Every June, the Roycroft Chamber Music Festival assembles a sundry of classical musicians, many from the Buffalo Philharmonic, for a diverse offering of classical music, from duets to sextets, over four nights of three pieces each, so that it’s always something new. The Festival concludes tonight at 7:30 at the RCMF home base, St. Matthias Episcopal Church at the corner of Maple and Main (a.k.a. Route 20A) in East Aurora. Coming from Buffalo? Take Route 400 to the Maple Street exit and head south into the village. There is convenient parking behind the church, on the adjacent streets, or across the street. Visit www.roycroftchambermusic.org or the organization’s Facebook page.
This year, the 26th annual season, the big buzz was about the opening night June 7 Rachmaninov Sonata for Cello and Piano which featured Russian born Roman Mekinulov, Principal Cellist of the BPO, and the world-class pianist, Japanese born Mariko Kaneda, whose “day job” has the rather modest title “Part Time Assistant Professor in Music.” That’s like saying that James Bond is “a government employee.”
Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend, and at concert #3 of 4, every serious chamber music aficionado that was there was only too glad to tell me what I had missed. Fortunately, Kaneda book-ended last night’s offerings, first with the beloved BPO English Hornist Anna Mattix in the haunting R. Vaughan Williams “English Folk Song Suite for English Horn and Piano” and then in the stunning Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 32 by Russian composer Anton Arensky.
For years, as a classical music host on radio station WNED, I would tell audiences about Arensky, so often overlooked. You can get a little taste of what audiences heard by watching this short Roycroft rehearsal video with Kaneda at the piano along with the co-music directors of the RCMF David Niwa, violin and Eva Herer, cello.
My suggestion for next June, 2020, is to put Mekinulov and Kaneda back together with a first pick draft choice violinist and program either of the Rachmaninoff Piano Trios or, my favorite, the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50. I once asked Mekinulov why we don’t hear the Tchaikovsky more often and he said that the difficulty is finding a pianist who is up to the incredibly demanding score. I think that pianist has identified herself and hopefully Kaneda will be available again. I asked her last night and she said that she’s coming back! So there.
The middle work last night was Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13, with David Brickman, Amy Licata, Andrea Cone, and Grace Sommer. Once again, I was convinced that (German) Mendelssohn was the legitimate heir of Beethoven (also German).
Of course, the great (German) composer Brahms wrote “The true successor to Beethoven is not Mendelssohn, whose artistic cultivation was quite incomparable, also not Schumann, but Schubert. It is unbelievable, the music he put in his songs.” Well, guess what. Tonight, Saturday June 14 at 7:30 the fourth and final concert of this year’s RCMF is titled “A Schubert Tribute.”
The opening work will be the rather short (16 minute) four movement Piano Quartet by contemporary American composer John Harbison titled “November 19, 1828 – Hallucination in Four Episodes for Piano and String Trio” (which is the day which Schubert died).
Just as George Saunders wrote about President Lincoln visiting his dead son in his experimental novel Lincoln in the Bardo, Harbison imagines Schubert on a musical journey into the afterlife on the day of his death. It’s Schubert, but it’s not.
Here’s a YouTube recording of the first movement.
The second work tonight will be by Schubert himself, his other most famous “unfinished” work, the so-called “Quartettsatz” and then the evening will conclude with Brahms’ String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat, Op. 18 a work for two violins, two violas, and two cellos. Brahms, who wrote in June, 1863: “My love for Schubert is a very serious one, probably just because it is not a fleeting fancy. Where is genius like his, which soars aloft so boldly and surely, where we then see the first few enthroned? To me he is like a child of the gods, who plays with Jupiter’s thunder, albeit also occasionally handling it oddly. But he plays in such a region, at such a height, to which the others are far short of raising themselves.”
Lead image: Courtesy Roycroft Chamber Music Festival’s Facebook page