A masterful musical mix

Delores Stevens
Delores Stevens. Photo by Ralph Stewart

By Pat Waring - July 19, 2007

On July 10 while baseball's top players were wowing San Francisco fans at the All-Star game, a team of equally accomplished luminaries were livening up the Chilmark Community Center with exquisite music. The Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society's summer series had opened Monday evening at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown, and the musicians repeated the eclectic program the next night to the delight of an up-Island crowd. Pianist Delores Stevens, artistic director and co-founder of the organization, reminded the audience that the community center was where the Island chamber music series began 37 years ago when the talented young Montagnana Trio took up summer residence in Chilmark. With passing years the trio disbanded and the organization became first Chilmark Chamber Concerts and then the Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society. In 2002, cellist Caroline Worthington, co-founder of the concerts, moved to Maine, and Ms. Stevens assumed artistic directorship. Changes notwithstanding, the group's tradition of excellence in presenting chamber music to Vineyard audiences remains strong and this concert was no exception.

Talented guest artists, many of whom have become regulars, are the mainstay of the concerts, joining Ms. Stevens whose piano virtuosity is part of most of he programs. Outstanding work by clarinetist Dimitri Ashkenazy, cellist Joseph daRosa, and Scott Woolweaver, viola, graced this program as the group sailed through several challenging and intriguing pieces. All three musicians come with lofty credentials.

Mr. daRosa brought the packed hall to close attention with his moving interpretation of Bach's first Suite for Solo Cello in G major, a deeply emotional and moving classic. From the sonorous arpeggios of the Prelude through the lighter Courante, Minuets, and Gigue, Mr. daRosa maintained strict attentiveness, communing with his instrument. In slower passages of the sarabande he spun the notes out like taffy, leisurely and supple, imparting a languorous sense of having all the time in the world. And despite the evening's sultry humidity that surely challenged all the instruments, he executed rapid passages with a fleet-bowed ease.

Dimitri Ashkenazy
Dimitri Ashkenazy. Photo courtesy of MVCMS

This chamber group has never shied from performing newer and little known works and completed the first half with a fascinating pair, one by Benjamin Britten, the other by Alfred Uhl.

"The chamber music of Benjamin Britten is at times a bit abstract and this is certainly no exception," said Scott Woolweaver in what proved to be an understatement indeed as he introduced Lachrymae for Viola and Piano, opus 48 (reflections on a song by John Dowland).

He and Ms. Stevens then launched into a musical journey so impressionistic and mysteriously structured that the effect was thrillingly disorienting. Throughout the seemingly patternless arrangement of tempos and phrases, dynamics and moods, both artists played with conviction and style. Though the elements seemed disconnected and free standing, they lavished attention on each one in a meditative mode, staying only in that single moment. This encouraged the audience to give up trying to comprehend the music and just surrender to the misty sea and sky of sound. It was a bit like enjoying a brilliant abstract painting for the shear prettiness, not struggling to interpret its deeper meaning.

Clarinetist Ashkenazy strode onstage with a jaunty step, an indication of things to come as he joined Ms. Stevens and Mr. Woolweaver for modern composer (1909-1992) Alfred Uhl's "Kleines Konzert." His clarinet bounced up and down the scale with a similar jauntiness and ease in a snake-charming melody, twining with Ms. Stevens's racing piano runs in the light-hearted Allegro. The slower Grave movement featured knell-like piano notes laying a solid base as viola and clarinet soared together, trading off then melding together in lyrical passages. The pairing of the woodwind and strings made for an unusual and fascinating sound, to the great credit of the two musicians who used restraint and sensitivity, carefully balancing their sounds so the two disparate voices could sing together as equals.

Johannes Brahms's Trio, opus 114, for clarinet, cello, and piano, packed with familiar themes and lush multi-layered textures, was an inspiring finale, its four movements giving all three players opportunity to display their virtuosity. As in the preceding piece, the pairing of woodwind and strings, this time Mr. daRosa's cello, was striking as the two musicians played with close communication in order to match their sounds. The rapport was established at once, clarinet and cello entering into a dialogue in the opening allegro with a graceful ebb and flow. This movement showed another side of Mr. Ashkenazy's light-hearted clarinet artistry, now thoughtful and sensitive. Again the Adagio found the cello and clarinet communing as Ms. Stevens illustrated her ability to master varied keyboard moods from subdued to outspoken. Mr. daRosa's cello had a chance to shine before the movement turned meditative and slow-paced. The three instruments were deceptively introspective, at once seeming to talk to themselves while carefully and consciously complementing one another until the movement ended on a note of peaceful serenity.

Graceful as its name implies, the Andante Grazioso found all three musicians joining in a full-bodied romantic melody, moving into a dancey interlude, each maintaining an impeccably delicate touch. Again it was the sensitive restraint of the players that allowed them to render the themes sweetly emotional without being schmaltzy. Finally, the trio catapulted into the dynamic Allegro, recalling a few thoughtful moments before joining in a fiery and triumphant conclusion, bringing a burst of enthusiastic approval from the audience.

Watch for upcoming concerts during July and August, next week featuring the Janaki String Trio playing Beethoven, Brahms, and Norman on July 23 and 24 and on August 6 and 7 Quartet San Francisco with two evenings of jazzy sounds from Brubeck and Mancini to musical South-of-the-border forays. For more information, call 508-696-8055 or visit