This was intended to be a guide to local "classical" music during the cold weather. So it was strange to sit in the Annesdale Mansion last Sunday as the Memphis Chamber Music Society hosted "Symphony Goes Solo" while the weather performed a perfect May day in the middle of January. Even as the sun set under bare trees and a blue sky, we were happy to be inside listening to two small ensemble pieces performed by Memphis Symphony Orchestra musicians. The Mozart and Schubert pieces and the setting were a reminder of how much great musicianship is on display in this city, and how much fun it is to hear compositions that have stood the test for centuries. There are many other opportunities to hear music that won't ring in your ears the next morning. Here are some musically fascinating places to keep warm, no matter what the weather brings.
The stand-out performance on the horizon is this weekend at the Germantown Performing Arts Center, where violinist Sharon Roffman and the IRIS Orschestra will perform the world premiere of "I Will Not Remain Silent," a new concerto by composer Bruce Adolphe.
Adolphe's name may sound familiar to the public radio set due to his regular "Piano Puzzler" segment on Performance Today. Itzhak Perlman performed the world premiere of Adolphe's solo violin music at Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center. Adolphe is resident lecturer and director of Family Programs Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. On his website, you can hear some of his original works performed, one by the Bretano Quartet at WNYC. That piece, Fra(nz)g-mentation, is based on an unfinished andante by Schubert, which serves as inspiration and a diving board for Adolphe's compositional fireworks show: The strings explode repeatedly into fleeting clumps of spiky chords that rise and recede into an energetic chaos. The harmonies are 20th century and reach back to Stravinsky and Bartók.
"I Will Not Remain Silent" is a new composition that is based on the life of Rabbi Joachim Prinz. The piece is presented as part of a week of music and activities called "Defiance and Conscience" held during the week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Violinist Roffman worked with IRIS on the Prinz Project, which included a six-month workshop for students from the Soulsville Charter School Orchestra and the Overton High School Orchestra. The first performance is Saturday, January 24th, at 8 p.m. A second perfomance on Sunday at 2 p.m. will feature pieces performed by the students from Soulsville and Overton.
Prinz was a rabbi in Germany who warned of the rise of Nazism and was expelled from his home country. He came to the United States, where he became active in the civil rights movement. He was an organizer of the March on Washington in 1963 and spoke after Mahalia Jackson and immediately before Dr. King. Comparing the U.S. struggle to his experiences in Europe, Prinz said, "The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful, and the most tragic problem is silence."
"I Will Not Remain Silent," according to Adolphe's composer's statement on his website, is inspired by Prinz and his work: "The violin represents the voice of Joachim Prinz throughout the concerto. In the first movement, the orchestra represents Nazi Germany; in the second movement, the orchestra represents America during the civil rights era."
Violinist Roffman studied at the Juilliard School and the Cleveland Institute of Music. She studied under Perlman, and made her Carnegie Hall debut as a soloist in 2004 in Vivaldi's "Concerto for Four Violins" with Perlman playing and conducting.
Another contemporary work with historical roots, "Vignettes: Ellis Island," tops the bill on Friday, January 23rd, at the Church of the Holy Communion. The piece, composed by University of Southern California professor Alan L. Smith, will be performed by soprano Judith Cline, chair of the music department at Hollins University.
Smith composed the piece based on the Ellis Island Oral History Project, which collects first-person narratives from those who entered this country between 1892 and 1954. Six sections frame the experiences of leaving Europe, boarding the ship, being at sea, and arrival at the harbor, at the island, and in America. Sources tell stories that run from lighthearted to heartbreaking. A child seeing his first commode flush on the boat thinks he has sunk the ship. A daughter leaves behind her mother knowing they will never see each other again.
Holy Communion's Minister of Communications Cara Modisett will accompany Cline on the piano. The two have performed the piece together in the past. Modisett recently moved to Memphis from Virginia, where she was music director at St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church in Roanoke. She enjoys the local music and is thankful that Holy Communion's Minister of Music David Ouzts supports her musical enthusiasm.
"It's contemporary, but it's really accessible," Modisett says of "Vignettes." "We've found that when we've performed it, what we enjoy is that people come up afterwards and say, 'My father came through,' or 'That reminds me so much of the stories I would hear from my grandfather or my grandmother.' We always hear stories. Harmonically, there are certainly dissonances, but it's a very musically accessible piece. It's not jarring, except when it should be, like in the Titanic piece. There is some mixed meter and dissonance, because that is a scary thing. They are all very different. With the human history behind it, some of it is quite beautiful. [In one], the narrator is describing his or her first view of New York and thinks it looks like a fairyland. In the harmonies, it's pretty magical."
One of Memphis' most overlooked musical resources is Harris Auditorium at the University of Memphis. Throughout the semester, students and faculty perform several nights a week. It may not be Perlman onstage, but there is plenty of compelling music, which is mostly free of charge.
"It's gratifying to me to see these kids who come in as little freshman, and then four years later, they're up there knocking it out of the park," says Randall Rushing, director of the Scheidt School of Music. "Then you see them as undergraduates in the wind ensemble sitting right next to doctoral students and graduate students digging in and working together. It's a great thing to see. But more than that, the music they make is unbelievable."
Two performances to look out for: On Sunday, February 1st, at 3 p.m., in celebration of what would have been Bach's 330th birthday, professor Leonardo Altino will perform "A Bach Cellobration," a performance of all of the composer's cello suites. On February 4th, Concerts International hosts the Cann Piano Duo, virtuosic sisters who will perform, among other pieces, Rachmaninoff's "Suite for Two Pianos."
Rhodes College's department of music hosts regular faculty performances and events on campus and at Evergreen Presbyterian Church. The next in the John Springfield Music Lecture series is Thursday, February 19th, and will feature David Huron on "The Musically Sublime: A Scientific Story." Huron holds two posts at the School of Music and in the Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences at Ohio State University.