Anthony McGill, clarinet Gloria Chien, piano Livestream
Fri, October 2, 2020, 8:00pm
New York Philharmonic principal clarinetist Anthony McGill is known for his “trademark brilliance, penetrating sound and rich character” (The New York Times). Joined by pianist Gloria Chien, Director of [email protected]’s Chamber Music Institute, they perform a program combining works by Brahms and Weber with Peace by Bernstein Award-winner Jessie Montgomery, whose music is “turbulent, wildly colorful and exploding with life” (The Washington Post).
“[Anthony McGill] offered an exquisite combination of technical refinement and expressive radiance” — The Baltimore Sun
Anthony McGill, clarinet
Gloria Chien, piano
Jessie MontgomeryPeace Brahms Clarinet Sonata in F Minor, Op. 120, No. 1 Weber Grand Duo Concertant for Clarinet and Piano
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Winner of the 2020 Avery Fisher Prize, Clarinetist Anthony McGill is one of classical music’s most recognizable and brilliantly multifaceted figures. He serves as the principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic — that orchestra’s first African-American principal player — and maintains a dynamic international solo and chamber music career. Hailed for his “trademark brilliance, penetrating sound and rich character” (New York Times), as well as for his “exquisite combination of technical refinement and expressive radiance” (The Baltimore Sun), McGill also serves as an ardent advocate for helping music education reach underserved communities and for addressing issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in classical music. He was honored to take part in the inauguration of President Barack Obama, premiering a piece written for the occasion by John Williams and performing alongside violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and pianist Gabriela Montero.
McGill’s 2019-20 season included the premiere of a new work by Tyshawn Sorey at the 92Y, and a special collaboration with mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato at Carnegie Hall. He was a featured soloist at the Kennedy Center performing the Copland concerto at the SHIFT Festival of American Orchestras with the Jacksonville Symphony, and also performed concertos by Copland, Mozart, and Danielpour with the Richmond, Delaware, Alabama, Reno, and San Antonio Symphonies. Additional collaborations included programs with Gloria Chien, Demarre McGill, Michael McHale, Anna Polonsky, Arnaud Sussman, and the Pacifica Quartet.
McGill appears regularly as a soloist with top orchestras around North America including the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, Baltimore Symphony, San Diego Symphony, and Kansas City Symphony. As a chamber musician, McGill is a favorite collaborator of the Brentano, Daedalus, Guarneri, JACK, Miró, Pacifica, Shanghai, Takacs, and Tokyo Quartets, as well as Emanuel Ax, Inon Barnatan, Gloria Chien, Yefim Bronfman, Gil Shaham, Midori, Mitsuko Uchida, and Lang Lang. He has led tours with Musicians from Marlboro and regularly performs for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. Festival appearances include Tanglewood, Marlboro, Mainly Mozart, [email protected], and the Santa Fe, Seattle, and Skaneateles Chamber Music Festivals.
In January 2015, McGill recorded the Nielsen Clarinet Concerto together with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, which was released on DaCapo Records. He also recorded an album together with his brother Demarre McGill, principal flute of the Seattle Symphony, and pianist Michael McHale; and one featuring the Mozart and Brahms Clarinet Quintet with the Pacifica Quartet that were both released by Cedille Records.
A dedicated champion of new music, in 2014 McGill premiered a new piece written for him by Richard Danielpour entitled From the Mountaintop that was commissioned by the New Jersey Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, and Orchestra 2001. McGill served as the 2015-16 Artist-in-Residence for WQXR and has appeared on Performance Today, MPR’s St. Paul Sunday Morning, and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. In 2013, McGill appeared on the NBC Nightly News and on MSNBC, in stories highlighting the McGill brothers’ inspirational story.
A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, McGill previously served as the principal clarinet of the Metropolitan Opera and associate principal clarinet of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. In demand as a teacher, he serves on the faculty of the Juilliard School, the Curtis Institute of Music, and Bard College’s Conservatory of Music. He also serves as the Artistic Advisor for the Music Advancement Program at the Juilliard School, on the Board of Directors for both the League of American Orchestra and the Harmony Program, and the advisory council for the InterSchool Orchestras of New York.
Anthony McGill management: Opus3 Artists / www.opus3artists.com
Taiwanese-born pianist Gloria Chien has one of the most diverse musical lives as a noted performer, concert presenter, and educator. She was selected by the Boston Globeas one of its Superior Pianists of the Year.
In 2009 she launched String Theory, a chamber music series at the Hunter Museum in downtown Chattanooga. The following year she was appointed Director of the Chamber Music Institute at the [email protected] festival by Artistic Directors David Finckel and Wu Han. In 2017, she joined her husband, violinist Soovin Kim, as Co-Artistic Director of the Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival in Burlington, Vermont. The duo has recently been appointed Artistic Directors at Chamber Music Northwest in Portland, Oregon.
