4th Annual Chamber Feast

4th Annual Chamber Feast
Livestream

Thu, July 30, 7:00pm

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Overview

The tradition continues as alumni of our Evnin Rising Stars mentoring program serve up a virtual evening of chamber music.

Artists

Paul Huang, violin
Tessa Lark, violin
Nicholas Cords, viola
Zoë Martin-Doike, viola
Edward Arron, cello
Alexander Hersh, cello

Program

Mozart String Quintet in C Minor, K. 406
Shulamit Ran Lyre of Orpheus
Tchaikovsky Souvenir de Florence, Op. 70


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All artists and dates are subject to change and cancellation without notice as we work closely with local health experts and officials.

Paul Huang, violin

Recipient of the prestigious 2015 Avery Fisher Career Grant and the 2017 Lincoln Center Award for Emerging Artists, violinist Paul Huang is considered to be one of the most distinctive artists of his generation. The Washington Post remarked that Huang “possesses a big, luscious tone, spot-on intonation and a technique that makes the most punishing string phrases feel as natural as breathing,” and further proclaimed him as “an artist with the goods for a significant career” following his recital debut at the Kennedy Center.

Huang’s recent highlights have included acclaim debut at Bravo!Vail Music Festival stepping in for violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter in the Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 with Chamber Orchestra Vienna-Berlin, appearances with the Mariinsky Orchestra with Valery Gergiev, Detroit Symphony with Leonard Slatkin, Houston Symphony with Andres Orozco-Estrada, Baltimore Symphony with Markus Stenz, and recital debuts at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland and Aspen Music Festival.

During the Beethoven’s 250th anniversary celebrations this season, Huang will perform the Beethoven Concerto with the Colorado Symphony, Eugene Symphony, Des Moines Symphony, as well as the Triple Concerto in his return to the Charlotte Symphony. Other highlights in the 2020-21 season include debuts with the San Diego Symphony, Reading Symphony, Pensacola Symphony, Mexico’s Mineria Orchestra, and return to Louisville Orchestra and National Symphony of Mexico. Internationally, Huang will make debuts with Rotterdam Philharmonic (Lahav Shani conducting), Heidelberg Philharmonic Orchestra in Germany, and return to National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan as its Artist-in-Residence.

Huang’s 2020-21 season recital and chamber music performances will include Huang’s returns to The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for a recital evening with pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, a Southern California tour with pianist Barry Douglas presented by Camerata Pacifica, and his debut at the Schubert Club in Saint Paul, Minnesota and Heidelberg Spring Festival in Germany.

A frequent guest artist at music festivals worldwide, he has performed at the Seattle, [email protected], Caramoor, La Jolla, Santa Fe, Moritzburg, Kissinger Sommer, Sion, Orford Musique, and the PyeongChang Music Festival in South Korea. His chamber music collaborators have included Gil Shaham, Cho-Liang Lin, Nobuko Imai, Mischa Maisky, Jian Wang, Lynn Harrell, Yefim Bronfman, Kirill Gerstein and, Marc-Andre Hamelin.

Born in Taiwan, Huang began violin lessons at the age of seven. He is a recipient of the inaugural Kovner Fellowship at The Juilliard School, where he earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees under Hyo Kang and I-Hao Lee. He plays on the legendary 1742 “ex-Wieniawski” Guarneri del Gesù on extended loan through the Stradivari Society of Chicago.

Huang participated in Caramoor’s Evnin Rising Stars chamber music mentoring program in 2015 and 2016.

 

Tessa Lark, violin

Violinist Tessa Lark, recipient of a 2018 Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship and a 2016 Avery Fisher Career Grant, Silver Medalist in the 9th Quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, and winner of the 2012 Naumburg International Violin Competition, is one of the most captivating artistic voices of our time.

Lark has been a featured soloist at numerous U.S. orchestras since making her concerto debut with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at age 16. She performed at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall in 2017 on Carnegie’s Distinctive Debuts series, and again the following year as part of APAP’s Young Performers Career Advancement showcase.

Highlights of Lark’s 2019-20 season include debuts with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Lincoln Center Great Performers Series; appearances with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society and Performance Santa Fe; and concerto engagements with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Erie Philharmonic, Oregon Mozart Players, and the Delaware, Pasadena, Topeka, Tucson, and West Virginia symphonies.

