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!

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