Sunday, July 2, 2017

concert review: Stanford Chamber Music Seminar

The Stanford Chamber Music Seminar, wherein resident ensemble the St. Lawrence Quartet and various guest artists coach both young professionals and skilled amateurs in the techniques and, as importantly, the enthusiasms of chamber music playing, was on this week, and several public concerts were included therein. This year I managed to get to almost all of them.

They included noon concerts during the week, at Bing, whose highlights included the St. Lawrence teaming up with a guest cellist for a wholly delightful quintet by Boccherini (though possibly "wholly delightful" is redundant once Boccherini's name is mentioned), Op. 25 No. 4. That's this one, although the performance I heard was better. Also the members of the St. Lawrence acting as section leaders for a pickup string orchestra playing C.P.E. Bach's Hamburg Sinfonia No. 2. That's this one, although the performance I heard was better.

On Saturday there was a showcase concert by the young professional groups, including two of the groups I heard last summer at the Banff competition: the Tesla Quartet, the second-place winner, in Haydn's Op. 9/6, and the Omer Quartet in Beethoven's Second Razumovsky.

Sunday was the big finale concert for all 24 participating groups, each playing one movement of something, and for once I was able to attend the whole thing, which began at 11 am and lasted for five hours. No intermissions this year: you know what happens, they're called for ten minutes and wind up lasting 25. Two of them add an additional hour to the playing time.

So instead, there was a lot of ducking out to the restroom during changeovers between pieces, and if you didn't get back in time, you wait outside and listen to the next piece through the closed doors. Usually these events begin with a few dedicated Sunday morning risers at the start and slowly get more populated as the day goes on. This year, however, it was packed at the start, and then leaked away a bit later on. There were a lot of good performances and fewer of the usual winceable but sincerely meant. We got to hear two performances of the slow movement of Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" and of the finale of Bartok's Fourth. Best of the day was probably a wholly convincing rendition of the first movement of Tchaikovsky's rambling Piano Trio, especially from the pianist, Simon Tom.

Unusually, the program included some songs with chamber ensemble, by Ravel and Finzi. One of the Ravel songs, from the Chansons mad√©casses to words by √Čvariste de Parny, is an 18th century anti-colonialist poem, a thing I didn't realize already existed then.

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