Stamford Symphony’s Erica Kiesewetter, concertmaster; Molly Morkoski, piano; and Caroline Stinson, principal cellist; pay tribute to this French national holiday and its revolutionary origins with a program of works by prolific French composers. Delight in the poetry of Ravel, the passion of Fauré, and much more with this incendiary chamber ensemble.
Boulanger “D’un matin de printemps” Fauré Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 120 Ravel Piano Trio in A minor (1914)
Erica Kiesewetter has been the concertmaster of the Stamford Symphony since the 1980s, and has performed frequently as concerto soloist with the orchestra. Additionally, Ms. Kiesewetter is the concertmaster of the American Symphony Orchestra, Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic, Opera Orchestra of New York, Amici New York and the Long Island Philharmonic. She has also been the concertmaster of the New York Pops, Eos, and the South Dakota Symphony, and has toured and recorded extensively with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Her summers are spent at the OK Mozart, Round Top (Texas) and Bard Music Festivals, and next summer she will tour Europe and Russia.
An avid chamber musician, Ms. Kiesewetter is a founding member of the Bardian Ensemble, and a former member of the Colorado Quartet and the Leonardo Trio. She has performed concerts with these and other groups in 49 U.S. States, Canada, China, and many European and South American countries, and can be heard on more than a dozen CDs , including the Grammy-nominated “Song of the Stars” in music of Granados. Her recording of the Berg Concerto with conductor Leon Botstein and the ASO is available for download on iTunes.
Ms. Kiesewetter is a Visiting Associate Professor at Bard College, where she is the director of orchestral studies at the Bard Conservatory and maintains a violin studio in the College. She and Molly Morkoski are members of the Stamford Trio with principal cellist Caroline Stinson.
Molly Morkoski, piano
Pianist Molly Morkoski has performed as soloist and collaborative artist throughout the U.S., Europe, the Caribbean, and Japan. Her playing has been recognized by the New York Times as “strong, profiled, nuanced . . . beautifully etched . . . . an energetic and focused player . . . . with flexibility and warmth . . .” and The Boston Globe called her “outstanding.” In June 2007, she made her solo debut in Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage playing Beethoven’s Bagatelles, Op. 126. As a soloist, she enjoys championing the classics, such as Bach’s Goldberg Variations and contemporary masterworks such as Ives’ Concord Sonata and Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus, as well as premiering new works of current composer colleagues, such as John Harbison, Steven Mackey, and Gabriela Lena Frank. Molly Morkoski has performed in many of the country’s prestigious venues, including Weill and Zankel Halls, Alice Tully Hall, Merkin Hall, (Le) Poisson Rouge, Boston’s Gardner Museum and Jordan Hall, St. Louis’ Powell Hall, Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center, and Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian. Internationally, she has performed at the Teatro Nacional in Santo Domingo, the Strasbourg Conservatoire, the U.S. Embassies in Paris and Nice, and in Japan’s Suntory Hall. She has performed concertos with the Raleigh, Asheville, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Tuscaloosa Symphonies, and with the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra.
An avid chamber musician, Molly Morkoski is a member of Meme, Open End, and Exponential Ensembles and has collaborated with some of today’s leading musicians, including Dawn Upshaw, John Adams, John Corigliano, and David Robertson. She has performed with the New York Philharmonic Ensembles, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, New World Symphony, Speculum Musicae, Brooklyn Chamber Music Society, and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Her debut solo CD, Threads, was released on Albany Records, to critical acclaim, and she has enjoyed numerous other recording collaborations, most recently Compadrazgo a disc dedicated to the piano music of Gabriela Lena Frank. Molly Morkoski was a Fulbright Scholar to Paris, where she was an apprentice with the Ensemble Intercontemporain. The recipient of many awards, she holds degrees from UNC Chapel Hill, Indiana University Bloomington, and SUNY Stony Brook. She has given masterclasses at numerous universities and has served as a chamber music coach for programs at Juilliard Pre-College, New York Youth Symphony, SUNY Stony Brook, Columbia and more. She is currently Associate Professor of Piano at CUNY-Lehman College in the Bronx.
Caroline Stinson, cello
Praised for her vibrant lyricism, fresh interpretations and expressive performances, cellist Caroline Stinson is sought after by orchestras and fellow musicians nationally and abroad for solo and chamber music concerts of both traditional and contemporary repertoire. Ms. Stinson’s performance credits include Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall, Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, the Museum of Modern Art’s Summergarden Series in New York, Boston’s Gardner Museum, Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian in the United States; Germany’s Koelner Philharmonie, Switzerland’s Lucerne Festival, and France’s Cité de la Musique and Theatre at Rennes, in Europe, and the Centennial Centre and Winspear Halls in Canada.
