Next Chamber Ensembles at The Stissing Center

by Kevin T McEneaney

The Next Festival of Emerging Artists, a program for composers and young performers in their mid-twenties, opened their Stissing Center chamber music concert with Paris Skies by Nicholas Walker. Jessica Tovey on violin and Andrew Ryan on bass. Walker, a contemporary composer and double bassist, who teaches at Ithaca College, has a heightened lyrical bent as a post-modern composer. This enchanting twelve-minute walk through the streets of Paris, probably inspired by the program of the first trio composed by Saint-Saëns, yet the style of composition displays the influence of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt with the added twist of a perpetual mobile platform. This is an excitingly nuanced composition of mood and imagined visual colorization of varied Paris skies haunted by the memory of the Nazi occupation of Paris. On the version available on YouTube, the double-bass partners with cello instead of violin, which in this performance delivered a more cheerful, less somber portrait of Paris. With constantly changing leads, the work delivers a musical conversation that invites meditative speculation on the city’s legendary landmarks and history. This was a great opener that made one forget one was sitting in a seat.

The work of Francis Poulenc is not played enough in this country, especially his chamber music, so I was delighted to hear a polished rendition of Poulenc’s Sonata for piano and cello, FP143, its second movement Cavatine with Julie Weldon on piano and Sophia Zhou on piano. This lyrical 1933 work offered another dialogue between two instruments with elegant repartee and delightful shading of instrumental voices. Both performers in sync made me feel that I was indeed still in Paris experiencing my youthful memories of being there in spring of 1971.

Ava Pacheco and Sophia Zhou

Fratres (Brothers) by Arvo Pärt played by Sophia Zhou (Director of The Stissing Center) and Ava Pacheco on violin delivered a subliminal twist: this version offered a sisters version, a conversation between two women rather than two men. The work offers a profound spiritual meditation on peace which has achieved world-wide stature. This dreamily slow minimalist work constructs an emotional commitment to world peace that hauntingly lingers in one’s memory. Perhaps the war between the sexes is over? But that cannot be now, for the U.S. Supreme Court has just renewed that war. This was a timely, hopeful piece played with delicate perfection.

Cellist Julie Kim played Julie-O (1988) by Mark Summer of Turtle Island Quartet fame from San Francisco. This is a humorously experimental piece about a sexual affair that utilizes every inch of the cello itself beyond its strings, as if two lovers were exploring every inch of each other’s bodies. Kim grew up in the Frisco Bay area and has been playing this amusing party-piece since she was in high school. This exuberant and deliciously comic piece made the concert feel shorter than it was.

Illusions, Part I & II was a World Première quartet by composer Elizabeth Tsung who played lead violin, accompanied by violinist Che Buford and Sienna Sonada on viola and Julie Weldon on cello. The first part appeared to me to be a lament about one’s youthful illusions with the second part a recollection of childhood delights, a diptych of confused youth and recollection of innocence mixing memory ad desire.

Elizabeth Tsung, Che Buford, Sienna Sonada, Julia Weldon

Three movements from 8 Pieces, Op. 39 by Ukrainian composer Reinhold Gliere supplied extroverted swing. “Prelude” permitted Sophia Steger to display her adroit violin skills as she held lead, while “Allegretto” offered a similar opportunity to Seojin Kim on bass where the rustic foot-stomping dance in 4/4 time contained DNA echoes of medieval Celtic dance tunes with nuanced Slavic overlay. Perhaps even more delightful was the closing lullaby of “Cradle Song” with its contagious optimism.

Sophia Steger and Seojin Kim

Tapped into the Same Vein, a World Première by violist and composer Jessica Meyer, which employed a perpetuum mobile theme to arrive at a memorably thrilling climax that one can carry in one’s memory. This was a riveting performance with Ava Pacheco and Lou Barker on soaring violins with support from Matt Grosso and Sienna Sonoda on viola with the obviously talented Julia Weldon on cello anchoring the group. This was an exclamation mark to remember!

Matt Grosso and Jessica Meyer

This chamber concert presented themes of loss, remembrance, folly, intimacy, extroversion, elegance, and exuberance in a cornucopia that was both humble and bold. What will NEXT do next?  

Kevin T McEneaney

Author of Hunter S. Thompson: Fear, Loathing, and the Birth of Gonzo
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