Three recordings featuring Lark were released in 2019: Fantasy, an album on the First Hand Records label that includes fantasias by Schubert, Telemann, and Fritz Kreisler, and Lark’s own Appalachian Fantasy; SKY, an Albany Symphony Orchestra release on Albany Records whose title selection is a bluegrass-inspired violin concerto written for her by Michael Torke; and Invention, a debut album of the violin-bass duo Tessa Lark and Michael Thurber.

A passionate chamber musician, Lark has collaborated with world renown artists and has toured with musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute and Musicians from Marlboro. Her piano trio, Trio Modêtre (now known as the Namirovsky-Lark-Pae Trio), was awarded a top prize in the 2012 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition.

Keeping in touch with her Kentucky roots, Lark performs bluegrass and Appalachian music regularly. She also plays jazz violin, most recently performing with the Juilliard Jazz Ensemble at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in New York City. She premiered her own Appalachian Fantasy as part of her Distinctive Debuts recital at Carnegie Hall, where she also gave the world premiere of Michael Torke’s Spoon Bread, written specifically for her stylistic capabilities.

Lark has served on the faculty of the Great Wall International Music Academy in Beijing, and as an alumna of NPR’s From the Top she is active in the show’s arts leadership program as a performer and educator. She plays a ca.1600 G.P. Maggini violin on loan from an anonymous donor through the Stradivari Society of Chicago.

Lark participated in Caramoor’s Evnin Rising Stars chamber music mentoring program in 2008 and 2009.

 

Nicholas Cords, viola

For more than two decades, omnivorous violist Nicholas Cords has been on the front line of a growing constellation of projects as performer, educator, and cultural advocate. Nicholas currently serves as violist, Programming Chair, and Co-Artistic Director of the internationally renowned musical collective Silkroad. Founded by Yo-Yo Ma in 2000 with the belief that listening across cultures leads to a more hopeful world, Silkroad’s mission is explored world-wide through countless learning initiatives and a deep commitment to the exploration of new music and partnerships. Recent highlights include the Grammy Award winning album Sing Me Home (Best World Music Album 2017), the Oscar-nominated documentary on Silkroad by Morgan Neville The Music of Strangers, and music created for Ken Burns’ recent series The Vietnam War.

Another key aspect of Cords’ busy musical life is as founding member of Brooklyn Rider, an intrepid group which NPR credits with “recreating the 300-year-old form of the string quartet as a vital and creative 21st-century ensemble.” Brooklyn Rider’s singular mission and gripping performance style have resulted in an indelible contribution to the world of the string quartet that has brought in legions of fans across the spectrum. Recent collaborators include Irish fiddler Martin Hayes, Swedish mezzo soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman, Persian kemancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor, banjo legend Béla Fleck, and Mexican jazz singer Magos Herrera.

A committed teacher, Cords joined the viola and chamber music faculty at New England Conservatory in the fall of 2018 after teaching at Stony Brook University for the previous seven years. His new solo album, Touch Harmonious, is set for release this coming fall.

Cords participated in Caramoor’s Evnin Rising Stars chamber music mentoring program in 1995 and 1996.

 

Zoë Martin-Doike, viola

Violinist/violist Zoë Martin-Doike is a versatile artist who engages in a wide variety of musical activities. A top prize winner at the Primrose International Viola Competition and the Lennox International Young Artist Competition on viola and violin, respectively, Martin-Doike has appeared as a soloist with the Honolulu, Indianapolis, Richardson, and Bloomington Symphony Orchestras, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, and the World Youth Orchestra in Rome, Italy. Most recently, she won the 2019 Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra Competition, earning a solo appearance with the group next fall. She has also been featured on the National Public Radio programs From the Top and A Prairie Home Companion, and has had the distinct pleasure of performing for his holiness, the Dalai Lama.

A passionate chamber musician, Martin-Doike was a founding violinist of the Aizuri Quartet which was the 2015-16 Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence at Caramoor. The Aizuri Quartet also garnered top prizes at the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition and held residencies at the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.