A champion of contemporary music, Ms. Stinson has joined forces with the acclaimed Lark Quarte+, renowned for its commissions of new works by some of today’s foremost composers, including Aaron Jay Kernis, William Bolcom, and Jennifer Higdon. Caroline Stinson’s 2010-11 season included performances in the United States and Canada of repertoire ranging from chamber music to new solo works to Baroque Concerti. Highlights included the double-premiere of a new concerto for cello and winds by Steven Bryant with the Cornell Wind Ensemble and the Ridgewood Concert Band, and a solo tour of Alberta with performances for the Edmonton Recital Society, the Alberta Baroque Ensemble and New Works Calgary, where she premiered two new works for solo cello by T. Patrick Carrabre and John Link. Ms. Stinson premiered ensemble commissions by William Bolcom at Stanford University with the Lark Quarte+ (plus) Stephen Salters, and a new work by Mark Grey with the Meme Ensemble and Jessica Rivera at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall. Her debut CD, Lines, was released on Albany Records. Ms. Stinson is a member of Open End (a new music and improvisation group founded with her husband, composer and violinist Andrew Waggoner), CELLO, and Contrasts. Her teachers have been Alan Harris (Cleveland), Maria Kliegel (Germany), Joel Krosnick (Juilliard), and Tanya Prochazka.
Caroline is a teaching assistant to Joel Krosnick at the Juilliard School and is on the cello and chamber music faculty of the Setnor School of Music at Syracuse University.
Lili Boulanger / 1893-1918 / “D’un matin de printemps”
Early in her long life, Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979), one of the most distinguished compositions teachers of the 20th century, stopped composing after a very strong start when she decided that her younger sister Lili was a truly great composer, whose music she promoted tirelessly after Lili’s tragically early death.
The Boulanger sisters were descendants of a very musical family. Their paternal grandfather had been a cellist and his wife a singer. Their father Ernest Boulanger was a composer who had won the Prix de Rome in 1836; he became a father of Nadia at 73 and of Lili at 77, having married a Russian singing teacher who had been one of his students. Gabriel Fauré was a family friend who noted, when Lili was only two, that she had perfect pitch. She was started on piano lessons, which Nadia had already been taking for several years. Unfortunately she also contracted bronchial pneumonia that year, which greatly weakened her immune system and led to a short life in which she was mostly an invalid.
In spite of this condition, she took private lessons in composition and instrumental performance. She learned to play piano, violin, cello, and harp, in addition to singing. When Nadia started taking classes at the Conservatoire at the age of ten, Lili often tagged along with her to class. In 1909, Nadia came in second place in the prestigious Prix de Rome competition. Lili competed unsuccessfully in 1912, but won the prize the following year—the first woman ever to do so. The award was support for three years in Rome, where she would be free to compose whatever she wanted, and a contract with a publisher. Her first year was interrupted by the outbreak of war. She returned to Rome in 1916, but had to return home before the time was over owing to her rapidly failing health.
Lili Boulanger died five months before her 25th birthday, leaving behind some exquisite finished pieces and a number of unfinished works including a five-act opera. D’un matin de printemps (“A spring morning”) was composed for orchestra, a short tone-poem running about five minutes. Several arrangements were produced, including the one for piano trio to be performed here. The mood is bright and fresh, filled with suggestions of sunrise, cool breezes in the trees, and morning sounds. Virtually all of Lili Boulanger’s works, including this one, drive home the tragedy of the early death of this extraordinarily gifted composer.
Gabriel Fauré / 1845-1924 / Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 120
Gabriel Fauré, born in the south of France, studied in Paris not at the hidebound Conservatoire, but rather at the École Niedermeyer, where he received an unusually broad musical education in three respects that set him apart from the products of the “official” school: a thorough understanding of older music from the Renaissance and Baroque eras, familiarity with the German tradition, including Bach and Beethoven, and a more-than-nodding acquaintance with such dangerous moderns as Schumann, Liszt, and Wagner—this last element through the good offices of the young Saint-Saëns, who from 1861 on was professor of piano at the school. Fauré himself went on to become one of the most distinguished teachers of the turn of the century era (his students included Ravel and Enesco as well as Nadia Boulanger, who became a singularly influential teacher in her own right).
French music in the late nineteenth century was divided into highly politicized camps—the Wagnerians, the Franckists, the followers of Massenet, and others. Fauré kept largely to himself, not joining any clique; even after making the customary pilgrimage to Bayreuth to hear the Ring, he revealed almost no influence of the experience in his own work.
Fauré’s greatest strengths lay in the realms of song and chamber music; many of his works in both categories are treasured by performers and familiar to listeners. His last two major works, composed in the last year of his long life, are somewhat less frequently encountered—his only Piano Trio, Opus 120, and his only string quartet, Opus 121.
It was Fauré’s publisher Durand who suggested that he add a piano trio to this chamber music output. The work took shape over about ten months from August 1922 to the spring of 1923.
