On Saturday, November 23, the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society presented Vineyard music lovers with a Thanksgiving Concert at the Old Whaling Church. As is her usual practice, Artistic Director Dolores Stevens collected a distinguished trio of internationally recognized players to join her on stage. This concert also offered some unusual musical insights.
Stephanie Chase, violin, played in the opening and closing ensembles. In the Mozart Piano Trio (K.502) which opened the show, she and cellist Scott Kluksdahl traded riffs in the charming first movement as they swapped back and forth the six-note theme with Ms. Stevens’s energetic piano. In a bonus not on the program, Ms. Chase opened the second half of the program with a piece written by the father of Yoyo Ma, violinist Hiao-Tsiun Ma, for his young daughter, then a child violin prodigy, Yeou-Cheng Ma, a former fellow student and current friend of Ms. Chase. Dr. Ma, now a physician, still plays the violin several hours a day. The short piece is written in the pentatonic scale, which Ms. Chase demonstrated for the audience, and has a definite Chinese flavor.
Ms. Chase joined the other three artists for the closing number, a Brahms Piano Quartet (Op. 60). Brahms always delivers a full sound, and in this quartet all four instruments are at work at once for most of the measures in three of the movements (all marked some flavor of allegro). Only in the third movement (a tuneful andante) do the individual instruments have a chance to shine prominently.
Mr. Kluksdahl, as well as in the opening trio and the closing quartet, played a solo selection based on an aria from “Final Alice,” an opera by David Del Tredici. Mr. Kluksdahl introduced the selection by commenting wryly that his cello was taking the roles of Alice and an entire symphony orchestra.
Perhaps the highlight of the evening was Scott Woolweaver’s emotional introduction and rendition of “Elegy for Steven” for viola and piano by Howard Frazin. Steven was Mr. Woolweaver’s brother who died by his own hand in 2009. Mr. Woolweaver commissioned the elegy from his friend Mr. Frazin, who had written unsolicited pieces for Mr. Woolweaver’s viola in the past. Mr. Frazin was present and introduced his composition with brief remarks, pointing out what the audience must have already noticed, the catch in Mr. Woolweaver’s voice as he talked about his brother and the elegy.
“Elegy for Steven” begins with a set of plucked strings which devolve into harsh, dissonant passages from both piano and viola, evoking the crisis and grief which must have accompanied the suicide. But later on, the music develops a sweetness. It’s still sad, but no longer harsh and ugly. The elegy ends with a single plucked note. The audience shared a rare glimpse into the backstory for the piece and the artists’ deep connection to it.