Cayuga Chamber Orchestra Embraces New Normal With Hybrid Concerts | Music
ITHACA, NY – As we all know, the 2020-2021 concert season has been more than difficult – and virtually non-existent – for music organizations around the world. Here in Ithaca, our local and much admired Cayuga Chamber Orchestra has decided to address the major issues surrounding the performance of live concerts in public places head-on while respecting government restrictions and the safety concerns of all involved. Live concerts would be presented if possible, and the public also had the option of simultaneously broadcasting online. The season brochure, published in October 2020, announced a reduced number of concerts, of shorter duration and priced accordingly. The musicians themselves have said they really want to perform live and, at the very least, try this approach.
With two scheduled concerts remaining, here is the story of the orchestra’s 44th season and how this courageous endeavor unfolded. Last Sunday afternoon, April 25, the third scheduled concert of the chamber music series called “French Masters” took place in the First Presbyterian Church (since the very start of the season, concerts have been moved to this venue. , the most spacious available locally). As printed in the brochure, it featured two first presiding members of the orchestra, accompanied by pianists Miri Yampolsky and Xak Bjerken, performing the Violin Sonata No.1 by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921) and the Piano Trio, Violin and Cello by Maurice Ravel (1875–1937). As I was attending live for the first time, I could be part of an uplifting and truly wonderful experience.
The orchestra’s principal violinist, Christina Bouey, performed both works and was joined at Ravel by principal cellist Rosemary Elliott. Bouey joined the orchestra as a solo violin in 2015, putting himself in the very big skin of Linda Case, who retired after more than 30 years and who, incidentally, is the origin of the series. Sunday afternoon chamber music. For her debut, she wowed audiences with an exceptional performance of Beethoven’s violin concerto. Elliott, a faculty member at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, is a senior member of the OCC Chamber Music Ensemble and sits on the Artistic Advisory Committee. She has also performed as a soloist.
Both well-known locally, Yampolsky and Bjerken are the founding co-directors of the Mayfest International Music Festival, which has been held annually in and around Cornell since its inaugural year in 2007. Due to the pandemic, this popular event has been suspended. for two seasons. . Both pianists are part of Cornell faculty: Yampolsky as a music lecturer in charge of the chamber music program, and Bjerken has been a piano teacher since 2012. Both have performed with the CCO in the past.
About three weeks ago, I spoke with CCO’s musical director, Cornelia Laemmli Orth, who at the time was in her native Switzerland. She was particularly eager to talk about the upcoming concert, the artists and the works on display. Not being one of the most famous chamber music pieces, they complement and contrast each other in interesting ways. The Saint-Saëns sonata had a rather difficult start, Orth told me, because the soloist chosen by the composer – the famous Belgian violinist at the time Martin Pierre Marsick (who, incidentally, played a Stradivarius) – found it “disconcerting.” Many violinists have since declared it unplayable. It was created in 1885, with Saint-Saëns on the keyboard. A virtuoso pianist, known as “French Beethoven”, he has had an enormous career, performing all of Mozart’s concertos in London in a series of concerts. Orth added that we have been very fortunate to have two exceptional musicians available to perform this wonderful work. It turned out to be true. Bouey came out with a good sheet music, an accordion wad of pages on two desks, assuring us that it looked longer than it was. She made it easy, and Yamplowsky, a pianist of extraordinary technique and strong musicality, matched her performance with equal ease. In four movements, the sonata has a world of different sounds, warm but agitated in the first movement, a soft and peaceful second adagio movement, and a third movement that opens like a dance in three quarters of time. Although clearly difficult, it was not until the fourth movement that we understood the designation “unplayable”. Marked allegro molto, it sounded like “The Flight of the Bumblebee” because the violin buzzes enough at first, then the piano gets all those notes and the music sparkles. It was an incredible achievement.
Ravel’s Piano, Violin and Cello Trio, performed by Bouey, Elliott and Bjerken, is “one of the best piano trios ever written,” according to Orth. Composed in 1914, Ravel was quick to complete it just in time to enlist for the Great War (he never went into battle because, according to a report, he was two kilograms underweight). The work demands a virtuoso playing of the three instruments, and these musicians performed with great understanding and sound of exceptional beauty. It was especially interesting to see them, both as individuals and as a whole play on top of each other. You can hear how Ravel gives space to each instrument, bringing out its full range and without anyone blocking the sound of the other (just think of the amazing passacaglia of the third movement). When I asked Bjerken about it, he wrote: “This is my favorite piano trio, bar none. It looks like an entire orchestra, as written – so colorful and so textured. Moreover, it was sometimes deeply moving – the end of the first movement is heartbreaking and poignant; the passacaglia, after many passages with paired instruments, closes with the piano at the very bottom of the keyboard, the dark sound, all alone.