Chien holds the position of artist-in-residence at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee.
She performs frequently with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and is a Steinway Artist.
About the Music.
At a Glance
Thanks to its multiple personalities, the clarinet has found a home in many different musical settings, from classical and eastern European folk repertoires to jazz and klezmer. The first two works on our program highlight the instrument’s singing tone and introspective mellowness. Jessie Montgomery’s freshly minted Peace might be described (with apologies to García Márquez) as a brief meditation on life in the time of coronavirus. Brahms’s warmly lyrical Sonata in F Minor, written in 1894, is one of several works inspired by the artistry of the clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld, whom the composer dubbed the “nightingale of the orchestra.” (With Brahms’s blessing, violists have enthusiastically laid claim to the Sonata as well.)
Weber’s Grand Duo Concertant was written for another German virtuoso, Heinrich Baermann, whose extraordinary technical agility and smooth, bel canto sound elicited comparisons to the famed operatic tenor Giovanni Rubini. The concerto-like work showcases the clarinet’s extraverted brilliance, while simultaneously affording Weber a chance to display his prowess at the keyboard.
About the Composer
Composer-violinist Jessie Montgomery describes herself as a “hunter-gatherer”: her music combines elements of the European concert-hall tradition with African-American and other vernacular influences, including folk idioms, spirituals, and blues, that have expanded and enriched the vocabulary of contemporary American classical music. A member of the multicultural Silk Road Ensemble, she sees music as “a meeting place at which all people can converse about their unique differences and common stories.” Montgomery has long been affiliated with the Sphinx Organization, a pioneer in the movement to promote diversity in the arts by advocating for Black and Latinx classical musicians.
Her ongoing musical exploration of the African-American experience is reflected in such recent and forthcoming works as Five Slave Songs, a nonet inspired by the Great Migration, and a “re-envisioning” of Scott Joplin’s opera ,Treemonisha, scored for an ensemble of African and Western instruments.
About the Work
Montgomery’s works, most of which are notably short, range from somber meditations to joyful, Ivesian jamborees. Peace falls into the former category: it consists of a wistful, sustained cantilena set against livelier repetitive patterns in the piano — ripples and chords that convey a sense of slightly uneasy repose. The four-minute-long work was written earlier this year for the young violinist (and Sphinx alumna) Elena Urioste.
“I was going to call this Melancholy instead of Peace,” Montgomery explains, “but I didn’t want to be a downer for the people. I’m struggling during quarantine to define what actually brings me joy. And I’m at a stage of making peace with sadness as it comes and goes like any other emotion. I’m learning to observe sadness for the first time not as a negative emotion, but as a necessary dynamic to the human experience.”
Sonata in F Minor, Op. 120, No. 1 (1894)
About the Composer
In January 1891, Brahms made an extended visit to Meiningen, where his friend and ardent champion Hans von Bülow conducted the renowned court orchestra. The 57-year-old composer was gradually withdrawing from public life; the Op. 111 String Quintet, composed in the fall of 1890, was meant to be his swan song. In Meiningen, however, Brahms found himself unexpectedly bowled over by the playing of the orchestra’s principal clarinetist, Richard Mühlfeld. Brahms’s discovery of the clarinet opened a new channel of inspiration. It is to Mühlfeld’s lissome virtuosity that we owe the late flowering of his interest in the instrument as expressed in the Clarinet Trio, Op. 114, and the Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115, both dating from 1891, as well as the two Sonatas for Clarinet (or Viola) and Piano, Op. 120, composed three years later. The “autumnal” quality often ascribed to the music of Brahms’s twilight years owes much to the clarinet’s silky, baritonal timbre, especially the reedy complexity of its low chalumeau register. Brahms was amorous by nature, and his infatuation with “Fräulein Klarinette” gave him — temporarily, at least — a new lease on life. When he and Mühlfeld gave a private performance of the E-flat-Major Sonata in November 1894, Clara Schumann, the not-so-secret love of the composer’s life, sat by his side turning pages.
About the Work
Brahms had both practical and personal reasons for providing optional viola parts for the two Clarinet Sonatas and the Clarinet Trio. For one thing, he and his publisher wanted to capture the widest possible market for the sheet music. (Robert Schumann, Brahms’s close friend and mentor, had published a number of his chamber works in alternate instrumental versions for the same reason.) Moreover, Brahms, like Mozart, had a special affinity for the middle member of the string family.
