The concert on September 28th by the Symphony of the Mountains, at East Tennessee State University, featured a solidly classical program of pieces by Ludwig von Beethoven, Pablo De Sarasate, and Schubert . The performance group, under the direction of Sean Claire, is from the region, although they have interesting and varied international backgrounds .
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The ensemble gave the music their all. They were patently highly skilled, and their performances were loving and enthusiastic, including no wrong notes or missed entrances (or, if they did, these were not noticeable to the untutored listener).
It was an interesting matinee program at Mathes Auditorium, even for a listener for whom these particular pieces of music were not the most familiar. It was clear from themes and melodies contained in each piece that other composers, especially of film music and popular music, must have been inspired by this kind of music.
The initial piece, Beethoven’s Sonata Number 5 in F, titled “Spring”, was performed by Emi Kagawa on piano and Sean Claire on violin. They somehow gave the impression of including many more instruments than these two. If a listener closed his or her eyes, it would at times seem that a whole ensemble was playing.
This may be a reflection of the fact that both instruments can produce more than one note at once. It was a striking effect. The piece is programmatic in that the overall effect is of joy and growth rather than otherwise. The Scherzo movement, in particular, evokes the liveliness of young animals in springtime, whether lambs or colts, an image often associated with spring.
Later in the concert, the same duo produced a lovely and hauntingly memorable melody, carried by the violin and backed with harmony by the piano. This seems very familiar, and it is this sense of déjà vu that suggests that other more recent composers have plundered this theme for their own use.
The second melodic theme is clearly a dance tune, in what sounds like a waltz time signature. Again, the violin carries the melody, while the piano harmonizes along with this tripping, glancing melody.
After correcting their tuning, the strings and piano performed movements that showcased the fireworks possible for the piano. In the first one, the piano thundered and crashed, rumbled and sang behind the strings, sometimes carrying the melodic line.
There was, in spite of the drama of the piece and the volume of sound that the piano demonstrated, a fine balance between it and the strings. In the second movement, the piano sang the gentle and tender tune, in turn with the strings. This was contemplative music, tending
The Schubert quintet filled out the program after the intermission, and called on the talents of not only Sean Claire but violinist Ilia Steinschneider, violist Gina Caldwell, and cellists Matt and Jeanine Wilkinson. This work was filled with variety, and ended with the lower strings sounding so richly human as to be spooky.
It was not programmatic but It was tempting to read something into it, from the composer’s own life or events going on around him. Perhaps a personal evolution from quiet joy to more exuberant rejoicing would fit the bill.
The program included a wide range of dynamics, from the very quiet and peaceful to the towering and emphatic. These 19th century classics hold up very well even for very modern listeners and these performers interpreted them individually and thoughtfully. It was a program that encouraged further listening to these composers and to music from this era and genre more generally.
Department of Music, East Tennessee State University. “The Symphony of the Mountains Chamber Ensemble”. (September 2013). Johnson City, Tennessee: Department of Music, East Tennessee State University, 2013.