2024 Festival: June 8-22!

The 2024 Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival is here! The performances will be from June 8 – 22.

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Creative Perfection

June 22 @ 7:15 pm - 9:15 pm

Saturday, June 22 | 7:15 p.m. (new 15 minute delay)

UPDATE: Change of Venue for Tonight’s “Creative Perfection” Concert

Due to a power outage at the Seligman Performing Arts Center, tonight’s “Creative Perfection” concert will be relocated to the Birmingham Unitarian Church at 38651 Woodward Ave, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304.

To accommodate this change, the concert will now begin at 7:15 PM. This slight delay is to ensure that everyone receives this message and has time to adjust their plans.

Please note that there will be a Preferred Seating Section at the new venue. However, seat numbers will not be assigned and seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. We are committed to delivering an amazing concert experience and look forward to seeing you there.

Thank you for your continued support.

Parking & Entrance

The BUC campus has two entrances, one from Lone Pine Road (just west of Woodward) and one from southbound Woodward. BUC’s main and largest parking area is adjacent to Lone Pine Road. The main lot has space for 75 cars and 12 accessible parking spaces. We also have limited parking, including 4 accessible spaces, on the Woodward side.

Sponsored by Linda & Maurice Binkow

Artists | Alessio Bax, Tessa Lark, Philip Setzer, Hsin-Yun Huang, Paul Watkins, Michael Collins

SCHUMANN Märchenerzählungen, Op.132
BEETHOVEN Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 3 in A major, Op. 69
MOZART Clarinet Quintet in A major, K.581

Closing Night Reception

GLCMF invites you to meet the artists at a special reception following the concert.
Call 248-559-2097 for more information. Donation to attend is $50 per person.

For the closing night of the festival, we explore the paradox of artistic perfection through three celebrated classical works by Mozart, Beethoven, and Schumann. These pieces, spanning a century from the late 18th to mid-19th century, invite us to reconsider their “perfection” not as a static, unimpeachable quality but as a dynamic interaction with the listener. Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen, Beethoven’s middle cello sonata, and Mozart’s clarinet quintet reveal that their enduring significance lies in their ability to adapt and resonate differently over time. This fluidity, allowing for new interpretations and emotional engagement, is what makes them truly whole and perpetually relevant.

PROGRAM NOTES | © Ty Bouque 2024

For the opening night program of this year’s festival, I wrote that creative perfection is an essentially utopian vision; that the work of the artist is in striving towards perfection’s impossible attainment; and that creative labor is neither a finished nor unfinished quest, it simply is. I stand by what I said then. I’m increasingly convinced that what moves us as listeners is not achievement but its exercise: something about the risk involved in reaching towards the unknown is more transcendent than the simple actualization of what’s available. We are drawn to horizons, to dreams of what might be.

Tonight, we’re closing the festival with three of the most well-trodden works of classical music’s heyday. Mozart, the oldest composer on the program, was born in 1756; Robert Schumann, the youngest, died in 1856. Between them lies a century, broadly considered to be the “golden years,” during which classical music was at its most productive and successful, and from which a majority of our standard repertoire is drawn.

That status comes at a cost. Because they have survived the “test of time,” these most popular works are vulnerable to the trap of the “masterpiece myth”: to characterize them today, we rely on a hyperbolic language—perfect, transcendent, genius—to account for their imported historical or social value, a language that only undermines nuanced or objective discussion of each work’s idiosyncratic qualities. And/Or: we assume that, because they have lasted this long, they must be unimpeachable. This instinctive language of greatness does a disservice to the individual works of art. The very fact that we continue to enjoy them speaks not to some singular eternal truth but rather to their changeable significance. As the best art does, they adapt alongside us, offer room for new discovery of what it means to be human in their details. That they have changed—they are still here, and loved for different reasons than they were when they premiered—negates the very meaning of “perfection,” which is “complete”: if they were simply perfect, they’d have stayed frozen in time.

So tonight, under the guise of these three pieces, I want to think—however briefly— about the paradox of perfection and the crucial role we play in its completion.

Triple Variation on a Theme

It means wholeness. That’s all it means; or, rather, it is all that it means, as in complete, entire. A perfect stranger, we say, signifying total. It means wholeness, that’s all it means.