This season, Martin-Doike earned tenure in the viola section of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, where she is constantly inspired by the beauty of the human voice. She previously held the principal second violin position of Symphony in C of Haddonfield, NJ, and was a member of Opera Philadelphia, where she served as acting principal viola for their acclaimed 2015 production of La Traviata. A frequent substitute with the Philadelphia Orchestra, she has joined the world-famous ensemble for performances in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington D.C., as well as in concert halls throughout Europe and Asia.

This summer, in addition to performing at Caramoor as an alumna of the Evnin Rising Stars Program, she will also return to the Marlboro Music Festival for her third season. Her past festival appearances include the Steans Institute at Ravinia, and the Sarasota, Norfolk, and Taos Chamber Music Festivals, and she has collaborated with such artists as Mitsuko Uchida, Jonathan Biss, Miriam Fried, Roberto Diaz, Timothy Eddy, and Peter Wiley.

Martin-Doike is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with Pamela Frank and Steven Tenenbom. She served as concertmaster of the Curtis Symphony Orchestra during the 2011-12 academic year, and was selected to perform as a part of Curtis on Tour in Europe, Korea and South America. In 2019, she completed her master’s degree at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music where she studied with Mimi Zweig and Atar Arad. While at IU, she had the opportunity to perform both the Walton Viola Concerto and the Brahms Violin Concerto with university orchestras, and was a recipient of the coveted Kuttner Quartet fellowship.

Martin-Doike participated in Caramoor’s Evnin Rising Stars chamber music mentoring program in 2018 and 2019.

 

Edward Arron, cello

Cellist Edward Arron has garnered recognition worldwide for his elegant musicianship, impassioned performances, and creative programming. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Arron made his New York recital debut in 2000 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Since that time, he has appeared in recital, as a soloist with major orchestras, and as a chamber musician throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.

The 2019-20 season marks Arron’s 11th season as the artistic director and host of the acclaimed Musical Masterworks concert series in Old Lyme, Connecticut. He is also the artistic director of the Festival Series in Beaufort, South Carolina, and is the co-artistic director with his wife, pianist Jeewon Park, of the Performing Artists in Residence series at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

With violinists James Ehnes and Amy Schwartz Moretti, and violist Richard O’Neill, Arron tours as a member of the renowned Ehnes Quartet. He appears regularly at Caramoor, where he has been a resident performer and curator of chamber music concerts for over a quarter of a century. In 2013, he completed a ten-year residency as the artistic director of the Metropolitan Museum Artists in Concert, a chamber music series created in 2003 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Museum’s prestigious Concerts and Lectures series.

Arron has performed numerous times at Carnegie’s Weill and Zankel Halls, Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully and Avery Fisher Halls, New York’s Town Hall, and the 92nd Street Y, and is a frequent performer at Bargemusic. Festival appearances include Ravinia, Salzburg, Mostly Mozart, Bravo! Vail, Tanglewood, Bridgehampton, Spoleto USA, Santa Fe, Seattle Chamber Music, Kuhmo, PyeongChang, Evian, Charlottesville, Telluride Musicfest, Seoul Spring, Lake Champlain Chamber Music, Chesapeake Chamber Music, La Jolla Summerfest, and Bard Music Festival. He has participated in Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project as well as Isaac Stern’s Jerusalem Chamber Music Encounters. Arron’s performances are frequently broadcast on NPR’s Performance Today.

Arron began playing the cello at age seven in Cincinnati and continued his studies in New York with Peter Wiley. He is a graduate of the Juilliard School, where he was a student of Harvey Shapiro. In 2016, Arron joined the faculty at University of Massachusetts Amherst, after having served on the faculty of New York University from 2009 to 2016.

Arron participated in Caramoor’s Evnin Rising Stars chamber music mentoring program in 1993 and 1994.

 

Alexander Hersh, cello

Having already performed as soloist with the Houston Symphony and the Boston Pops, cellist Alexander Hersh has quickly established himself as one of the most exciting and versatile talents of his generation. He has received top prizes at competitions worldwide including the 2019 Astral Artists National Auditions, National Federation of Music Clubs Biennial Young Artists Competition, New York International Artists Association Competition, Friends of the Minnesota Orchestra, Boston Pops/New England Conservatory Competition, Jefferson Symphony International Young Artists Competition, and the Fischoff National Chamber Music competition.

