BWW Review: SCHUBERT AT THE ITALIAN ACADEMY at Columbia University
Going to a classical music concert at, say, Carnegie Hall or David Geffen Hall, or any other performance venue usually involves an audience in their seats and performers on a stage. No speaking from the stage, no visuals of any kind. That is, unless it is a concert given by the ASPECT Foundation for Music and Arts. Their audience will have a concert experience like few others in New York City.
The first concert of the year took place at the stunning Italian Academy at Columbia University on October 23, 2019. The Casa Italiana is a 1927 McKim, Meade, and White beauty with a jewel box of a concert hall seating two hundred people. The sold-out audience first gathered in the entry level reception rooms for wine and light refreshments. This is a feature of just about every ASPECT concert. It's a lovely introduction to the evening. As the gathering began to move toward the stairs to go up to the concert hall, the Formosa Quartet suddenly materialized and played Wei-Chieh Jay Lin's nostalgic "Autumn in New York." What a pleasant way to begin the evening!
Each ASPECT concert includes an illustrated talk. It might be during pauses in the music or it can happen before the music begins. On this night, the distinguished speaker Misha Donat presented his fascinating remarks (with the aid of numerous slides for the visual component) prior to the main attraction, Franz Schubert's Quintet in C major D 956. Schubert (1797-1828) wrote the Quintet in the last year of his brief but highly productive life. The composer of over six hundred songs,(195 of which were written between his 17th and 18th birthdays) many works for piano, fifteen string quartets, among them the famous Trout Quintet-based on one of his songs- plus nine symphonies, and much more completed this exceptional piece just two months before his death. It was performed for the first time some twenty-five years after his death. It was his sad fate to have rarely heard his own music publicly performed. Only within his circle of friends was there a possibility of performance, in a salon setting known among friends as a Schubertiade, and even so not all of his compositional output could be accommodated this way.
The Formosa Quartet (Jasmine Lin, violin; Wayne Lee, violin; Che-Yen Chen, viola; and Deborah Pae, cello) were joined by the renowned cellist Peter Wiley. Mr. Wiley, a member of the Beaux Arts Trio from 1987-1998 as well as many other prestigious organizations, is celebrated for his "accurate intonation and warmth of tone" (New York Times) which were on full display in this concert.
The usual quartet structure calls for two violins, one viola, and one cello. This quintet needs a second cello, although both cello parts are equally difficult.
Not unexpectedly, the entire piece was composed in lyrical,song-like fashion. One could almost hear the gears turning in Schubert's mind as he wrote, he for whom song-writing was as effortless as breathing. Each member of the quintet was in sync with the others, breathing together, shaping the musical line. It was almost too intimate because at times the music was so passionate it seemed as though the audience was eavesdropping on a very intense private conversation. This was especially true in the second movement, "Adagio." This movement was simply transcendent. With a tempestuous middle section bracketed by music of enormous tension and gentle release, it seemed as though the shy composer was speaking his innermost thoughts and feelings in the only way he could. It was as heart-rending as it was exquisitely beautiful.
The ASPECT foundation will present two more New York concerts this season. The next "Music in Context" event, "Haunted Minds" will be held at the Italian Academy on Wednesday, November 13, 2019 at 7:30pm. The Ariel Quartet will perform Bartók's String Quartet No. 1 and Shostakovich's String Quartet No.8, with Nicholas Chong giving the illustrated talk.
On Wednesday, December 4, 2019, "Russian Elegy," focusing on piano trios by Lyadov, Glinka, and Tchaikovsky will be presented at the Bohemian National Hall at 321 E.73rd Street, also at 7:30 pm. The illustrated talk will be given by Stephen Johnson.
For further information and ticketing, go to aspectmusic.net, or call 917-900-6657.
It should also be noted that the ASPECT Foundation for Music and Art also presents similar concerts in London at the Leighton House Museum. For information regarding the concerts in England, please see the information on the website.