is their calling card to the world, the child designated (and distributed) to bear the name of its genitor.

What pushes this – as the pianist Glenn Gould once described them – “fragile” lot of creators from the safety of paper and ideas toward the critical eyes and ears of the public realm? For generations, composers’ works were catalogued for them. J.S. Bach, G.F. Handel, W.A. Mozart, and the countless composers that pre-dated them, worked under the auspices of the Church or a patron. Their pieces were therefore collected and published, for the most part, with postmortem modesty. However, for the freelance musician (roughly from Beethoven onward), the burden of self-promotion lies squarely on their shoulders, and therefore the Op. 1 is seen as their debut into society.

The pieces on this program range from prodigious student ventures (Berg and Fauré), to grand projects (Schubert), to works birthed by the partnership of musical intelligence and commercial shrewdness (Beethoven). Still, all serve as a promising first yield in their designated plot – cultivating a new harmonic language, predicting a penchant for certain forms, acting out idiosyncrasies. For some (even fine) composers, their Op. 1 is a distorted echo they wish would fade into the canyon walls. But for these, they are heralding tones that would mark their authors as the musical prophets of their age.

Piano Sonata • Alban Berg
Erlkönig & Gretchen am Spinnrade • Franz Schubert
Le papillon et la fleur & Mai • Gabriel Fauré
Piano Trio in E-flat Major • Ludwig van Beethoven

Fri, Sept 23rd @ 8 p.m.
National Opera Center • Scorca Hall
330 Seventh Ave (betw 28th/29th)
Tickets: $20 cash only, at door

Katherine Whyte, soprano
Sean Clark, tenor
Patricia Davis, violin
Roland Gjernes, cello
Suna Chung, piano

La Bonne Chanson

(April 2016)
Camille_Pissarro_-_Boulevard_Montmartre_-_Eremitage
Le Boulevard Montmartre, après midi, soleil (Camille Pissarro) 1897

Paris was a city under construction. Since the mid-1800s Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s vision of a cross-marked city, complete with green spaces and an expanded sewer system, was becoming a reality. The final phase of its development was interrupted by the firing of Haussmann and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). But, just as the city continued its reconstruction under the new government of the Third Republic, so too were the Arts being overhauled by ‘republics’ of their own.

In visual art, the subculture of the Anonymous Society of Painters (later called Impressionists) threatened the crusty Académie des Beaux-Arts and its darling annual Salon by hosting an exhibit of their own. In music, the Second Empire’s appetite for spectacle in opera and theatre were passed over in favour of a more serious and particularly French-faced music, thus making room for the Société Nationale de Musique. Gabriel Fauré was a founding member and Ernest Chausson served as secretary of this society that banded together with the purpose of championing French instrumental music. “Ars gallica”, versus (one might assume) Germanic, was the motto of the society.

This program features instrumental chamber music in the surprisingly rare form of the piano quintet (piano + string quartet). Though both string quartet and piano trio had been established in the Classical period in the hands of composers like W. A. Mozart and Franz Joseph Haydn, the piano quintet takes root much later, the first great example being Robert Schumann’s Op. 44. The Société’s decision, therefore, to write instrumental music amounted to a foray into fields well-populated by the Viennese masters. Further encroaching on German territory is this concert’s presentation of art song. Lieder (German art song) had been practised (and perfected) since the 19th century by the likes of Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, and Johannes Brahms, but French art song (mélodie) was a newer endeavour. However, the combination of voice with piano quintet has no well-known precedent.

Some see the Société’s creation as an anti-Germanic reaction, others that France of the Third Republic was maturing beyond opera (who had money for such frivolity after the war anyway?), and others that it was another example of nationalism in the 19th century. Whatever the cause, the society boasted the greatest composers of its generation. And, just as their Impressionist counterparts conceived of colour and light in new ways, so are these pieces stamped in their transparency, texture, and harmonic language with a uniquely French quality. Vive la Société.

Chanson perpétuelle, Op. 37 • Ernest Chausson
La Bonne Chanson, Op. 61 • Gabriel Fauré
Piano Quintet no. 1, Op. 89 • Gabriel Fauré

Sat, April 30th @ 8 p.m.
National Opera Center • Scorca Hall
330 Seventh Ave (betw 28th/29th)
Tickets: $20 Cash only, at door

Jee-Eun Hong, soprano
Jazimina MacNeil, mezzo-soprano
Wendy Case, violin
Anna Luce, violin
William Frampton, viola
Jennifer Lee, cello
Suna Chung, piano

 

The Diary of Robert and Clara Schumann

(June 2015)Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 8.44.31 PM

The union of Robert and Clara Schumann was long awaited, hotly opposed, and celebrated by generations since. The two kept a joint diary for the first four years of their marriage, a weekly exchanged collection of their thoughts, business of the past week, and beyond. On the first day of their marriage, September 13, 1840, they signed a statute to keep this co-journal:

If you agree with all this, wife of my heart, then sign your name underneath mine….

I am truly your sincerely loving husband Robert, and you?

I too, your wife, Clara, who is devoted to you with her entire soul.

This program presents songs from Robert Schumann’s Myrthen, Op. 25, as well as their one cooperative compositional effort – Robert’s Op. 37 and Clara’s Op. 12. In Myrthen we find inside jokes and gems, some composed while his future with Clara was yet uncertain. Robert had this “bouquet of songs” beautifully bound and gave it to Clara as a wedding present. The act of gifting one another music became a tradition in the Schumann household, and prompted Robert’s desire that they should do something together. The result is the intertwining Op. 37/Op. 12, all which use the poems of Friedrich Rückert.

The diary provides an intimate portrait into the lives of these artists: “our wishes, our hopes shall be recorded therein…it should also be a little book of requests that we direct toward one another whenever words are insufficient”. These songs reach this same mark, where words are insufficient. Happy 175th Anniversary, dear Schumanns.

Mon, June 1st @ 7:30 p.m.

The Concert Space at Beethoven Pianos

211 W 58th Street (betw Broadway and 7th Ave)

Tickets @ door: $20 regular admission/$10 students (cash only)

Jazimina MacNeil, mezzo-soprano; Magnus Billström, baritone; and Suna Chung, piano