A passionate chamber musician, Hersh has performed the complete string quartets of Béla Bartok and Alban Berg and much of the rest of the chamber music canon at music festivals worldwide including: Caramoor, Marlboro, Ravinia Steans Music Institute, [email protected], I-M-S Prussia Cove, Perlman Music Program Chamber Music Workshop, Piatigorsky International Cello Festival, Amsterdam Cello Biennial, Kneisel Hall, Lucerne, New York String Orchestra Seminar, Domaine Forget, and the Meadowmount School of Music.

Hersh is co-artistic director of NEXUS Chamber Music, a collective of international artists committed to stimulating interest in serious chamber music. NEXUS presents a two-week chamber music festival across the city of Chicago each August, featuring new and obscure works alongside standard works of the chamber music canon. NEXUS plays to unusual and intimate venues with the mission of breaking down the barriers that often separate performers from audience members.

A fourth generation string player, Alexander’s parents, Stefan and Roberta, are both active professional violinists. His grandfather, Paul Hersh, is professor of viola and piano at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and his great grandfather, Ralph Hersh, was a member of the WQXR and Stuyvesant String Quartets, and principal violist of the Dallas and Atlanta Symphony Orchestras.

Raised in Chicago, Hersh began playing the cello at the age of five. He studied with Steve Balderston and Hans Jørgen Jensen, and attended the Academy at the Music Institute of Chicago. Hersh received his B.M. from New England Conservatory (with academic honors) where he was a student of Laurence Lesser and recipient of the Clara M. Friedlaender Scholarship. In May of 2017, he received his M.M. from New England Conservatory where he studied under the tutelage of Paul Katz and Kim Kashkashian. Hersh was a recipient of the Frank Huntington Beebe fund for studies in Berlin during the 2017—2018 academic year where he studied with Nicolas Altstaedt at the Hanns Eisler Hochschule for Musik Berlin. He plays a G.B. Rogeri cello on generous loan from a sponsor through Darnton & Hersh Fine Violins in Chicago, IL.

Hersh participated in Caramoor’s Evnin Rising Stars chamber music mentoring program in 2017 and 2018.

About the Music.

At a Glance

It was during the Classical era that the string quartet was established as the most popular — and arguably the most prestigious — genre of chamber music. But since the mid-18th century many composers have written for larger string ensembles as well. Indeed, Mozart’s half-dozen string quintets are widely considered the acme of his achievement in the chamber music field. Oddly enough, the dark-hued, richly expressive C Minor Quintet originated as a “lightweight” serenade for eight wind instruments. In recasting the music for strings, Mozart took full advantage of the enhanced sonorities provided by the additional viola.

The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has attracted composers ever since the dawn of opera in the late 16th century. Although Shulamit Ran admits that the title of her string sextet Lyre of Orpheus came to her as an afterthought, the somber, expressionistic drama inherent in the music speaks for itself. Ran casts the first cellist in the role of the lyre-playing god, featured in a series of concertante-style arias and cadenzas.    Last but not least, Tchaikovsky’s rarely-performed string sextet Souvenir de Florence (Souvenir of Florence) is a warmly lyrical memento of the composer’s productive sojourn in Italy in 1890, while he was polishing the score of his opera The Queen of Spades. Although he made no apparent effort to evoke Italian music or atmosphere, this passionate, sun-filled work is singularly free of the angst that bedeviled Tchaikovsky for much of his adult life.

 


The Program
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
(1756-1791)

String Quintet in C Minor, K. 406 (1788)

 

About the Composer

By 1780, Mozart was growing increasingly restive in his position as court composer to Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo in his native Salzburg. The prelate’s insatiable demands, and his failure to appreciate Mozart’s accomplishments in the realm of secular music, impelled the ambitious tyro to seek out greener pastures. A year later he severed his ties to the ecclesiastical court and moved to Vienna, where he spent the remaining decade of his life as a highly successful freelance composer, pianist, and teacher. A string of public appearances, including a well-publicized “duel” with his rival Muzio Clementi, burnished his fame as a keyboard virtuoso.

