We are absolutely delighted to have been selected for the prestigious 'St John’s Smith Square Young Artists' Scheme' in 2016/17. It's an exciting time for us and we wanted to talk a bit about our upcoming programmes. Here's a detailed look at what we’re bringing to SJSS this season.
Thursday 24th November 2016- Lunchtime, 1:05pm
Igor Stravinsky - Suite from L'Histoire du Soldat (Cl, Vln, Pn)
Nino Rota - Trio (Cl, Vc, Pn)
Jean Francaix - Trio (Cl, Vla, Pn)
Rarely performed alongside each other, our programme Three-in-One aims to showcase the variety of sounds these three mediums can create all within the space of a one hour lunchtime concert; no mean feat considering some of the lengthier works!
Stravinsky's Suite (based on the Russian folk tale 'The Runaway Soldier and the Devil') was originally a theatrical work for seven instruments (clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone, violin, double-bass and percussion), three actors and a dancer. It was reworked by Stravinsky into this concert suite for Clarinet, Violin and Piano as a gesture of thanks to Swiss philanthropist Werner Reinhart; an excellent amateur clarinettist who sponsored and largely underwrote the original’s premiere.
Nino Rota was a prolific Italian composer best known for his film scores (most notably those for Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti and the first two films from Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy). Although he wrote more than 150 scores for film, he also composed an impressive body of concert and stage works. This fun Trio, scored for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, is strongly influenced by his film compositional style.
The Francaix Trio, using the same instrumentation as Mozart’s Kegelstatt trio, is a light fun piece mixing his iconic witty and lyrical voices composed in celebration of the clarinet’s 300th birthday! Being a virtuoso pianist himself, many of Francaix's works feature the piano; especially among his large volume of chamber works, often using uncommon instrumental combinations. He rejected the surrounding trends of atonality, professing himself a neoclassicist. His numerous influences (including Stravinsky, Ravel and Poulenc) were always integrated into his own unique voice of lightness and wit, which changed little throughout his career.
Thursday 19th January 2017- Evening, 7:30pm
War and Eternity
Dmitri Shostakovich - Piano Trio No.2 in E minor, Op.67 (Vln, Vc, Pn)
Alan Rawsthorne - Clarinet Quartet (Cl, Vln, Vla, Vc)
Olivier Messiaen - Quartet for the End of Time (Cl, Vln, Vc, Pn)
Our heaviest programme by far, War and Eternity explores works composed during and immediately following WW2, built around Messiaen's unequivocally moving Quartet for the End of Time. All three works have an extreme intensity of expression kindled by this human tragedy. Both the Messiaen Quartet [1940-41] and Shostakovich Trio  were composed in the height of the war, the Rawsthorne Quartet [1946/8] (a rarely performed but powerful English work) in the aftermath when the memories and wounds of war were still fresh.
Soviet era composer Dmitri Shostakovich's monumental second piano trio may in some ways be viewed as a window into the past. Having lived through WW2, Shostakovich not so much composed music for entertainment, but as a 'voice for the people' when it was taken away from them; giving insight into what it may have been like under Stalin’s reign. Among the most ghostly, haunting openings ever written up to this point (with cello harmonics so the violin sounds underneath), Shostakovich, having witnessed the horrors first-hand, conjures images akin to war-time alarms, the clang of train wheels on route to the death-camps, the oppression of life in red Russia being forced to smile with a gun to your head, the tolling of death bells, and finally casting Jewish folk music as the subject against a pounding background symbolizing dictator communism.
Relatively forgotten, Lancaster born British composer Alan Rawsthorne was sometimes referred to as 'master of the epigram'. He found his distinctive voice at a very early stage in his career, sticking to it with conviction. The clarinet quartet is among the best of his chamber output, which forms one of 20th Century English music’s most substantial contributions in this genre. Typically British in feel, it begins with a meandering line as though you are lost, before a shocking strike chord pulls you out of your slumber with gripping emotional intensity.
