Although we’re blessed with an abundance of imported entertainment in the summer, it’s a rare treat when off-Island talent comes to the Vineyard any time after, say, October. But thanks to the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society (MVCMS), Islanders have been able to enjoy a Thanksgiving concert by world-class musicians for the past 14 years and will do so once again this Saturday, Nov. 24.
The MVCMS, whose summer season wrapped up in August, have made it a tradition to bring an eclectic program of music featuring virtuoso musicians for the holiday season. The upcoming concert, with a reduced price of $20, is the society’s “gift to the community,” according to artistic director and accompanist Delores Stevens who returns from her West Coast off-season home and busy touring schedule every year to present the holiday concert.
For this particular concert, Ms. Stevens has selected a program of what she refers to as “bountiful music.” “This is the end of the summer bounty,” she says. “The music has a feeling of warmth about it.” As always, the longtime artistic director and virtuoso pianist will mix styles, eras, and combinations of musicians to make for a well-rounded program with emotional range.
The program is titled Much Ado about Music, both for its celebration of many styles and for what is perhaps the evening’s most unique piece. The program’s second piece, “Much Ado About Nothing,” is made up of four violin/piano pieces written as incidental music for Shakespeare’s classic comedy. The composer, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, was a 20th-century Austrian best known for his movie scores. Music that he wrote for five films in the 1930s and 40s is included on the American Film Society’s list of greatest film scores.
“Much Ado about Nothing” was written to accompany four scenes from the play, including a love scene and one with the play’s Keystone Cop-style constables. “It’s very charming,” Ms. Stevens says. “This is what I call pictorial music — storytelling music.”
The program’s first selection is a three-movement sonata by 19th-century composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel who was, according to Ms. Stevens, a rival of Beethoven’s. She notes that Hummel was a virtuoso pianist who studied with Mozart and became the most famous pianist of the 19th century. Of this particular sonata, Ms. Stevens says, “It’s a wonderful sort of Mozartian concerto-type piece.”
The remaining selection of the program’s first half is a Chopin sonata that includes what Ms. Stevens calls, “one of the most beautiful movements in the chamber music literature. The cello and piano talk to each other back and forth.”
This was the last piece that Chopin ever wrote, according to Ms. Stevens. “He was unique in the poetic way he wrote music,” she says. “His poetic playing has never been duplicated.”
The second half of the program unites all four of the featured players in a four-movement opus by Camille Saint-Saens, a mid 19th-century French composer who is perhaps best known for his humorous musical suite, “Carnival of the Animals.” Ms. Stevens notes that Saint-Saens was a very prolific composer, writing everything from symphonies to masses to piano concertos. The piece she has chosen to include is the composer’s only piano quartet. “This quartet is quite famous,” she says. “It’s a very interesting piece, very beautiful. It’s romantic.”
Of the finale, Ms. Stevens says, “I wanted to give everyone a chance to show their virtuosity.” For this concert she has gathered together a group of musicians with some very impressive credentials.
Ronald Lowry is the principal cellist of the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and the Boston Ballet Orchestra and he performs frequently with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops. He is currently on the faculties of the New England Conservatory Extension Division, the Longy School of Music, and the Rivers School of Music. This will be Mr. Lowry’s first time performing with the MVCMS and, according to Ms. Stevens, he is very excited about the opportunity. He will join Ms. Stevens on the Chopin piece.
Violinist Hye-Jin Kim has been lauded by the premiere string music magazine The Strad for her “…heart-stopping, unrivalled beauty…well-thought out yet of the moment….” Ms. Kim won the First Prize at the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin Competition at the age of 19. Since then she has shown an inclination for music that reflects her interests in art and literature. The Shakespearean-inspired piece will be a natural fit for her talents.
Scott Woolweaver, viola, has made many appearances with the MVCMS in the last few years. He has forged a reputation for his playing of contemporary music and he has premiered a number of new works, including some written specifically for him. Mr. Woolweaver is currently affiliated with various groups around the New England area including Grammy-nominated Boston Baroque chamber music orchestra, and he is on the staff of both Williams College and Tufts University.
The highly acclaimed Ms. Stevens is humble about her own accomplishments, though she has a tendency to heap praise on other musicians. She is recognized as a leading piano soloist and chamber musician throughout the U.S. and abroad. In February, she will be awarded with the Living the Legacy award at the Young Musicians Foundation’s Gala in Los Angeles. She will add this honor to a number of other awards she has received for her commitment to the advancement of young musicians and her support of contemporary composers.
Of the upcoming concert, Ms. Stevens says, “It’s a time that you’re thankful for all the good things that you have. It’s just a joy to be able to share all this beautiful music. None of it is strident or harsh. It’s all joyful music.”
The musicians will also play live music before the start of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center’s screening of “A Late Quartet” on Friday, November 23.
Music: M.V. Chamber Music Society annual Thanksgiving Concert, 7:30 pm, Saturday, Nov. 24, Old Whaling Church, Edgartown. $20; free for students.