Discovering that the Viennese were willing to pay handsomely for the privilege of attending his subscription concerts, Mozart worked day and night to keep the programs stocked with a fresh supply of solo piano music. At the same time, for reasons both artistic and commercial, he continued to turn out one masterpiece after another in a wide variety of other genres, from chamber music and sacred choral works to symphonies and operas.

About the Work

The String Quintet in C Minor is the odd man out among Mozart’s six works for two violins, two violas, and cello. Dating from 1788, K. 406 (or K. 516b, in the latest edition of the Köchel catalogue of the composer’s works) is not an original composition but an arrangement of a wind serenade in the same key that he had written five or six years earlier. Hermann Abert, Mozart’s indispensable biographer, surmises that he belatedly came to view his music as “far too serious” for a serenade, a lightweight entertainment genre traditionally associated with open-air festivities. Another motive for making the string arrangement was imminently practical: in early 1788 Mozart needed a third piece to sell along with his newly composed String Quintets in C Major, K. 515, and G Minor, K. 516, as part of a subscription package marketed to Vienna’s affluent musical amateurs. Unfortunately, the offer found too few takers to be commercially viable, and the C Minor Quintet was not published until several months after Mozart’s death.

A Deeper Listen

Weighty and at times tragic in character, the Quintet in C Minor makes a fitting companion to the intensely personal G Minor Quintet. Indeed, Abert considered the original version for wind octet (pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and French horns) “one of the most important pieces that Mozart ever wrote.” The addition of a second viola to the standard quartet ensemble greatly enriched the sonorities at his disposal: the first viola functions as a kind of “swing” voice, combining now with the upper, now with the lower instruments, and occasionally serving in a solo capacity. A few bars into the opening Allegro, for instance, the first viola sets the thematic ball rolling by echoing the sighing motive of a falling seventh that all five instruments played in unison at the beginning. The placid triple-time gait of the major-key Andante is disrupted by off-beat accents and hiccupping figures. Mozart flaunts his contrapuntal prowess in the Menuetto, which is shot through with canonic imitation (the central Trio section is a double canon in which the voices “answer” each other in mirror images), and the quintet climaxes in a vivacious theme-and-variations Allegro that ends, unexpectedly, in a burst of C major sunshine.

 SHUMALIT RAN
(b. 1949)

Lyre of Orpheus (2008)

About the Composer

Israeli-born Shulamit Ran, who retired in 2015 after more than four decades on the composition faculty at the University of Chicago, is by definition an “academic” composer. The New Grove Dictionary characterizes her knotty, dissonant music as an amalgam of “gravitating pitch centres, complex rhythms and highly organic formal structures.” Yet Ran’s allegiance to modernism is far from doctrinaire; she describes herself as a “very intuitive composer” who writes “freely atonal” music in a wide variety of genres, from chamber music to opera (including a work-in-progress for Indiana University’s Opera and Ballet Theater based on the life of Anne Frank). Like her mentor Elliott Carter, Ran is known for the sophisticated virtuosity of her compositional technique and is an unapologetic defender of complexity. “Life is complex,” she says. “Human nature is complex. The human condition is a very complex affair, and so music — which to my mind is a reflection of life — is a complex phenomenon as well.” At the same time, she remains committed to writing music that is “provocative and haunting, and will want to make you hear it again to discover more of its secrets and more of its riches.”

About the Work

Composed in 2008, Ran’s Lyre of Orpheus resulted from a commission from the enterprising New York-based chamber ensemble Concertante. As part of a three-year project dubbed “One Plus Five,” the group invited half a dozen composers to write string sextets, stipulating only that each work would highlight a different member of Concertante’s core sextet ensemble. Lyre of Orpheus originally featured cellist Zvi Plesser in the soloistic “concertante” role. As Ran explains, “This particular commission was made with the goal of giving center-stage to the ensemble’s first cello, a choice I was especially grateful for, not only because it features Zvi Plesser, the outstanding Israeli cellist, but also because it gave me an opportunity to highlight an instrument for which, from a very early stage in my life, I have felt a special affinity. The cello’s ‘soul,’ so naturally combining passion and lyricism, has always touched me in a special way.”

