Wednesday, May 6, 2009

6/10 @ 6:15 p.m.: Huls Clark Duo perform Beethoven and Mendelssohn Violin Sonatas

Max Huls, violin
Christine Clark, piano

  • BEETHOVEN: "Kreutzer" Sonata
  • MENDELSSOHN: Sonata in F Major (1838)

    Violinist Max Huls joined the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra in 1993 and was introduced to the First Coast as soloist in Bartók’s Second Rhapsody, for violin and orchestra. Mr. Huls is on the faculty of the Prelude Chamber Music Camp, is a violin coach for the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra, and in addition to his core membership in the JSO he is Concertmaster of the Coastal Symphony of Georgia. He appeared variously as concertmaster, soloist and conductor with the Savannah Symphony, and was concertmaster of the Memphis Symphony and Opera Memphis. Max was on the faculty of the University of Memphis and Rhodes College, and while living in Tennessee was much sought after as a studio musician, working with the rock group The Replacements and soul legends Patti LaBelle and Al Green, among many others. He has participated in numerous music festivals, including the Aspen Music Festival, the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder, and the Eastern Music Festival. Among his numerous local concerts and recitals, Max has performed Paganini's demanding Twenty-four Caprices for Friday Musicale, and as a member of Duo Proto he plays violin and viola alongside his son, Victor Minke Huls. Mr. Huls frequently collaborates with award-winning pianist Christine Clark, and the Huls Clark Duo was featured in both our June 2007 and June 2008 Intermezzo Sunday concerts.

    A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Christine Armington Clark began piano studies with James Crosland, and continued her professional training at Oberlin Conservatory. She received a Master's degree in piano performance from the University of Illinois, and studied with Leon Fleisher in the Peabody Conservatory Artist Diploma Program upon the recommendation of legendary concert pianist Lorin Hollander. Ms. Clark was national finalist in the Collegiate Artist Competition sponsored by the Music Teachers National Association, and attended the Aspen Music Festival on a piano performance and accompanying scholarship. She competed in the Maryland International Piano Competition, and won the Boca Raton Piano Competition. A versatile musician, Ms. Clark played keyboard with Trap Door, a local rock group, and toured Europe under the aegis of Proclaim! International. She taught piano at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and her chamber music performances include an appearance at the Goethe Institute in San Francisco. Well known along the First Coast, Ms. Clark has appeared with the Jacksonville Starlight Symphonette and the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, and appears frequently in solo recitals and in collaboration with many of the areas finest instrumentalists and vocalists. She also serves on the Boards of several arts organizations and is President of Friday Musicale. In addition to being an accomplished pianist, Christine is an attorney, and while working in Washington, D.C., she gave perhaps her most unusual recital, performing in the United States Supreme Court at the request of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

    PROGRAM NOTES, by Ed Lein, Music Librarian (©2009, E. Lein--please notify/cresit if reprinting)

    The music of the transcendent German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) formed the culmination of the Classical style and the foundation of the Romantic, and he has remained the best known Western classical composer for 200 years. Beethoven wrote his “Kreutzer” Sonata (Sonata no. 9 for violin and piano, op. 47) in 1803, two years after he began to lose his hearing. By 1819 Beethoven was completely deaf, but he continued to produce revolutionary masterworks that still provide benchmarks other composers strive to attain. The "Kreutzer" gets its nickname from its dedicatee, Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831), a French virtuoso Beethoven had seen perform in Vienna. Ironically, Kreutzer deemed the work virtually unplayable and never performed the remarkable sonata that has secured the violinist's place in music history.

