Musco Center Presents The Academy Of St. Martin In The Fields Chamber Octet
The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble, an octet drawn from the musician leaders of one of the finest chamber orchestras in the world, makes its Musco Center debut Tuesday, October 15 with works by Johannes Brahms, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Felix Mendelssohn, plus a new piece by St. Martin in the Fields composer-in-residence Sally Beamish.
The London-based Chamber Ensemble, renowned for a polished and refined sound rooted in outstanding musicianship, will perform two sextets and two octets: Brahms' String Sextet No. 2 in G major, Opus 36; Korngold's Sextet for strings in D major, Op.10; Mendelssohn's Octet for strings in E flat major, Op.20; and Beamish's Partita for String Octet.
The Musco Center appearance is part of the Octet's eight-concert North American tour this October. Led by violinist Tomo Keller, the Ensemble also includes violinists Harvey de Souza, Martin Burgess and Jennifer Godson; violists Robert Smissen and Fiona Bonds; and cellists Stephen Orton and Will Schofield. The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Music Director is violinist Joshua Bell.
The October 15 event begins at 7:30pm. Tickets are $33 to $63, and available at www.muscocenter.org or through the Musco box office by calling 844-OC-MUSCO (844-626-8726). All print-at-home tickets include a no-cost parking pass.
The musical program: Two sextets, two octets
The Brahms and Korngold pieces will use six Chamber Ensemble musicians, while the Beamish and Mendelssohn will use the full Octet.
Brahms' String Sextet No. 2 in G Major Opus 36 (1864-65) is scored for two violins, two violas, and two cellos, and divided into four movements. First performed in Boston in October 1866, it was arranged for string orchestra in 1939 by Kurt Atterberg. The Sextet has innovative chord structures, technical and melodic contrasts, and an exotic-sounding opening within the first movement. There may also, according to one Brahms biographer, be a concealed reference within the opening of G-major Allegro non troppo to a woman with whom Brahms was infatuated while writing the piece. Suggested Karl Geiringer, the a-g-a-h-e sequence of notes may be for Agathe von Siebold.
Mendelssohn wrote his Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20 in 1825, when he was just 16. The composition, a birthday gift for his friend and violin teacher Eduard Ritz, was not performed publicly until 1836. In 1932 it had been slightly revised. Mendelssohn scored for a double string quartet of four violins and pairs of violas and cellos, and directed that all the instruments play "in symphonic orchestral style." He insisted that pianos and fortes "be strictly observed and more strongly emphasized than is usual in pieces of this character." One prominent critic wrote, "Its youthful verve, brilliance and perfection make it one of The Miracles of 19th Century music."
Erich Wolfgang Korngold's String Sextet in D Major (1915) in four movements premiered in 1917, with some hailing it as the finest such work since Brahms. Written when the composer was 17, the lyrical and romantic opening subject foreshadows Korngold's later mastery of opera. The second theme is calmer and more introspective, giving way to an Intermezzo third movement recalling 19th Century Vienna before reaching a rousing finale filled with urgency and jubilation. The son of a music critic, at 9 Korngold was introduced to Mahler, who declared him a genius. Richard Strauss thought him the greatest child prodigy since Mozart. Mahler secured the best teachers in Vienna for him. He went on to be a leading operatic and instrumental composer and conductor and in the 1930s enjoy a successful period writing film scores in Hollywood.
The Partita for String Octet (2019) by British composer Sally Beamish is the second piece she has written on commission for the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Inspired by Bach while judging the Carl Nielsen Violin Competition last March, she "heard many superb performances of the Bach solo sonatas and partitas, and for 10 days, my head was filled with Bach." She was also inspired by the Mendelssohn octet that is on the October 15 program at Musco Center. That octet has a fugato in its last movement that is echoed as a slow theme in her Partita. "The final Chaconne section," she said, "takes another Mendelssohn theme, heavily disguises it, and develops it into eight chaconne variations, each featuring a different musician." Beamish also wrote that the piece was "inspired by the unique, virtuosic dynamic" of the eight Chamber Ensemble musicians, "whose playing I know so well."
John Churchill and Sir Neville Marriner founded The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields orchestra as a small, conductorless string group in 1959. Churchill was Master of Music of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, an Anglican Church in London's Trafalgar Square. Originally built in medieval time, the present church was constructed in the 1720s.
The initial chamber group's first performances in November 1959 are credited with helping stimulate a Baroque music revival in England. The current orchestra's size is flexible so that it can meet the requirements of any piece in its repertoire - from Baroque to contemporary. In 1967 the Chamber Ensemble was created to perform the larger chamber works with any grouping from string quintet to octet, and even configurations featuring winds.
Its extensive tour schedule regularly takes the Ensemble across Europe and North America, and its recording contracts with Philips Classics, Hyperion, and Chandos have led to the release of more than 30 CDs. In 1993, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields became the only orchestra to receive The Queen's Award for Export Achievement.
In 2011, Bell was named to the post, becoming the only person to hold this post since Sir Neville Marriner formed the orchestra in 1958. His current contract extends into 2020.
The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble's October 15, 2019 appearance begins at 7:30pm. Tickets, which range from $33 to $63, are available at www.muscocenter.org or through the Musco box office by calling 844-OC-MUSCO (844-626-8726). All print-at-home tickets include a no-cost parking pass.
Musco Center for the Arts is located on the campus of Chapman University at 415 North Glassell, Orange, Calif. For more information about Musco Center and its upcoming events, and to purchase tickets online, visit www.muscocenter.org.