Friday the thirteenth was a lucky day, a Good Friday for the arts in Amarillo. Not only did it mark the opening week of the Arts Season, but it also was the opening concert for Chamber Music Amarillo’s 2019/2020 year.
The theme was “Celebrating Women in the Arts,” and a crowd of about one hundred heard works of Elizabeth de la Guerre, Amy Beach and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, played by violinist Natalia Korenchuk, cellist Jayson Bishop and Lucy Tan on both piano and harpsichord. Dr. Kimberly Heib and Greg Rohloff joined the artists in a pre-program talk.
CMA has to be one of the few, if not the only organization in the country to possesss both a 24 and a 278! Pretty damn impressive for Cowboy Country!
The first works on the program were Sonata No. 2 and Sonata No.1 for violin and continuo in d major by Elizabeth de la Guerre, 1665 – 1729. The composer, because of her performance ability, was accepted into the court of Louis XIV with the Marquise de Montespan, the reigning royal mistress overseeing her instruction (See Versailles on Netflix-informative but naughty!).
Though she composed in a variety of forms, her first published work was a book of harpsichord compositions. She would also become the first Frenchwoman to compose an opera, Cephalus and Procris from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Her work, in many ways typical of late Baroque, embraces a harpsichord obligato, allowing the artist considerable performance latitude, imparting a flowery ornamentation. It makes it easy to imagine an appreciative audience of bewigged, cosmetically-burdened aristocrats in Parisian salons.
In the opening Presto the violin opens with a cello answer, the harpsichord providing ongoing background. Guess that’s why it’s termed continuo. The dialogue between the strings made this listener wish for more from the harpsichord, but this otherwise glorious instrument doesn’t do dynamics very well.
The Sonata no. 1 has three Prestos, which, curiously, exhibit more of an Andante character, becoming at times almost morose. Perhaps the composer is inferring that all is not sweetness and light under the reign of the Sun King.
The third number before intermission was the Piano trio in a minor by Amy Beach, the first American female composer of large ensemble music, and the first American composer not to have European training.
In fact, a cursory reading of her richly-lived life proves again that truth is stranger than fiction. She certainly broke the glass ceiling in her lifetime, becoming well-respected both in the US and in Europe.
In the Adagio, Beach shows the strong emotional content and surging dynamics characteristic of the Romantic movement. In the Lento the composer snaps out of her reverie, a feeling fully expressed in the Allegro.
In other words, Amy Beach, and the three artists performing her work take the audience on an emotional roller-coaster which winds up in a happy place.
The Amarillo area has witnessed a Renaissance of Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel the last two years, with various works both at WTAMU and CMA.
Long in the shadow of her brother Felix, Fanny’s prodigious skills in both performance and composition are now recognized. She composed more than 460 works, the Piano Trio being her last. Prevailing social norms militated against publication in her own name, although some were published under her brother’s name and others pseudonymously.
An arpeggiated piano opening is joined by the violin and cello in the introduction of the Allegro molto vivace. The composer’s obvious instrumental preference is confidently asserted by pianist Lucy Tan, whose dynamics are not inhibited as when playing the harpsichord.
The Andante expressivo is deliberate, in contrast to the energy of the first movement, whereas the short Lied is wistful.
The Finale opens with a protracted piano solo which becomes almost a soliloquy, though, when joined by the strings, this movement becomes increasingly active, robust and complex, a good profile of the composer’s oeuvre.
What a splendid first Friday of the Arts Season! And all right here in what is the geographically-largest cultural arts district in Texas. Yee-Haw!
Our thanks to the incredible David Palmer, artistic director of CMA, whose efforts frequently turn the fine arts spotlight on Amarillo, and for the sponsors and musicians for making the unexpected in the arts just part of we in Amarillo have come to expect.
With the same assertion that Lucy Tan played the Fazioli, we say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”