    True story: Kreutzer wasn’t the work's original dedicatee. That suspended honor went to George Bridgetower ( ca.1778-1860), an Afro-Polish virtuoso employed by the British Royal family. Bridgetower was apparently something of a cut-up: the original dedication read “Sonata per uno mulaticco lunattico.” When he and Beethoven premiered the work in Vienna on May 24, 1803, the ink was barely dry on the score, and for the second movement George had to read from the piano score over Ludwig’s shoulder. During the performance Bridgetower altered the violin part somewhat, much to Beethoven’s delight, and at some point Beethoven rewarded him by giving the violinist his tuning fork (now in the British Library). But, as the story goes, the two went out for a drink afterwards and Bridgetower made an off-color joke about a woman who turned out to be a very dear friend of the composer—Beethoven took the insult personally and broke off all ties with the violinist, and changed the dedication in the process.

    February 3rd of this year marked the bicentennial of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), a composer, pianist, organist and conductor whose prodigious musical talents rivaled those of Mozart, and who, like Mozart, did not live to see his 40th birthday. But young Felix came from a well-to-do German family and he, along with a brother and two sisters, was raised in an intellectually stimulating and stable environment, and thus was protected from the childhood exploitation that Mozart endured. Mendelssohn benefited from an impressively well-rounded education, and in addition to studying the piano, the violin and composition he developed skills as a visual artist, evidenced in over 300 surviving paintings and drawings of remarkable quality.

    At sixteen, Mendelssohn produced his first musical masterwork, the Octet for Strings, Op. 20, and the following year saw the completion of the brilliant A Midsummer Night’s Dream concert overture (Op. 21), which in some ways provides a precedent for the symphonic poems of Liszt. When he was 20, Mendelssohn sparked the revival of interest in the music of J.S. Bach and also gained international fame by conducting the first performance of the St. Matthew Passion since Bach’s death. During his tenures as conductor in Düsseldorf (1833-1835) and Leipzig (1835-1845), Mendelssohn likewise rekindled interest in the music of Handel, and works he premiered included Schubert’s newly-discovered Symphony No. 9. Through the course of his career he became something of a superstar performer and composer especially in Great Britain, and was a particular favorite of Queen Victoria. But, as did many in his family, Mendelssohn suffered from hypertension, and was often in ill-health, especially during the last years of his life. He died from a series of strokes in 1847, and was survived by his wife, Cécile, and their five children.

    In contrast to many of his flamboyant contemporaries, Mendelssohn neither overcame abject poverty, had a string of adulterous affairs, nor suffered syphilitic insanity—consequently, his reputation as a “Romantic” suffered. After Mendelssohn died, Richard Wagner became a particularly vociferous critic, lumping him with the likes of Brahms as examples of, in his mind, the unimpassioned, backward-looking drivel in dire contrast to his own more worthy creations of genius. Of course, in addition to tooting his own tuba, Wagner had ulterior motives which had nothing to do with the music itself. For one, Maestro Mendelssohn apparently had rejected (and possibly lost) the score to Wagner’s early Symphony. For another, Wagner was virulently anti-Semitic, and although Mendelssohn was by all accounts a devout Lutheran, his grandfather Moses, a well-known philosopher, was Jewish. Sadly, Wagner’s propaganda did have a negative effect among many critics even through most of the 20th Century, and not only among the Nazis who actually banned his works. But Mendelssohn’s music has never fallen out of favor with concertgoers, and his flawless Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64, remains among the most-frequently performed and recorded concertos ever written, and his Elijah (1846) likely has received more performances than any other large-scale oratorio with the exception of Handel’s Messiah. Long regarded as the quintessential recessional for weddings, it is perhaps the Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s incidental music to Shakespeare’s A Midsummernight’s Dream (Op. 61, 1843) that has received the most public performances. Ironically, this March is frequently paired with the bridal processional (“Here Comes the Bride…”) from Wagner’s opera, Lohengrin—it seems that posterity finds Mendelssohn’s music the perfect complement to Wagner’s, so the two therefore have been forever married, as it were.

