2024 Festival: June 8-22!

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Festival in Residence: Ann Arbor (June 8)

June 8 @ 7:30 pm - 9:30 pm

Festival in Residence: Ann Arbor (June 8)

Saturday, June 8 | 7:30 p.m.

Kerrytown Concert House
Sponsored by Pearl Planning

Artists | Tai Murray, Paul Watkins, Amnis Piano Quartet

LASH Sonata for Violin and Piano
ARENSKY String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 35
SCHUMANN Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44

Please contact Kerrytown Concert House at 734-769-2999 or visit kerrytownconcerthouse.com for ticket information.

PROGRAM NOTES | © Ty Bouque 2024


Tonight’s program is something of a prologue, a spell for the coming. Inaugurating the overarching theme of our 2024 festival, all three works tonight owe huge debts to their historical connections: they are bound—by codes of articulation, means of construction, and aesthetic inheritances—to a past whose models and methods guide them into new territory. Classical music is first and foremost a thinking art: it critiques, corrects, confirms, and cohabitates with the body of work that takes its name, casting itself always in orientation to the ideals of its past and present. When we hear any one iteration, we are at the same time attending to the process by which an artist orients their selfhood in relation to the baggage of history. So in the spirit of the two weeks before us, I thought we might turn over four of the major areas of inquiry that govern the festival’s programming—genre, form, source, and sociality—to better understand (a kind of invocation) how classical music thinks about itself.



We have before us three staples of canonic genre: the sonata, the quartet, and the quintet. But reality is never that simple. One is an archaism, one a subversion, and the other an act of invention, though they all parade as self-evident. Which is to say that “genre” is never a given; it’s what you do with your medium that counts.

To call a work “Sonata for Violin and Piano” in the 21st century is an intentional and risky take-up of the mantle. But Han Lash knows the consequences full well. Our 2024 composer-in-residence has always written music as a way of grappling with classical music’s past, and tonight’s sonata is no exception. Borrowing wholesale from a long legacy of instrument and piano duos, the work mobilizes an outdated genre as a means for thinking about how filling these old containers with new language reveals the strange behaviors of both.

Arensky pulls the subversive move of scoring the string quartet not, as is commonly the case, with double violins, but with double cellos instead. The nod is to Schubert’s “Cello quintet,” so-called for the same reason, but the result—a warm and heavy blanket of sound—is a means to end: a work of mourning is better weighted in the low register.

And Schumann, too, deploys an odd (for its time) orchestration. Before his quintet (finished in 1842, his self-professed “Year of Chamber Music”) the standard scoring was piano, violin, viola, cello, and bass. Schumann, however, who had spent the better part of the year writing three string quartets, simply opted to keep that format going. Marrying piano with the quartet proved endlessly effective: the large body
of repertoire for the latter set up more contrasting possibilities of social interplay, while the tip to higher registers permitted greater nuance and variation in melodic expression, ushering in a medium custom-built for the priorities of Romanticism.

Genre is only ever generic, and the best works know how to upend those conventions in search of fresh solutions to the problem of articulating something specific through the general.



We’ll talk about form a lot over the next two weeks. When we do, it will almost always be in reference to music’s structuring of experience in time: how details at the local level—notes, rhythms, melodies, harmonies—play out in contingency with global or architectural organization—sections, passages, or movements. What we’ll find—and this is especially true tonight—is that no work ever articulates a “perfect” formal model: there is no Urtext or diagram-work for a sonata or a theme-and- variations. Forms, even the most established of them, are just ideas of relation whose rules and regulations have to be recast with each new work to accommodate the idiosyncratic needs of the material.

Take the final movement of tonight’s Schumann Quintet. It is, by all accounts, a sonata form, a historical model in which two disparate themes enter into a process of forced reconciliation. But Schumann—who, across his corpus, struggled hard with ensemble sonata forms—pulls some lengthy tricks to make it work. Despite an ostensibly E-flat major centrality, it will take him almost 175 bars and three—rather than two—themes to get there. Having found the center at last, the music mounts a breathtaking coup d’état and throws in an extra fourth theme, right at the end. It is only having passed through the extreme limits of material that the music arrives at its final fugue where, after traveling as far away from home as one can get, the first theme returns in blazing glory to the key where it belongs. It is a deeply unconventional sonata that breaks almost every “rule” of the game; but it is those breakages and how they’re handled that make it so recognizably Schumann.

Form is a slippery subject, one we’ll continue to pick at as the weeks go on. Here it is enough to say that form is never cut and dry. It is the space in which composers find personal solutions for the problem of articulating music in changing contexts across large swaths of time: there is always active play involved in that discovery.



The danger of putting this much classical music in the same, confined space is that it reveals how many of these works owe ideas to their historical companions. Arensky’s second quartet, for instance, is saturated by a second, more famous composer. Belonging to a long Russian tradition of tribute pieces written on the death of a colleague, the Arensky is, both in material as well as bent, an homage to his friend
Tchaikovsky. Not only does the central movement lift directly from Tchaikovsky’s song “Legend,” it also follows Tchaikovsky’s own model of homage: the older composer’s Piano Trio, also in A major, was written in memory of Nikolai Rubinstein. Later, melodies from the Russian Orthodox Mass will weave their way into the texture which, while invoking the two men’s national heritage, also draws a clear lineage with Beethoven: his “Razumovsky” quartets do the same. This is a work bound upon reference and citation, a private letter of mourning and communion.

And though less locally specific, both Lash and Schumann keep constant eyes to prior models. Schumann’s formal ideas owe considerable debt to the string quartets of Beethoven (specifically the ninth, from the same Opus 59 set that Arensky so admired). So considerable are the shared ideas that the Schumann scholar Donald Tovey went so far as to say the scherzo “might almost have come [directly] from Beethoven.” And the funeral march in the quintet’s second movement—one of the work’s most famous and arresting passages—is an explicit citation of Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 2, which used the same device (in the same key no less) fifteen years before.

Lash, meanwhile, sources the very language of the genre. Endless series of chromatic suspensions, expressive leaps, and fleeting but recognizable harmonies are, like found artifacts in an archeological dig, mobilized to study how the grammar of our past is implicated in the sensibility of our present. The “source” for the sonata is the thinking syntax of Western classical music itself.


Finally, however briefly, it’s worth remembering that music never takes place in a vacuum. Written by people for people, the ethical codes of care and intentionality that govern any social interaction are at play here as well. In the writing of music for performance, what is first being considered is not ideas or instruments but feeling, thinking bodies (often the original bodies were beloved; Schumann’s piano part was written for his wife, Clara). In each of the pieces tonight, we’ll hear music concerned first and foremost with protecting the avenues of emotional, physical, and intellectual exchange along which colleagues become friends and friends become family: and that is what chamber music is really about, in the end. © Ty Bouque 2024


June 8
7:30 pm - 9:30 pm


Kerrytown Concert House
415 N 4th Ave
Ann Arbor, MI 48104 United States
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Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival
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