The Märchenerzählungen number among the last of Schumann’s catalogue, foisting an odd instrumentation from Mozart’s Kegelstatt Trio into his unabashedly Romantic idiom. The title means, literally, Fairy Tale Narration—each of the four short movements depicts a kind of scenographic journey—but Schumann is intentional about avoiding prescriptive references. A narration requires a recipient; the story is for us to decide.

The music is thus not perfected—not whole—without a listener. [Though it may seem obvious, that point is crucial; a Bach Fugue might be said to be structurally perfect independent of any hearing, but the same is not true here.] As music alone it is effective—a concise economy of engaging themes in each of the first three movements that return, circle-like, in the fourth—but never groundbreaking. Instead, the success of the work exists in its activation and reception, in the very moment it translates across the lip of the stage into an attendant imagination trained by cultural and historical association to equate certain sonorities with images. Our hearing of the music and engaging with its symbolism thus completes it: perfection depends on the quality of our attention.

It means wholeness. That’s all it means. But “complete” is difficult to measure. Beethoven’s middle cello sonata—tonight’s performance completes our cycle of the five—is the showpiece of his “Heroic Period,” the astonishing sequence of productive years in which the “Eroica” Symphony, the “Razumovsky” quartets, Fidelio, and the Violin Concerto arrive. Two traits are often attributed to the Third Sonata as a result: 1) it perfected the equilibrium of labor between piano and cello; and 2) it perfectly encapsulates a new idealism away from sectional composition and towards a linear model of development. The trait not attributed is that it is a perfect sonata. It is not one. Which is why it works; if it stuck exclusively to the rulebook, the result would never be this gorgeous.

No, Beethoven is only capable of hazarding the radical models of formal growth and instrumental balance because he throws into the recipe far more than he “needs.” There is more material here than an ordinary sonata would ever have, would ever be capable of holding: There are endless odd bars, subversive phrases in weird places, extra codas, trick key changes, trapdoors, even a whole extra trio in the scherzo. It is a work of emotional and musical excess that lingers at the limit of what the “sonata” as an idea is meant to be.

As with all Beethoven, the demand it places on performers is of imagination. This is an unwieldy and impossibly variegated form which could easily sound clumsy or confusing with an uninvested performance. [Though it may seem obvious, that point is crucial. A Mozart sonata can survive a blunt rendition; the same is not true here.] Execution is not enough. To make all this stuff feel unified before us, the players have to leave a piece of themselves inside the music. To make more-ness whole, they, too, have to add.

It means wholeness. That’s all it means. But can the first of its kind ever be called complete? Tonight is our last inquisition into the medium of the clarinet quintet. We end, backwards, with the first: Mozart singlehandedly inaugurated the genre in 1789, when the Stadler 9-key-basset horn—the instrument for which the work was written— was only twenty years old.

Complete would seem to suggest closed. But Brahms and Weber and Coleridge-Taylor all write clarinet quintets after this, and all of them—every single one—point to the Mozart as a primary inspiration. The work is certainly a marvel, an endless stream of invention that glitters with an automaton’s formal precision; there is very little to find wrong in the work. But all these later routes of opportunity, sparks of inspiration, epiphytic offshoots that grow from its ideas would seem to indicate that true perfection also leaves room for other possible futures. It does so—and this is Mozart’s calling card—not by exhausting every possible angle but by restricting itself to a highly rigorous logic and seeing that through to the bitter end.

The Mozart Quintet is complete by not promising to be everything. [Though it sounds obvious, that point is crucial; a Mahler Symphony speaks at the scale of a planet; the same is not true here.] Instead, it picks the tiniest sliver—a simple chorale and an arpeggio, a small melodic arch, a dance—and weaves it into a self-contained world that still leaves ample room for others to find their own way.

The paradox of artistic perfection is this: to be whole, it must permit itself an emptiness. In that space flows everything the work can never know: it must, in short, leave room for us. The joy of these three works—why we come back to them again and again—is the invitation they extend to renegotiate our changeable humanity alongside them. They are made perfect by proffering (here’s the paradox) an absence, and it is only when a perfect stranger accepts that humble offer that they—and, perhaps, we too—are made briefly whole again. © Ty Bouque 2024


June 22
7:15 pm - 9:15 pm
Event Category:


Birmingham Unitarian Church
38651 Woodward Ave
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304 United States
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Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival
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