    The first two of Mendelssohn‘s three sonatas for violin and piano were composed at ages 11 and 16 respectively. This evening’s Sonata dates from 1838 and is a work of his maturity, but it was never submitted for publication by the composer, nor does it appear to have been performed prior to its rediscovery by British virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin in the early 1950s. This has caused some to ponder why Mendelssohn might have “rejected” so fine a work, but it is much more likely that the composer simply never found time to revise the Sonata to his full satisfaction. Unlike so many composers, Mendelssohn did not depend on the publication of his works for income, so he had the luxury of taking as much time as he wanted to refine various details—e.g., even though Mendelssohn first conducted his ever-popular “Italian” Symphony (No. 4) in 1833, he still was withholding it from publication at the time of his death 14 years later!

  • Monday, May 4, 2009

    5/26 @ 6:15 p.m.: Anne Elise Richie

    Anne Elise Richie, mezzo-soprano
    Bonita Sonsini Wyke, piano
    With guest artist Mary Richie, piano

  • HECTOR BERLIOZ: Three songs from Les nuits d’ été
    Villanelle - Le spectre de la rose - Lîle inconnu
    Anne Elise Richie & Bonita Sonsini Wyke

  • JOSEPH HAYDN: Sonata in B minor, Hob. XVI:32
    1. Allegro Moderato - 2. Tempo di Minuetto - 3. Presto
    Mary Richie, piano

  • MICHAEL HEAD: Three Songs of Venice
    The Gondolier - St. Mark’s Square - Rain Storm
  • FRANCESCO SANTOLIQUIDO: I canti della sera
    L’assiolo canta - Alba di luna sul bosco
    Tristezza crepuscolare - L’incontro
          The Spinster of Chelsea Embankment
    (from Cabaret Songs, Vol.3)
          Two songs from Ladies of Their Nights and Days
    I Left You in Florence - The Queen Elizabeth Blues
    Anne Elise Richie & Bonita Sonsini Wyke

    Known for her warm, rich mezzo-soprano voice and gracious performing style, Anne Elise Richie has distinguished herself as an opera singer, concert artist and devoted teacher. A Metropolitan Opera District Winner, Ms. Richie has toured Italy, France and Germany in addition to her many performances in the United States. She has appeared in a wealth of diverse operas and theatrical productions including Madama Butterfly, Hansel and Gretel, The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, The Pirates of Penzance and 1776, and fine intonation and committed character portrayal are hallmarks of her performances. In addition to appearing as a soloist with the Birmingham Symphony Mozart Celebration, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Milwaukee Catholic Symphony Orchestra, University of Chicago Orchestra and Winston-Salem/Piedmont Triad Orchestra, Ms. Richie sang for four seasons with the New York City Opera Chorus and Opera Orchestra of New York. Upcoming local performances include a June 22nd appearance as soloist for Maurice Durufle's Requiem, part of Jacksonville Masterworks Chorale's Summer Sings choral workshop series. She was a Visiting Professor of Voice at the University of North Florida and an adjunct professor at New Jersey City University, Wagner College and Bergen Community College. In addition to maintaining a private studio, Ms. Richie was the Head of Vocal Studies at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts from August 2005 to May 2007. She received her undergraduate degree in Vocal Performance from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and Masters in Opera Performance from the North Carolina School of the Arts, and she is now nearing the completion of her doctoral degree in Vocal Performance with an emphasis on Vocal Pedagogy from Florida State University.

    Bonita Sonsini Wyke has been an active part of the Jacksonville music community since 1985, and in working with many of the First Coast's leading vocalists, instrumentalists and musical ensembles she has earned the reputation as a musician of unsurpassed sensitivity, technical skill and artistry. Originally from Los Angeles, California, she has performed for more than thirty years as a collaborative pianist and harpsichordist for choral groups, orchestral and instrumental ensembles, and for stage productions including opera, music theater, ballet and modern dance. In 2007, Bonita joined the Piano Department at Jacksonville University as full-time Staff Accompanist for Opera, Music Theater, Concert Choir, Chamber Singers, and student and faculty recitals. A founding member of the San Marco Chamber Music Society, Ms. Sonsini Wyke is a seasoned chamber player, and especially enjoys four-hand piano literature.