It was an exciting and successful concert, and being there in person made all the difference in the world. The total number of seats allowed in the sanctuary (50) has been taken, plus 65 connections (many with probably two or three overseers as well), for an estimated total of over 100 from the house.
Looking back on the season so far, even though the pandemic has struck, only one major presentation on the program for the entire season – the family holiday entertainment, “Comfort & Joy” – has had to. be canceled. Chamber Music Series Concert No. 1 on October 25 was performed as advertised, with five musicians from the orchestra – Wendy Mehne, solo flute; John Lathwell, solo oboe and soloist; Kirsten Marshall, violin; Josh Lohner, viola – and Vadim Serebryany of Ithaca College, piano. A few strong souls ventured to join them, about 25 people in all were in the church. The very presence of these truly courageous adventurers – both musicians and audiences – encouraged Orth, who said she could feel the joy of coming to her home in Tennessee. On November 19, the first family and storytime concert, recorded in the upstairs café area of the Autumn Leaves bookstore, aired online. Cellists Sera Smolen and Elizabeth Simkin, along with Kitchen Theater narrator Stephen Nunley, performed “Gustavo the Shy Ghost”. It was a big success, with 150 people connecting, many with families making it at least 200. The second family and storytime concert on March 18 featured the flautist Principal Mehne and guest narrator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Speaker of the Tompkins County Legislature and Executive Director of GIAC. Starring an Indian folk tale called “The Flute”, it was broadcast from the Odyssey Bookstore on West Green Street. The two stores, newly added to the OCC’s list of local sponsors, provided their spaces free of charge.
A sad event brought about a change for the Orchestral Series’ first scheduled program, the death in January of OCC’s top contributor, Percy Browning, whose philanthropy has extended to many arts organizations in our community. A special tribute concert on March 20 was organized and scheduled by the orchestra’s artistic advisory committee (the conductor, the executive director and four orchestra members). A string quintet – violinists Bouey and Susan Waterbury, violist Victoria Miskolczy, cellist Elliott and double bass Max Michael Jacob (four of them principal) – presented a diverse selection of modern music composed mostly of female composers, of works and artists admired by Percy. The only local composer, the popular Dana Wilson of Ithaca College, when asked for a copy of her score, quickly donated it. The program included brief tributes and memories, seven in all, from friends, family and colleagues. About 42 people were in the audience and, with artists and volunteers added, the live tally was 50, the number allowed in the church, “a full house,” according to CCO’s executive director (and violinist), Susan Spafford. She also counted around 80 to 85 connections and estimates that over 125 were watching from home. It was a unique experience, small selections from unknown composers, music you wanted to hear again. It was a perfect tribute.
The final concert programs in May and June, still in the Presbyterian Church, and with the dual option of attending live or online, have been announced. On Sunday afternoon, May 23, at 3 p.m., more musicians (around 20) will perform, not all together but in smaller ensembles. In this program entitled “The Return of the Orchestral Series” are Telemann’s Oboe Concerto in E minor, with the principal oboe Lathwell as soloist, the Nonet (partitioned for winds and strings) by Martinu and the Octet for fine strings. -loved by Mendelssohn.
For “Orchestral Celebration” on Sunday, June 12, Orth will return to Ithaca to conduct most of the orchestra – again divided into small groups. As more musicians participate and space is still limited, the same program will be presented twice, at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. to accommodate a larger audience in person. The chosen music includes selected movements from Respighi’s “Antiche Danze and Arie”; two versions of the Summer movement of “The Four Seasons”, one (very famous) by Vivaldi, the other by the Spanish composer and guitarist Piazzolla; The “quiet town” of Copland; and, to end on a flare, the arrangement for chamber orchestra of Stravinsky’s dazzling score for his ballet “The Firebird”. The traditional silent auction will take place, but entirely online. To keep up to date and to sign up for concert tickets, visit www.ccoithaca.org. It is wise to book early for both live concerts as space is limited.
The final icing on the cake will be provided by the CCO Youth Orchestra, conducted by violinist Kirsten Marshall, on June 13. More information to come.
We can truly be deeply grateful to our orchestra – with all of its planning, arrangements, adjustments – for bringing us as much live music as possible. We are proud of them and their efforts as well. Let’s support them in any way we can.