He used the viola’s burnished, caramely timbre to wondrous effect in both orchestral works and chamber music, notably the great string quintets and sextets and the Two Songs for Mezzo-Soprano, Viola, and Piano. In his newfound enthusiasm for the clarinet, however, Brahms went so far as to tell a friend that it was “much more adapted to the piano than string instruments” — a surprising statement coming from the composer of three great piano trios and an equal number of piano quartets, not to mention the Piano Quintet in F Minor — and unfairly dismissed his own skillful arrangements of the Clarinet Sonatas for viola as “clumsy and unsatisfying.”
A Deeper Listen
The first movement of the F-minor Sonata, marked Allegro appassionato, opens with a lyrical but portentous theme enunciated by the piano in parallel octaves, which the clarinet picks up and elaborates in broad, sweeping phrases. The music’s growing urgency soon dissolves into plaintive introspection, and the fluid interplay between these contrasting moods gives the movement much of its richness and poignancy. In the Andante un poco adagio, the clarinet sings a sweetly sighing melody that descends stepwise, then climbs back valiantly before resuming its downward trajectory. The soft pulses in the piano accompaniment blossom into cascading arpeggios and rocking figures. The music is spellbinding in its simplicity and emotional directness. Brahms might well have continued to mine this vein of tender resignation. Instead, he charted a new course in the Allegretto grazioso: the winsome theme in A-flat major radiates warmth, with its lilting triple meter and phrase endings that bend upward hopefully, like flowers stretching toward the sun. The final Vivace is similarly lighthearted, as playful harmonically as it is rhythmically. A bright peal of repeated notes in the piano ushers in a buoyant, swaggering clarinet melody in duple time that is repeatedly interrupted, rondo style, by contrasting episodes in swaying triplets. By the end of the movement, the Sonata’s somber F-minor tonality has been left far behind, transmuted into joyous major-key affirmation.
CARL MARIA VON WEBER
Grand Duo Concertant in E-flat Major, Op. 48 (1815-16)
About the Composer
Like Wagner, Schoenberg, and many of their compatriots, Weber held it as an article of faith that the German-speaking lands had a unique musical destiny, above all in the realm of opera. Anticipating Wagner’s concept of the musically and dramatically integrated Gesamtkunstwerk, Weber urged his fellow composers at the dawn of the Romantic era to cast off the shackles of frivolous Italian opera and embrace a high-minded “German ideal” in which all the elements would conspire to forge a “new art.” (Despite the contributions of Mozart and a few others, German opera was still in its infancy in the early 19th century.) Having laid the groundwork for his artistic revolution as the director of opera houses in Prague and Dresden in the second decade of the 19th century, he finally brought it to fruition when Der Freischütz was first produced in Berlin in 1821. An overnight sensation, Weber’s richly atmospheric, German-themed Singspiel became the prototype of German Romantic opera.
About the Work
Weber brought a similar sensibility to bear on his purely instrumental music. The Grand Duo Concertant in E-flat major for Clarinet and Piano dates from 1815-1816, in the middle of his tenure at the Prague Opera. The music exhibits the exuberant lyricism, sophisticated harmonic coloring, and dramatic flair that would soon make Der Freischütza popular staple of the German operatic repertoire. But the element of virtuosity was equally central to the work’s broad appeal: Weber was one of the foremost pianists of his day, and the Grand Duo Concertant was conceived as a showpiece for himself and Heinrich Baermann, the principal clarinetist of the Munich Court Orchestra. Nicknamed the “Rubini of the clarinet,” after the celebrated operatic tenor, Baermann was known for the warmth of his playing and the effortless elegance of his technique; Weber admired his “complete evenness of tone from top to bottom.” The two men made a highly successful concert tour of Germany and Austria in 1811, an experience that confirmed Weber’s lifelong predilection for the clarinet. The enthusiastic receptions they received on the road prompted him to compose no fewer than three clarinet concertos, a clarinet quintet, and a set of variations on a theme from his opera Silvana, all designed to highlight what Weber described as Baermann’s “godlike” artistry.
A Deeper Listen
Weber began writing the Grand Duo Concertant in 1815, while staying in Munich as the clarinetist’s house guest. Baermann and he premiered the second and third movements at the Hoftheater on August 2, but another year would pass before Weber topped them off with the opening Allegro con fuoco. A blend of sparkling bravura and dark-hued introspection, the Grand Duo took full advantage of recent design improvements that had given the clarinet — which was still something of a novelty as a solo instrument — greater range, flexibility, and tonal depth. Not one to hog the spotlight, Weber apportioned the virtuosic display evenhandedly between the two instruments, from the high-powered athleticism of the first movement to the luminous cantilena of the central Andante con moto and the cascading roulades of the final Rondo. Baermann, who would also inspire works by Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer, undoubtedly found the Grand Duo’s quasi-operatic idiom congenial: something of a prima donna himself, he conducted a long-time extramarital affair with a well-known soprano named Helene Harlas. Together they had four children, one of whom followed in his father’s footsteps as a distinguished clarinetist.