    Pianist Mary Richie has been performing since age 16, and divides her time between teaching and accompanying in Tampa, where she resides, and traveling to Orlando, Jacksonville and the Jersey Shore to be with family. Throughout her extensive career as an organist and Minister of Music in Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Charlotte (North Carolina) and Tampa she has maintained a successful private studio, teaching aspiring pianists of all ages. A graduate of Alverno College (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), she completed Master’s level courses in accompanying and performance at Winthrop College (Charlotte, North Carolina) and is presently studying performance technique and chamber repertoire with Dr. Averill Summer at the University of South Florida in Tampa. In December 2007, the mother of five and grandmother of seven performed with the St. Timothy Catholic Church Adult Choir (Lutz, Florida) at Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano and La chiesa di Sant'Ignazio di Loyola in Rome, Italy.

    Program Notes, by Ed Lein, Music Librarian

    The French Romantic Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) was among the most progressive composers of his era, and his original blending of symphonic forms with dramatic narrative, coupled with his keen insight into orchestration, had profound influence on the creative development of such luminaries as Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt. As a composer, Berlioz was never very popular with the French musical establishment, and despite his early successes he had difficulty getting his later works performed unless he paid for the concerts himself. But he did enjoy success as an author and music critic, and gained international fame as a conductor. In 1850 he was appointed Head Librarian of the Paris Conservatoire, which provided not only financial stability, but also something of an ironic twist to his biography. As a youth Berlioz had been sent to Paris to attend medical school, but rather than study human anatomy (which repulsed the young Hector) he preferred to study music scores, so he would sneak into—and then be kicked out of—the very library he would later manage. Especially famous for his Symphonie fantastique (1830) and Grande Messe des morts (Requiem Mass, 1837), Berlioz wrote about 50 songs with piano or guitar accompaniment, and among these the six songs from Les nuits d’ete (“The Nights of Summer”), Op. 7 (1841, orchestrated 1856) are easily the best known. Although the lyrics of all the opus 7 songs are by the influential French poet and critic Théophile Gautier (1811-1872), apparently the composer’s original intent was not that they be performed as a song cycle. Instead, he conceived them as separate songs to be performed variously by tenor, baritone, contralto, and mezzo-soprano, and was only later (but easily) convinced to orchestrate the whole set by an admiring music publisher. The selections this evening are the first, second and sixth songs from the set. Villanelle, a rustic song, joyously welcomes the returning spring with renewed hopefulness as the countryside begins to reawaken. In Le spectre de la rose (“The Ghost of the Rose”), a fading blossom at first seems to lament having been cut down in its prime, only to rejoice in its happy fate of having adorned the belle of the ball as its perfume lingers on. In the concluding barcarolle, L'île inconnue ("The Unknown Island"), a flirtatious gondolier asks his pretty young passenger to imagine which exotic shores she'd like to be whisked away to--she responds, "To the faithful shore where we're always in love!"

    Genial Austrian composer (Franz) Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) is the musician most credited with establishing the “Classical” style that his two younger contemporaries Mozart and Beethoven built upon, and by the time of his death "Papa" Haydn had become the most widely celebrated composer in Europe. Known as both “Father of the Symphony” and “Father of the String Quartet,” Haydn began his career as a choirboy and never developed into a keyboard virtuoso, so his (at least) 51 keyboard sonatas were mostly composed in the early part of his career as a court musician. His Piano Sonata No. 47 (1776) is one of only seven he wrote in a minor key, and its three-movement scheme is representative of the instrumental sonata forms he pioneered.

