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Thursday, February 15 : Music in the Grand Gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sonata Series Event

The Sonata Series features MusicWorks Collective musicians with guest pianists presenting works from the duo sonata repertoire. Together, musicians explore pieces from the 17th and 18th century masterworks to contemporary works.

This event features pianist Jeff Louie, performing Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano and Violin, No. 3 with violinist Luke Fatora and Amy Beach’s Violin Sonata, Op. 34 with Jesse Holstein.

Thursday, February 15 at 7pm
Grand Gallery, RISD Museum
20 N. Main Street, Providence
Admission to the museum and concert is free
No reservations are necessary

Who’s the Guy with the Curly Hair?

 

“The Last Supper” painting by Jessica Van Daam, on loan to the Trinity Brewhouse.

CMW Fellow and violinist Luke Fatora muses upon Beethoven as a pop culture icon.

Earlier this year, an unexpected downpour of cold rain unleashed itself as I was out for a walk. Passing by the Trinity Brewhouse on Fountain Street, I took refuge inside and found myself seated near a musician-themed mural riffing on The Last Supper. I was enjoying a nearby table’s particularly slurred conversation – its contents better left unexplored here – when it took a hard turn. One of the speakers interrupted a waitress, gesturing towards the mural hanging on the wall where Ludwig van Beethoven (not to confused with Beethoven the dog but more on that later) was stoically seated next to Billie Holiday in the company of other musicians like Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon. He asked “Who’s the guy with the curly hair??”

I found myself thinking back to this experience recently at CMW’s Phase II students’ weekly dinner and discussion. The students were exploring the interdependent relationship between a piece of art and the settings that a culture places it in. Later that night I grappled with unanswerable questions as I tossed and turned. How would Beethoven have responded to someone telling him that two centuries into the future, Americans would scarf down nachos and beer under his quasi-religious image in a brewpub in Providence, RI? How about being told that Andy Warhol, an iconic 20th century American artist, would designate Beethoven as the figure from western classical music to join the likes of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and Chairman Mao, as portrait subjects? Finally, what would he have had to say about the movie Beethoven released in the 1990’s?? My guess is as good as anyone’s as to how Beethoven would have reacted to being told that his name would become synonymous with a Hollywood movie about the adventures of a goofy, slobbering, St. Bernard.

 

 

 

 

 

 


The composer’s canine namesake.

After entertaining these hypothetical reactions, we’re left with some serious questions. Why did Andy Warhol choose Beethoven over someone like Schubert or Tchaikovsky as an iconic portrait subject? Why is the comedic reboot of Lassie centered around a St. Bernard named Beethoven (the surface explanation is here) and not Schoenberg or Bach?

 

 

 

 

 

 


Warhol’s Beethoven

Beethoven was an incredibly forward thinking composer – so much so that nearly a century after he wrote his wild Grosse Fugue, composers such as Arnold Schoenberg would look back to it as a premonition of their own radical breaks with tradition. Are we to believe that Beethoven’s seat at the table of musical disciples in the Trinity Brewhouse is a result of his technical wizardry as a composer?

Another explanation lies in his easily accessible humanity. As many people know, Beethoven lost his hearing over the course of time and had a generally tough life. His struggles led him to rail against fate in his Fifth Symphony. There is hardly a more universal human experience than struggling with circumstances that are beyond our control. Beethoven’s loss of hearing is tragic and his response to continue living for the sake of creating art is certainly heroic (you can read about it in his own words in his famed Heiligenstadt Testament). This said, other composers, being human (for now…), have certainly also struggled with circumstances beyond their control.

Popular culture’s obsession with Beethoven (the composer) risks encapsulating his image in the opening bars of his 5th Symphony and “that epic part of the 9th symphony where people are singing about something in German.” Only a sliver of Beethoven’s humanity is seen when it is through this lens. Recently, I have been working through his Third op. 12 Piano and Violin sonata and have been enjoying how starkly it contrasts popular notions of what Beethoven should sound like (“bark bark bark baaaark!”). Beethoven began working on his op. 12 Piano and Violin sonatas in 1797; he was 27 years old and had been living in Vienna for 5 years. At that point, he was 5 years away from writing the Heiligenstadt Testament and presumably contemplating suicide in the face of his worsening deafness. The Heiligenstadt Testament details the agony of Beethoven’s depression but it also mentions his lifelong heightened sensitivity to “tender feelings of affection” and his general “love for man and feelings of benevolence.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


Ludwig Van Beethoven, composer and guy with the curly hair.

Beethoven’s Third Piano and Violin Sonata can be seen as stemming from these general underlying dispositions; it is brimming with a particularly sparkling and playful energy, never taking itself too seriously. The beginning and ending movements are strikingly joyful romps through E flat major. The second movement is an Adagio in C major that begins with a simple melody containing an emotional pureness that becomes transformed throughout the movement. The theme passes briefly through distant and more complicated emotional landscapes, emerging to playfully evade a committed return to its original character – one gets the sense that Beethoven is exploring what it feels like to make peace with an unattainable ideal’s imaginary nature. This is the side of Beethoven that, two centuries later, keeps me warm on a slushy February day. Beethoven’s ability to probe such an extreme range of emotion leaves me in awe of his (very human) ability to reach across time and space to connect with us and – most importantly – inspires me to stop reaching for my phone to check the latest news and reach for my violin instead.

–Luke Fatora

Please join us Thursday, February 15 at 7pm for the Sonata Series Event at RISD Museum’s Grand Gallery as Luke Fatora performs Beethoven (the composer) along with pianist Jeff Louie. The event also features violinist Jesse Holstein performing a composition by Amy Beach.