The first movement grows gradually, but inexorably, from a quietly songful opening to a fiery close, building the dynamic shape of the movement from two contrasting ideas that intertwine and develop mutually throughout—the singing theme heard in the cello at the outset and a phrase that oscillates in a gradual climb on the piano soon after. Fauré’s themes grow naturally and then in development intertwine in imitative counterpoints.
The slow movement is spacious and beautifully sustained, unfolding as a contrapuntal duet between the stringed instruments, with the piano joining in sometimes, but mostly supplying a harmonic center in slow chords. The violin presents a pensive opening theme which is contrasted with a slightly more passionate theme in the piano, and the two later combine easily in the development. A third theme—slowly rising—in the piano undergoes imaginative extensions.
After the lyrical poignancy of the middle movement, the finale breaks out in brusque violence with a theme that sounds as if Fauré has been listening to Leoncavallo’s opera I Pagliacci, because it projects the most famous line in that opera, “Ridi, Pagliacco!” This is truly ironic, because the formal and self-controlled Fauré was quoted in the press (a dozen years earlier) in the view that Leoncavallo’s popular opera should “provoke the indignation of all who care about music.” But Fauré is surely not thinking about Italian opera here, and the echo is purely happenstance. He does use it, and the other themes that flow from it, to build a lively, outgoing, assertive close of great energy.
The trio was performed by two different ensembles in May and June 1923. The second performance was by the famous Cortot-Thibaud-Casals Trio, a superb performance that put the seal of approval on the work.
Maurice Ravel / 1875-1937 / Piano Trio in A minor/1914
Ravel enjoyed spending the summer in his Basque homeland. He arrived at St. Jean-de-Luz in the summer of 1913, fresh from the scandalous world premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in Paris, at which he had been abused by an indignant uppercrust lady in the audience when he requested that she stop shouting her disapproval of Stravinsky’s score. The Basque country must have seemed exceptionally peaceful after such a hullaballoo, and Ravel found it almost impossible to tear himself away. He devoted himself to the composition of a piano trio, his first new piece of pure chamber music since the string quartet of a decade earlier (though he had been contemplating the trio since 1908). After the briefest possible return to Paris in the winter, he finished the first movement by the end of March.
Completion of the new work was interrupted by Ravel’s fruitless attempt to compose a piano concerto based on Basque themes. Once he had gotten bogged down with the concerto, he seemed to have difficulty in returning to the trio and even told a friend that he was getting disgusted with the piece. The impetus to finish the work came when Germany declared war on France in August. Composition became the means by which Ravel sought oblivion from the horrors that were inevitable.
Ravel had tried to offer his services to his country by joining the infantry but was rejected for being two kilos under the minimum weight. Always very sensitive about his small size, Ravel no doubt took the authorities’ assurance that he was serving France by writing music as a patronizing rejection, and he wrote to a friend, “So as not to think of all this, I am working—yes, working with the sureness and lucidity of a madman.” So it was that in just under four weeks, by August 29, 1914, he had completed the entire score of the Trio. (Soon afterward, he was accepted into the air force, where he was put in charge of a convoy and composed virtually nothing else until his discharge in 1917.)
For all the haste with which it was finished, and despite Ravel’s distraught mind during the composition of the last part, the Trio remains a remarkably solid, well-shaped work, one of the composer’s most serious large-scale pieces (and it most assuredly is a large-scale work, despite the fact that it is only for three instruments and not for an orchestra).
The opening Modéré presents a theme written in 8/8 time with the melody consistently disposed into a 3+2+3 pattern that Ravel identified as “Basque in color.” The second theme is a lyrical diatonic melody first presented in the violin and briefly imitated by the cello. These two themes and a tense connecting passage serve as the major ideas of the movement, building with increasing pace and intensity to a solid climax followed by a gradual descent to a gentle close.
The heading for the second movement, Pantoum, refers to a verse form borrowed by such French Romantic poets as Victor Hugo from Malayan poetry. What connection it has with Ravel’s music is a mystery. The movement serves, in any case, as the scherzo of the work, playing off a rhythmic string figure colored by the insertion of pizzicatos throughout and a simple legato theme that serves as the foil to the rhythmic motive.
As indicated by its heading, the Passacaille derives its shape from the Baroque form, more frequently labeled by its Italian name passacaglia, in which an ostinato melody or harmonic progression is repeated over and over as the skeleton background for a set of variations. Ravel’s approach to the form is, not surprisingly, a good deal freer than that of those Baroque composers who employed it, but the pattern is there to provide the framework for this wonderfully tranquil movement.
By contrast the Animé of the finale offers gorgeous splashes of instrumental color in a masterly display of brilliant writing for each of the instruments—long trills in the strings serving as a foil for dense chords in the piano in a triumphant close.