    British composer Michael Head (1900-1976) became famous as a classical singer who accompanied himself at the piano, so it is not surprising that the great majority of his works are for voice and piano. His three Songs of Venice (1976), on texts by his sister Nancy Bush (1907-1991), were composed for the great British mezzo-soprano Janet Baker. The songs were among Head’s very last works—sadly, the composer died before Dame Janet premiered them in 1977. Head is considered especially gifted in his ability to conjure images using music, demonstrated here as he assumes in turn the roles of biographer, travel guide, and naturalist philosopher.

    Italian composer Francesco Santoliquido (1883-1971) completed the music and lyrics of his earliest surviving songs, I canti della sera (“The Songs of the Evening”) in 1908. They were published by Ricordi in 1912, and the journal Musical America recommended them “as the finest of modern concert songs” in 1922. But in addition to composing, Santoliquido published books of verse and short stories, and in 1937 and 1938 he penned several fascist, anti-Semitic articles, and also decried musical modernism. As a result he was effectively ostracized from the progressive arts community. Ironically, his third wife, pianist Ornella Pulti Santoliquido, had been a student of Alfredo Casella (a prominent Jewish-Italian composer and a particular target of Francesco's), and she became known as an advocate of modern music. As these four evocative "evening songs" demonstrate, Santoliquido’s early style blends characteristics of Debussy and Richard Strauss (by way of Puccini!), but they do not yet show the influence of the Arabic music that colored his later works, the result of a nine-year sojourn to North Africa which began in 1912. The first song, L’assiola canta (“The Horned Owl Sings”), is an invitation to share an intimate walk through the woods on a still, starry evening, interrupted only by the mournful sigh of an owl. Alba di luna sul bosco (“Moonrise over the Woods”) artfully depicts the appearance of a red moon over the forest and it’s shimmering reflection caught on the surface of a pond; this in turn leads the poet to reflect on the surrounding vast stillness and peace, and how such a perfect sense of communion mirrors, or perhaps even inspires newly found love. As its title suggests, the mood of Tristezze crepuscolare (“Twilight Gloom”) changes from peaceful contemplation to sorrowful angst and agitation as the incessant pealing of evening church bells unearths painful memories of a lost love. The final song, L’incontro (“The Encounter”), ends the cycle on a more hopeful note as it relates the happy reunion of a couple who years before had enjoyed a similar twilight flirtation, with evening bells and sqwaking seabirds now heard in the distance, just the same as before. The accompaniment includes rhythmic patterns similar to those used in the preceding songs, perhaps suggestive of the imperfectly-recalled memories mentioned in the lyrics.


    The versatile New York pianist and composer Richard Pearson Thomas (b. 1957) is at home in both the musical theater and the concert hall. In addition to accompanying recitals with singers at major U.S. and international venues, he composes for films and the stage, including the Off-Off-Broadway shows Parallel Lines (2005) and Ladies in a Maze (1996). The Montana native is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music and the University of Southern California, was on faculty at Yale, and currently is on the faculty at Teachers College/Columbia University. He has composed more than 80 operas with students in New York City public schools as composer-in-residence of the Gold Opera Project, Young Audiences/New York. Writing the words as well as the music, Mr. Thomas began issuing collections of his Cabaret Songs in 1995. Published in 2006, The Spinster of Chelsea Embankment comes from Volume 3, and has been described as depicting “a figure apparently on intimate terms with more than a century-and-a-quarter's worth of literary luminaries, like Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) and Charles Dickens (1812-1870).” Composed between 1980 and 1988 and also with texts by the composer, Ladies of Their Nights and Days is a cycle of 11 songs, subtitled “a musical tour for mezzo-soprano.” In the context of the whole cycle Windsor: The Queen Elizabeth Blues is the first song, and I Left You in Florence is the last, but each song is strong enough to be performed independently. About his cycle the composer says, “[it] is designed for a singing actress with great musical and dramatic skills. Each song is a different character in a different European setting,” and he adds, “The piano accompaniments are orchestral and challenging, but a lot of fun for an accomplished pianist."