 

A Day at the Beach

Join us Thursday, February 15 at 7pm for our Sonata Series Event featuring Jesse Holstein and Luke Fatora with guest pianist Jeff Louie. The evening’s program features a composition by Amy Beach. Here, Jesse talks about the composer and the piece he’ll perform at RISD Museum Grand Gallery.
 
A piece that has recently come into my orbit is the Sonata for Violin and Piano by Amy Beach. It was completely unknown to me before I performed it at the Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music last August. In the process of learning it, I became quite taken with the piece and subsequently asked my friend Jeff Louie to play it with me for the CMW Sonata Series Concert this February 15 at the RISD Museum at 7pm. If I may be permitted, perhaps a little background about Ms. Beach and the sonata.
 

Tucked between the Connecticut and Merrimack rivers in south-eastern New England lies the little town of Henniker, New Hampshire. Aside from being the birthplace of Red Sox legend Ted Williams, Henniker also lays claim as the birthplace of one of the most important figures in American classical music, Amy Marcy Cheney Beach.

Composer Amy Beach

Born September 5, 1867, Amy Cheney exhibited prodigious musical talent on the piano and in composition from a very young age. She advanced far beyond what teaching was available in Henniker by age seven and in order to support Amy’s talent, the family moved to the Boston suburb of Chelsea in 1875. There, she studied piano with Carl Baermann, who was himself a piano student of Franz Liszt. While Amy did receive some composition and counterpoint coaching as a young teen, she was essentially an autodidact in composition her whole life. Impressively, her “Gaelic Symphony” of 1896 received its world-premier by the Boston Symphony and was the first symphony composed and published by an American woman. This is a testament to her incredible gift of melody and intuitive ability as a composer.
 
When Amy was on the verge of international stardom as a pianist and composer, she got married at age eighteen to a prominent Boston surgeon, Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach, twenty-four years her senior. As was the custom of the times, he limited her performing life to just a few recitals a year and Amy received no mentoring or tutoring as a composer. When Dr. Beach died in 1910, Amy began touring as a pianist and composer in Europe and was a tremendous success. She would return to America in 1914 and was a major figure in American Classical music until her death in 1944.
 
With Amy’s piano concerto appearances with the Boston Symphony as a teenager, she gained the attention of the BSO Concertmaster, Franz Kneisel.  He invited her to perform the Schumann piano quintet with his string quartet in 1894 and he premiered her violin sonata in 1897 with Ms. Beach at the piano. Arguably the greatest Romantic Period American violin sonata, Beach’s piece is a dramatic big-boned sonata with a tremendous scope of expression and color. Cast in four movements, the first movement is a serious and dramatic voyage within the traditional sonata-form structure. In relief to the density of the first movement, the second movement is a much lighter scherzo akin to some of Mendelssohn’s “fairy music” movements. The third movement is the longest of the four chapters. Highly lyrical and emotional, it begins with an extended passage for solo piano. Several musicologists have remarked on the similarity of the melody of Kenny Rogers’ “She Believes in Me” to the main theme of this movement. (This statement may or may not be true.) The finale has the tremendous forward drive and drama that one might expect in the concluding chapter of such a impassioned work. At the midpoint, a Bach-like fugue appears with wonderful counterpoint and dialogue between the voices before a return to the Romantic thrust to the conclusion.
 
I hope you are able to join us and hear the sonata for yourself on Thursday, February 15 at 7pm at the RISD Museum Grand Gallery. Also on the program will be Beethoven’s charming sonata in E-flat, op. 12 no. 3 with Luke Fatora, violin and Jeff Louie, piano.
 
–Jesse Holstein
Associate Director / Senior Resident Musician

Who Let the Frogs Out? A Postcard from the Newport String Project

 

 

 

 

 

 

I recently discovered that the beloved game of skipping stones across water has a variety of other names in other countries – ducks and drakes (UK), dragonflies (Czech), throwing a sandwich (Finnish) and the Ukrainian name is zapuskaty zhabky which translates to “letting the frogs out”.

What has me thinking about skipping stones, you ask?

As musicians engaged in community residencies, we are constantly experimenting – tweaking traditional concert formats to engage new people, bringing a new game to a classroom of violin students – to build meaningful connections between people. And, that moment of trying something new in pursuit of connection, is a lot like the moment when you let go of the pebble to see how far it will bounce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



As anyone with stone-skipping prowess will tell you, much depends on finding the right pebbles. And we have been incredibly lucky with our plentiful supply! The Newport String Project is now in its fifth season – thanks to incredible community support, this year, myself and Emmy have been joined by violist Ashley Frith and cellist Jaime Feldman. Together we perform as the Newport String Quartet and curate educational programming that provides free violin, viola and cello lessons to almost forty students aging from Pre-K to fifth graders. There have been many, many “pebbles” along the way. And there have definitely been some “clunkers”– unruly frogs, you might say – but some of the more successful “pebbles” have led to signature events like the Paper Orchestra concerts (see highlights from our most recent one here) and the community barn dance series and many rich collaborations with local organizations.

Every so often, there’s the magical combination of pebble, technique and environmental conditions – and you realize that the pebbles are bouncing a lot further than you imagined, maybe in ways you hadn’t even noticed or realized. Like when our oldest students are recruiting their friends to come join the Newport String Project. Like when a younger sibling already knows a song because they’ve learnt it from an older brother or sister. Like when you notice a parent absorbed in watching their child’s lesson and marveling at the complexity of skills they’re learning. Like when an audience member finds you after a concert to ask what works by that composer they should listen to next. These moments are energizing, humbling and bring much needed detail to the sweeping Big Picture flow of this work.

-Ealain McMullin, Newport String Project Co-Director

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learn more about Newport String Project here!