The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center opened its 40th anniversary season with a gala program entitled “A Viennese Evening”. Sold out weeks in advance, it was concert that included superb performances, including a world premiere, and featured a large cast of artists both familiar and new to CMS audiences. With a dinner for patrons before, and a lavish post-concert dessert in the new Alice Tully Hall lobby, it was a landmark evening for the Society, beginning its first full season back home at Lincoln Center.
in David’s words…
In search of the most festive of themes for the Society’s 40th anniversary season opener, Wu Han and I looked to the coming season for inspiration. We had not to look much further than the entire Beethoven quartet cycle, being presented in the spring, to dream of an evening rooted in the incredible culture of Vienna, which gave birth to arguably the greatest music ever composed.
Evenings of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert are commonly found, but programming a concert that samples a wide range of Vienna’s great traditions and incorporates composers of different eras is a distinct challenge. Considering works that we had not programmed, but that were sure to please, we selected the sets of Johann Strauss waltzes arranged by Schoenberg and Webern for small ensemble, as well as another novelty, the final movement of Mahler’s 4th Symphony, arranged for chamber ensemble by composer Erwin Stein, who was a member of Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performances in Vienna, and a student of Schoenberg from 1906-1910.
Making a spectacular return appearance to the New York concert stage, in the Strauss, was none other than violinist Pamela Frank, who has been sidelined with an injury for years. It was enormously heart-warming to see her once again in front of the public, playing with the passion and integrity that had endeared her to audiences worldwide. She will be welcome to appear at CMS in the future whenever she chooses.
Before the Strauss, David Shifrin, Andre-Michel Schub and I warmed up the crowd with Beethoven’s early trio for piano, clarinet and cello, and Andre and Anne-Marie McDermott followed the Beethoven with a performance of Schubert’s seldom-heard work for four-hand piano, Lebenssturme.
But the evening truly belonged to our guest soprano, the incomparable Dawn Upshaw, as she sang a new work commissioned by us from composer David Bruce entitled The North Wind Was a Woman. With highly-skilled instrumental writing to support Dawn’s magical singing of poetry by a variety of poets (including the composer), the piece was one of the most smashing successes for a new work I have seen in a long time. A prolonged ovation brought musicians and composer to the stage time and again before the intermission.
Following the Strauss waltz sets, Dawn returned with the large ensemble to end the evening on the most serene note, with a sublime performance of the Mahler. The text is from the famous German anthology of poetry Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and is entitled “Das Himmlischer Leben” or “The Heavenly Life”. It was conclusion of a truly heavenly concert, of which I was very proud to have been a part of.
performance photos by Tristan Cook