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By Rachel Rice on June 7, 2016

Being immersed in the daily work at PCMS, I have begun to memorize the artists, programs, dates and venues of the 2016/17 Season. In becoming familiar with these concerts, there are a number that I am particularly excited about.  As a cellist, I am looking forward to a recital by one of my favorite artists, Jean-Guihen Queyras, who seems to have done it all. He is a professor at the Musikhochschule Freiburg but also runs his own music festival in Southern France; he has appeared with international orchestras, including our very own Philadelphia Orchestra last year; and has recorded 26 CDs to date.

But his January 27th program is what I find especially intriguing.  Two beloved pillars of the standard repertoire by Beethoven and Rachmaninov are interwoven between two smaller compositions: Schumann’s Fünf Stücke im Volkston and Webern’s Drei Kleine Stucke. Whereas the major works may be sprawling and grand, these two lesser-known works are short and to the point. With the Webern, the melodic lines are reduced to cells of two or three notes, creating a startling brevity and sharpness that belies its intricacy. Webern himself viewed this piece as a combination of sketches that was too experimental to be performed in public.  However, this work is an interesting precursor to the composer’s use of the twelve tone system and a welcome change from the predictability of many solo cello programs. Schumann’s work was written in the same year as the popular Fantasiestücke and reflects a similar style. For an example of this, listen to Queyras’ recording of the latter work.

I was also drawn to the chamber music programs of the Belcea Quartet and Quatuor Èbene, in which their concerts are centered respectively around Schubert, the master of melody, and Beethoven, the master of rhythm and form. Both programs examine the contrast between the composer’s early and late styles. Schubert’s Quartet in E-flat Major, D. 87, written when he was a boy in school, was heavily influenced by the choir music that Salieri was writing at the time. Perhaps this is why the work alternates between rambunctious, joking material and melodic, choral lines. The much later Quartet in G Major, D. 887, is a massive, forty-five minute work that was written just two years before his death. The grandness of the work seems to convey a sense of final artistic accomplishment.

Schubert’s reflections on contemporary stages of life are contrasted with Beethoven’s proclivity to reflection in early compositions and originality in late compositions. Quatuor Èbene's program begins with the last quartet from the composer’s first cycle, the Opus 18—a patchwork of old musical ideas and compositions. They end with his Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132—an innovative work that disregards tradition with five movements structured in a variety of different forms. Written two years before the composer’s death and without any faculty of hearing, it is considered to be the peak of his creative output. Of the latter quartet, Mark Steinberg of the Brentano Quartet notes that "Beethoven displays here what musicologist Maynard Soloman calls the 'potential for coherence within the fragmentary.' In embracing disorder, the composer manages to create a compelling structure achieved through careful balancing of musical quanta. Coherence is earned through struggle with confusion, purification through tribulation.” I am curious to hear each quartet’s stylistic approach to interpreting their respective composer’s early works versus their late works.

These artists have chosen to pair works that also showcase the challenge of interpreting a diversity of styles on the same program. Crafting a beautiful interpretation of each work is expected by audiences from every musician, but concerts that highlight the versatility in one’s artistry are the true mark of a premier artist. With each of these, the thematic significance and brilliance of each program ensures three unforgettable concerts.

Rachel Rice is a high school intern with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. She is a senior at Sanford School in Hockessin, Delaware and will be attending the Eastman School of Music in the fall of 2016 as a Cello Performance major.