Paired with these two works, Messiaen's Quartet rounds off an emotionally and technically challenging programme. The scoring is unusual, born out of the instruments and musicians available during his time in the Gorlitz, Germany POW camp Stalag VIII-A (now part of Zgorzelec, Poland). Premiered in front of roughly 400 fellow prisoners and guards, Messiaen later stated 'Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension'. Inspired by text from the Book of Revelation (Rev 10:1-2, 5-7; King James Version), it is quite literally about 'the end of time', the end of everything; and arguably among the greatest chamber music masterpieces of all time. It is as if time is suspended in the final movement of the Quartet as it soars and resolves all conflict, leaving Eternity.
Sunday 11th June 2017- Afternoon, 3pm
Ludwig van Beethoven - 'Gassenhauer' Trio in Bb major, Op.11 (Cl, Vc, Pn)
George Enescu - Piano Quartet No.2 in D minor, Op.30 (Vln, Vla, Vc, Pn)
Bela Bartok - Contrasts, Sz. 111 (Cl, Vln, Pn)
Krzysztof Penderecki - Clarinet Quartet (Cl, Vln, Vla, Vc)
(TBA soon) (New Transcription of an Orchestral masterpiece) (Cl, Vln, Vla, Vc, Pn)
Variations embraces our core ideal as a flexi-ensemble; showcasing a whole breadth of works from our different flexes alongside a new transcription of an orchestral masterpiece for the whole ensemble (to be announced soon).
Although now a standard combination (perhaps the most commonly heard of the three core clarinet trios), Beethoven's elegantly refined Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano was very unusual for its time. Now a regular favourite, the Trio earned its nickname 'Gassenhauer' for its famous use of the tune from Josef Weigl's opera The Corsair in its final movement. Worked into nine variations, the tune was very popular at the time, helping form its lasting appeal.
Enescu's rarely heard late Piano Quartet is full of delightful melodies and written as a homage to Fauré. Often regarded as Romania’s most important musician, Pablo Casals described Enescu as "the greatest musical phenomenon since Mozart". Composed at the height of WW2, the quartet’s opening movement has an almost chilly quality, as though Enescu is ‘trying to keep the horrors engulfing Europe away by sheer force of intellectual will’.
Bartok's Contrasts were famously written in response to a letter from eminent Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti, but officially commissioned by jazz clarinettist Benny Goodman; and dedicated to the two. Originally a shorter two-movement work titled Rhapsody, Bartok added the middle movement Pihenő (Relaxation) between the Verbunkos (Recruiting Dance) and Sebes (Fast Dance) following its premiere at Carnegie Hall, January 1939; changing the name to Contrasts. Based on Hungarian and Romanian dance melodies, the work demands great technical dexterity with a clarinet cadenza in the first and violin cadenza in the last movements. In the final movement Bartok specifies the violinist must retune (scordatura) two strings, lowering the E and raising the G a semitone each, requiring a second instrument. The effect yields a rougher, courser sound (open strings) suggesting the playing of a folk musician!
One of Poland's best known living composers, Penderecki's seminal Clarinet Quartet is a simultaneously haunting and gripping work. Inspired by Schubert's String Quintet in C major, D.956, it began as a personal experiment before an official commission gave it form. It fully manifests the change of style foreshadowed in his String Trio and Flute Concerto; and again, like Rawsthorne's Quartet, uses the unusual combination of clarinet and string trio. One of the striking features of the Quartet (modelled much like a Bartok String Quartet) are its lean textures; only at isolated moments do all four instruments play together, with the music often proceeding on the sound of only one or two.
The programme will end on the new transcription of an orchestral masterpiece for the entire quintet. Stay tuned for updates.
Thank you for reading! We can't wait to bring these concerts to you and hope the range of repertoire peaks your interest. More details to come as the time approaches.
Selected for the 2016/17 St John’s Smith Square Young Artists’ Scheme