This past Monday and Tuesday the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society (MVCMS) opened up their 41st annual concert season with a unique and spellbinding show. Virtuoso marimbist Ji-Hye Jung was the featured performer in a program that ran from J.S. Bach to Debussy to Beethoven, and concluded with two contemporary pieces — a very interesting atmospheric piece written specifically for the marimba, and a clever four-part tango interpretation.
The concerts were indicative of the range of music and the quality of musicians that the organization is bringing to the Vineyard this summer. Says artistic director and festival pianist Delores “Dee” Stevens, “Creating concerts is an art. Putting concerts together to make something stimulating, you want something new, you want something beautiful, you want something exciting. Sometimes you want the traditional. I try to put all that into a program so that it will appeal to the senses as well as on an intellectual level.”
This week’s program certainly filled that order. The concerts started off with Ms. Jung giving a tantalizing taste of the unique talent she would display in the program’s second half. Using four mallets with amazing dexterity, the artist played all the parts in her own arrangement of a Bach sonata. Watching Ms. Jung almost effortlessly move around the large keyboard was fascinating, and the rich and interesting sound produced by the instrument added another level of brightness and playfulness to the piece.
Next, cellist Jacob Braun and Ms. Stevens played a complex Debussy piece and were then joined by violinist Hye-Jin Kim for Beethoven’s “Ghost Trio.” Says Ms. Stevens, “It’s quite an unusual piece and really fun to have in this program.”
A piece written specifically for the solo marimba opened up the second half. “Velocities” by Joseph Schwantner had an almost cinematic feel. Ms. Jung explained before the performance that the use of the marimba is something new to western classical music. The performance, sort of a combination of dance and musical virtuosity, brought the crowd to their feet for a standing ovation.
Ms. Jung was joined by Ms. Kim for the closing piece, “L’Histoire du Tango” by Argentinean composer Astor Piazzola, who revolutionized tango music by incorporating elements of jazz and classical. Watching these two virtuosos, who once played together in Korea when they were teens but had not seen each other since, was a much appreciated treat for the audience.
The rest of the festival season promises to be equally exciting and varied. Says MVCMS President David Rhoderick, “I think Dee has done a fantastic job in selecting all of these pieces and going off in some new territory. There’s an incredible variety and appeal to a broad range of interests and tastes.” He adds, “She [Ms. Stevens] has got an incredible network of world-class musicians at her fingertips.”
Among the impressive array of friends and associates that Ms. Stevens has managed to recruit this year are two of next week’s performers. She will be bringing to the Island award-winning jazz pianist/composer Billy Childs and the highly acclaimed young violinist Timothy Fain for a program featuring a Philip Glass composition and the world premiere of a new work by Mr. Childs. The second half of next week’s program will be devoted to an improvisation session between Mr. Childs and guitarist Larry Koonse.
Mr. Childs’ innovative work combining classical with jazz music has earned him 10 Grammy nominations, including three awards, and multiple commissions from Lincoln Center, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Monterey Jazz Festival, among others. Mr. Fain’s playing was featured in last year’s film, “Black Swan.” He will open the 2011-12 season of New York’s Symphony Space with the première of a new Philip Glass work written for him.
For the third program of their festival season, the MVCMS will present a classic chamber music program featuring the up-and-coming Lyris String Quartet. The society will follow that up with a program called Virtuoso Duos from the Met, which will include the music of Rossini, Debussy, David Anderson, and Maurice Ravel. Then, they revisit jazz for the final shows. The Harlem String Quartet will return this year to present a program that will include music by Chick Corea, as well as a piece each by Beethoven and Dvorak.
Of the festival season Ms. Stevens says, “What I’m trying to do is to give people a taste of different styles,” but, she adds, “It’s not a classroom. These pieces have to have a quality that the audience will react to.” She continues, “Sometimes this is the only way that people here will hear these pieces. That’s why I’m interested in bringing this music to the Vineyard.”
Mr. Rhoderick is hoping that this year’s range of styles will help attract new audiences to the popular series. He encourages attendance by saying, “For me live music is so much better than whatever you can get in a recording. I think it’s important that people come and listen to live music. It’s a much richer experience. It’s like the difference between watching the Red Sox on TV and being at Fenway Park.” He adds, “Going to see live music at the MVCMS is a lot cheaper than going to Fenway!”
MV Chamber Music Society, 8 pm, Monday, July 18 at Old Whaling Church, Edgartown; Tuesday, July 19 at Chilmark Community Center. With Timothy Fain, violin; Larry Koonse, guitar; Billy Childs, piano; Delores Stevens, piano. $35; $30 Island Club Card; free for students. 508-696-8055; mvcms.vineyard.net.
Gwyn McAllister, of Oak Bluffs, is a frequent contributor to The Times.