Quick, what do the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and 3rd & Lindsley have in common? Well, sure, they're both well-established music venues south of Broadway on Third Avenue. But what you might not know is that this weekend, both will host world-class virtuoso string soloists toting 18th century Italian instruments.
The phrase "classical music" is famously vague, of course, and this pair of concerts is a great chance to experience some of the broad scope the term encompasses. Violinist James Ehnes joins the Nashville Symphony for a program of well-loved orchestral works by Viennese masters. Meanwhile, just seven blocks down the street, cellist Matt Haimovitz presents a solo recital of music by contemporary North American composers.
If the music we call "classical" has a locus classicus, so to speak, it would have to be Vienna. In the 1800s, the city of Mozart and Beethoven (and of Hapsburg patronage) was to an aspiring composer as today's New York is to a stage actor. The Nashville Symphony's program this weekend covers three markedly different Viennese styles: the cheerful elegance of Johann Strauss the younger, the monumental late Romanticism of Anton Bruckner, and the paradoxically lyrical atonality of Alban Berg.
Strauss is best known for refining the Viennese waltz to its apotheosis, taking up the form developed by his father's ballroom orchestra and bringing it to the concert hall. His 1873 Wiener Blut marked this transition explicitly, being the first Strauss piece performed by the Vienna Philharmonic. Today his work is practically Vienna's theme music.
Bruckner bloomed late. Not until his fourth decade did he begin composing his symphonies, and it took years after that for him to gain acceptance. When he did come to the big city, his admiration for the decidedly non-Viennese Richard Wagner proved at first to be a handicap in Vienna's contentious musical culture. The Seventh Symphony—still Bruckner's best-known work—finally earned the composer widespread recognition. Today, he is often seen as a stylistic link between Beethoven and Mahler in the lineage of Viennese symphonists.
Berg's 1935 Violin Concerto is probably the best-known, or at least the most accessible, work of the Modernist "Second Viennese School." The Romantically inclined Berg adopts the highly formal atonal techniques of his mentor Arnold Schoenberg, but manages to work references to folk music and a quotation from Bach into the work's rich fabric.
James Ehnes, visiting soloist for the Berg concerto, was recently called "the connoisseur's fiddler-of-choice" by the London Times. His more than 20 recordings feature composers from Bach to Dallapiccola, and he has performed with major orchestras worldwide for conductors including Vladimir Ashkenazy and Lorin Maazel. His 1715 Stradivarius is on loan from Seattle collector David Fulton, and Ehnes recently released a documentary CD/DVD set showcasing instruments in Fulton's collection.
Matt Haimovitz sports a nice ax too, hauling his 1710 Goffriller cello to taverns, nightclubs and coffeehouses as well as to traditional concert stages worldwide. His Friday night recital at 3rd & Lindsley follows a Thursday performance of Elgar's Cello Concerto with the Louisville Orchestra, giving some sense of the wide range of performance situations he enjoys. And don't let the $10 ticket price fool you: This guy is a heavy hitter.
The Israeli-born, U.S.-raised Canadian resident bills his current small-venue tour as a reconciliation of his two home countries, in celebration of recent U.S. electoral results. The program for what Haimovitz calls his "listening-room" concerts features contemporary American composers Elliott Carter, John Corigliano and Christopher Rouse alongside Canadians such as Anna Sokolovic and Serge Provost.
Haimovitz is equally at home playing Dvorak or improvising over a remix of Messaien's Quartet for the End of Time. An early discovery of Itzhak Perlman, he has worked with jazz-rock guitarists Charlie Hunter and John McLaughlin, played in chamber groups with Yo-Yo Ma and Rudolf Serkin, and appeared as soloist with major orchestras led by James Levine, Zubin Mehta and Daniel Barenboim.
The cellist and his wife, composer Luna Pearl Woolf, founded their record label Oxingale in 2000. Haimovitz has commissioned and recorded many new works, including a series called "Buck the Concerto" in which composers are invited to pair the cello with nontraditional ensembles from big band to DJ.
Haimovitz's experiments with alternative venues began in 2002, when he brought Bach's cello suites to New York's legendary punk rock club CBGB and other nightclubs. His original motivation was to reach younger audiences—i.e., people his own age—but he quickly found a stimulating intimacy and immediacy in the smaller and less formal settings.
So forget highbrow vs. lowbrow, unless it's a brow elevated in appreciative astonishment. Classical music lovers will find plenty of eye-popping and ear-opening activity down on Third Avenue this weekend.
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