Spoleto Review: Chamber music is many things and especially fun | Spoleto

Why go to the Bank of America Chamber Music Series at Spoleto Festival USA? Because it’s classy, ​​elegant, historic and fun for all classical music lovers.

Geoff Nuttall, co-founder and principal violinist of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, again conducted and hosted this year’s series, in his role as director of chamber music for Charles E. and Andrea L. Volpe.

Again, the repertoire performed during these programs spanned from the pre-17th century into the 21st century, with the 11 programs in total featuring music presented by the festival as comprising both “contemporary compositions ” and “canonical gems”.

I had the opportunity to attend 3 of the 11 programs presented at the Dock Street Theatre, the oldest theater in America. It’s the perfect place to host this series because the concert hall is small and intimate.

The first one I attended was program 6 on June 4th. What struck me was the atmosphere and the energy of the concert. Once I found my seat, the concert started and Nuttall greeted the audience. He was professional, funny, entertaining and got the audience involved in the concert.

Three selections were made. One composition struck me the most, “Where’er you walk from Semele, HWV 58” composed by George Frideric Handel performed by tenor singer Karim Sulayman. His vocal ability was impressive and he wonderfully communicated the stories told in the music to the audience.

Nuttall on fiddle was also fantastic. His stage presence can be seen both when he speaks and when he performs. A total of 11 musicians performed this piece and all of them did an exemplary job. When I heard it, I could imagine in my mind the story being told. I believe that Handel would have been satisfied with this group of musicians.

The next concert I attended was program 7 on June 5th. This concert was different from the previous one because there was a mix of returning musicians and new musicians. “Premiere Rhapsodie” by Claude Debussy was elegantly performed by Todd Palmer on clarinet and Stephen Prutsman on piano.

Their chemistry was top notch and their execution of the dynamic in this piece was near perfect. This chamber concert also included the composition “More of Less for Pre-Recorded and Live Violin”, which was written by Mark Applebaum, composer and full-time professor of music composition and theory at Stanford University.


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Applebaum’s piece premiered worldwide at this concert, written in honor of Nuttall’s wife, Livia Sohn, a violinist, chamber music administrator and Juilliard School graduate.

Sohn had suffered from dystonia in all but two fingers of his left hand, which made it difficult to play the violin. The composer wrote the piece so that it could only be played with two fingers of the left hand, with Sohn performing it at the concert. I admired his sense of music as well as his technicality. After hearing and watching her, I understood why Applebaum praised her as one of the best violinists in the world.

Another musician I enjoyed the most during this concert was James Austin Smith, who played at all three chamber concerts I attended. The way he played the oboe was unlike anything I’ve seen. I was blown away by his rendition of the “Oboe Concerto in D Minor, Op. 9 no. 2″ by Tomaso Albinoni.

The third Spoleto chamber concert I attended was on June 11, the last concert in the series. There were two compositions played that I strongly favored.

The first piece is “Trio Sonata in C minor, HWV 386a” by George Frideric Handel performed by James Austin Smith on oboe, Nina Lee on cello and Pedja Muzijevic on harpsichord. This piece was 10 minutes long and I enjoyed every minute of it.

The chemistry between the three musicians was evident, and the way the melody and solo played by Smith matched perfectly with the parts played by the cello and harpsichord. It felt like being in medieval times and I could imagine sitting with the king and queen in a palace enjoying food, wine and live music.


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The second piece is “The Rite of Spring for two pianos” by Igor Stravinsky performed by Inon Barnatan and Pedja Muzijevic both at the piano. When I heard these two perform, I felt like I was listening to two people having a discussion that starts out so purely and innocently, but quickly turns into chaos and confusion. The two musicians were so locked into the music, I think if someone had tried to distract them, they wouldn’t have stopped playing.

This year was the first time I discovered the Spoleto Festival and I enjoyed every moment of these chamber concerts. I encourage everyone to attend as it is well worth it, and I look forward to experiencing it again next year.

Follow Maura Hogan on Twitter at @msmaurahogan.