The Viennese have always taken special pride in celebrating the music of Franz Schubert. During the 19th century, the musical cognoscenti would often gather in a fashionable salon to hear works by the great Viennese master.
Moritz von Schwind and Julius Schmid captured these intimate musical gatherings — which were known as Schubertiades — in their well-known paintings. Today, chamber music concerts have largely migrated to public spaces but the idea of re-creating a Schubertiade remains popular.
The Brightmusic Chamber Ensemble will bring its 10th anniversary season to a close with a series of similar concerts, titled “Schubert and Friends.” The four-concert series will feature a piano sonata, the “Octet in F Major,” The “Arpeggione Sonata in A Minor,” both “Piano Trios,” the “Rondo Brilliant in B Minor” and a selection of Shubert lieder.
The “friends” aspect of this mini festival will spotlight Carl Maria von Weber's “Grand Duo Concertante” for clarinet and piano, Bernard Henrik Crusell's “Quartet for Clarinet and Strings” and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's “Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581.”
“Schubert's music has always resonated with me and you certainly can't go wrong with his chamber music,” said Chad Burrow, co-artistic director of Brightmusic. “They're sort of like monuments of the repertoire.”
Last season, the Brightmusic ensemble ended its season with concerts that showcased the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Johannes Brahms. The success of that mini festival prompted Burrow and his wife, Amy Cheng, to offer a similar in-depth series focusing on another composer.
“With other concert series focusing on the string quartet repertoire, we decided to program repertoire that is less frequently played,” Burrow said. “Trying to figure out what to play was a little like being a kid in a candy store. There were so many goodies to choose from.
“I wanted to play the ‘Octet' and we felt we should also program the bedrock of the piano trio repertoire. And we couldn't have a Schubert festival without doing some songs. For me, the only criteria was finding enough variety and contrast. The result is sort of a Reader's Digest version of Schubert's vast musical output.”
The “Octet,” which dates from 1824, was commissioned by clarinetist Ferdinand Troyer. Schubert scored the six-movement, hourlong work for clarinet, bassoon, horn, two violins, viola, cello and double bass.
“The ‘Octet' is an epic piece that I'm really looking forward to playing again,” said Brightmusic violinist Gregory Lee. “It often sounds easy but it's hard to make it sound effortless and beautiful at the same time. It can easily sound mundane if it isn't performed well.”
A typical feature of any Brightmusic season is showcasing new music, whether newly composed or just unfamiliar to local audiences. The third of the festival's four concerts will feature the world premiere of “Quasi una Fantasia,” a work for two clarinets and string quartet by Christopher Theofanidis.
The work is a joint commission by Brightmusic and Chamber Music Northwest. Burrow will be joined by guest clarinetist David Shifrin, a faculty member at Yale University and one of Burrow's former teachers. Theofanidis is a member of Yale's composition faculty.
“David approached me about writing a chamber piece with clarinet and I proposed to him the idea of writing a piece for two clarinets and string quartet,” Theofanidis said. “I thought using two clarinets would allow for some musical dialogue and create a richer texture.
“David's playing is fundamentally lyrical so I had his sound in mind when I wrote the piece. I do think of this work as a sextet but it does have more of a soloistic feature with the two clarinets. The two clarinet lines are often interlaced, with the second being as important as the first in a lot of ways.”
Following the premiere of Theofanidis' “Quasi una Fantasia” in Oklahoma City, the new work will be performed as part of Chamber Music Northwest in Portland, Ore., followed by a performance at Alice Tully Hall in New York City. Burrow will participate in all three concerts.
“It will be interesting to hear how it all comes together,” Burrow said. “There are elements that keep recurring that might suggest minimalism but it seems to be a very lyrical piece. The Oklahoma premiere will be just the beginning for this piece.”