A Deeper Listen

The cello does the first of several star turns in the work’s opening section, its mournful, majestic melody soaring and swooping against a backdrop of inchoate whisperings, wobbly tremolos, and ethereal harmonics. The protagonist’s sporadic flights of muscular lyricism are offset by music of surpassing gentleness and grace. In its expressionist intensity, Lyre of Orpheus recalls the feverish sound world of Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night, another string sextet with an ostensible extramusical program. In Ran’s case, the association with the mythological lovers Orpheus and Eurydice occurred to her only after the piece was finished. Yet the drama of the music inheres in the vivid contrasts between light and darkness, passion and repose, urgency and despair. Midway through the piece, Ran instructs the performers to play “with a sense of doom,” as the second cello, its lowest string tuned a third lower than normal, sinks to the stygian depths of the contrabass register. Such passages may indeed suggest the grieving Orpheus’s descent to the underworld, just as the violin and cello’s “dream-like” ascent to the empyrean at the end evokes the image of Eurydice vanishing forever before his eyes.

 PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY
(1840-1893)

 Souvenir de Florence, Op. 70 (1890-1892)

About the Composer

For all Tchaikovsky’s heart-on-sleeve Romanticism and intimately revealing correspondence with his patron and confidante, Nadezhda von Meck, much about the man and his music remains shrouded in a fog of enigma. The composer’s characteristically ecstatic effusions masked an inner life racked by anguish and self-doubt. In the late 1870s and early 1880s, he produced a string of sunny and extraverted works, including the brilliant Violin Concerto, the tub-thumping 1812 Overture, and the incandescent Serenade for Strings. Yet the same period saw the composition of the Fourth Symphony, with its portentous “fate” motif, and the opera Eugene Onegin, whose tragic overtones mirrored the conflict at the heart of the homosexual Tchaikovsky’s unhappy marriage.     By the time he traveled to the United States in the spring of 1891 — among other engagements, he appeared at the opening of Carnegie Hall — he was one of the most celebrated musicians in the world. Two years later, shortly after conducting the premiere of his Pathétique Symphony, he died in St. Petersburg under mysterious circumstances.

About the Work

Although chamber music doesn’t figure prominently in Tchaikovsky’s oeuvre, his comparatively few mature works for chamber ensembles are of exceptionally high quality. In addition to three string quartets written between 1871 and 1876, they include the elegiac Piano Trio of 1882 and the String Sextet in D Major entitled Souvenir de Florence (Souvenir of Florence). The latter was composed in the summer of 1890, hard on the heels of his opera The Queen of Spades and some six months after the St. Petersburg premiere of The Sleeping Beauty. Whereas the ballet had a somewhat difficult gestation, Tchaikovsky dashed off the sketches for The Queen of Spades in a mere six weeks during a working vacation in Florence. This flood of creative energy evidently buoyed his troubled spirits, for Souvenir de Florence is suffused with a hot-blooded passion singularly free of the angst that bedeviled the composer for much of his adult life. What prompted him to write for the rather unusual combination of six strings (violins, violas, and cellos in pairs) is unclear. He may have been inspired by the sextets of his friends Brahms, Borodin, and Rimsky-Korsakov. Or perhaps he simply wanted to flex his creative muscles with a small-scale work before applying himself to the arduous task of orchestrating his new opera.

A Deeper Listen

Notwithstanding its descriptive title, Souvenir de Florence is programmatic only in the sense that it, like virtually all of Tchaikovsky’s music, has an implicit emotional storyline. However restorative his holiday in the city of Dante and Michelangelo may have been, the composer made no apparent effort to evoke Italian music or atmosphere in the sextet. Even the punchy folk dance that serves as the principal theme of the concluding Allegro vivace sounds decidedly Slavic rather than Mediterranean. Both the plush sonorities and the intricate motivic construction of Souvenir de Florence bespeak a fundamentally symphonic conception. The opening Allegro con spirito, by turns urgent and dreamy, blends drama and lyricism in a grand manner. And the second movement, marked Adagio cantabile e con moto (songlike and with movement), features a quasi-operatic aria for the first violin (later taken up by the first cello) with pizzicato accompaniment. The lilting, sharply accented theme of the ensuing Allegretto moderato paves the way for the exuberant finale.

— Harry Haskell