Sunday, May 15, 2022 at 4 pm
download a copy of this program here,
Jeremy Preston, violin; Susan Freier, violin/viola
Melissa Matson, viola; Stephen Harrison, cello
Kyle Bruckmann, oboe; Keisuke Nakagoshi, piano
Benjamin Britten (1913–1976)
Phantasy Quartet for Oboe and String Trio, Op. 2 (1932)
Andante alla marcia – Allegro giusto –Andante – A tempo comodo e rubato – Tempo I Andante alla marcia
Rebecca Clarke (1886–1979)
Piano Trio (1921)
Moderato ma appassionato
Andante molto semplice
Edward Elgar (1857–1934)
Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84 (1919)
Moderato – Allegro
Andante – Allegro
About the music
Phantasy Quartet for Oboe and String Trio, Op. 2
Benjamin Britten’s Phantasy for oboe and strings was composed when the 19-year-old Britten was completing his studies at London’s Royal Conservatory of Music. It was an unsatisfying and frustrating environment for the young Britten, and his true mentor and main teacher remained Frank Bridge, with whom he had been studying privately since shortly after his fourteenth birthday. Both Bridge and Britten were amongst the many British composers who wrote pieces with the title “Phantasy” in response to competitions and commissions sponsored by Walter Willson Cobbett, an amateur violinist and wealthy businessman whose fortune was made in woven industrial belts. Cobbett hoped to create a distinctively English form of chamber music that would both revive the English instrumental fantasies and fancies of the 17th century. The first Cobbett competition, in 1905, specified that entries should be no more than twelve minutes long, have parts of equal importance for the different instruments, and consist of a single movement, played without pause, containing sections in different tempos and rhythms.
Despite being composed more than a quarter century after that competition (and long after Cobbett himself had lost interest in the Phantasy project), Britten’s Phantasy neatly fulfills the 1905 terms, give or take a minute. More specifically, Britten follows a Bridge lead in structuring his piece with closely related material at the beginning and end. Interior sections roughly map onto the scherzo and slow movements of a conventional four-movement work. The Phantasy begins in the character of a march, starting very softly (mutes, pizzicato, playing over the fingerboard), building from the low strings and gaining volume, as if the group is walking in from the distance. This march comes back at the end, now entering in full throat and getting softer, as if the ensemble is now receding. After the opening march, the second main section, a scherzo equivalent, is faster and lighter, filled with fleet scales and arpeggios using bouncing bow strokes. Britten is particularly careful here to give each instrument a turn with the main theme. In the following section the tempo eases and the mood becomes gentler to function as a slow movement. This is the only part in triple meter. Before the march returns, there is a long, quasi-improvisatory cadenza for the oboe over repeated figures in the strings. Both in the slow section and oboe cadenza, Britten veers dangerously close to a kind of pastoral writing associated with Vaughan Williams and the more conservative school of older English composers, just what he was reacting against at the Royal Conservatory.
The Phantasy was first heard on a BBC broadcast, played by the legendary oboist Leon Goossens to whom the work is dedicated. Oboe professor at the Royal Conservatory, Gossens had just become principal oboe of the newly formed London Philharmonic Orchestra the same month that Britten completed the Phantasy. The first concert performance took place at the 1934 International Society for Contemporary Music chamber music festival in Florence. It was again played by Goossens, this time in (apparently superior) collaboration with members of the Griller Quartet, a group that would be a fixture in the Bay Area after the war. The Morning Post reported that “Everyone liked this fresh and pleasing work, which had a charming woodland and pastoral flavour,” while The Times said that it “was warmly received, as it deserved to be.” For his own part, Britten wrote in his diary that it was “more or less satisfactory – sometimes I think that it is my best work – sometimes my worst.”
Rebecca Clarke also had problematic relationships with English educational institutions, exacerbated in her case by family conflicts. Clarke’s father removed her from both the Royal Academy of Music, when her harmony teacher proposed marriage, and the Royal College of Music, refusing to fund her further studies. Forced to support herself, she made a successful career as a violist, becoming one of the first women in England to play in a professional orchestra and to concertize and tour with chamber ensembles. Clarke frequently played with other women, including an all-female string quartet, an all-female piano quartet, and her friend and schoolmate, the pianist Myra Hess.
Her two best-known and most substantial works, the Viola Sonata and the present Piano Trio, were both composed for competitions sponsored by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the great patron of chamber music in America in the first half of the 20th century. Clarke met Coolidge by chance while vacationing with friends in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1917. Coolidge invited Clarke to the first Berkshire Chamber Music Festival the next year, and encouraged her to submit an entry for her 1919 competition for new viola works. The entries were submitted anonymously, and Clarke’s Viola Sonata tied with an entry by Ernest Bloch for first place. According to Coolidge, when the names were revealed to the jury, “you should have seen their faces, when they saw it was by a woman!” Nonetheless, Coolidge herself cast the deciding vote in Bloch’s favor. Clarke’s Piano Trio also won a second prize, this time at the 1921 Festival. For the 1923 Festival Coolidge commissioned the Rhapsody for cello and piano, her only commission from a woman composer.
The Piano Trio shows Clarke’s familiarity with trends in international modern music. While not derivative, she clearly was more oriented towards Ravel and Bartók than toward either the Viennese or British composers of her generation. (Apparently one member of the Coolidge Competition jury thought that Clarke’s Viola Sonata might have been written by Ravel.) The first movement is marked by figures that begin with five repeated notes. These seem to be fanfares, and, indeed, at structurally important points are transformed into bugle-call arpeggios. Perhaps this is not an irrelevant association for a piece composed only a few years after the end of the Great War. The fanfares are balanced by a calmer, more lyrical second theme, although even this is presented over uneasy, dissonant syncopations.
The second movement is from a very different sound world than the brash and assertive first movement. It is now more like Bartók’s static and spooky Night Music. Some of the feeling of stasis comes from passages supported by long drones in open fifths, either coming from or imitating the open strings of the violin and cello. The spell is instantly broken by the vigorous finale, whose theme is the very rare loud piano melody presented as a single line.
Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84
The Piano Quintet, along with the Violin Sonata and the String Quartet, is one of a group of three chamber works composed by Edward Elgar just at the end of the Great War. The appearance of three such substantial chamber compositions in the same year is all the more striking as they were Elgar’s first significant small ensemble pieces. Also notable is the distinctly 19th century flavor of the works, marked most strongly by the styles of Johannes Brahms. As Elgar wrote of the Violin Sonata, “I fear it does not carry us any further, but it is full of golden sounds, and I like it.” It may seem odd that an English composer would be carrying on Austro-German traditions in the wake of the War: nevertheless, aside from a brief period at the beginning of the War, when German music disappeared from British orchestral programs and musicians of German heritage were swiftly removed from British orchestras, the music of Beethoven, Brahms, and other canonical Teutonic composers was performed throughout the conflict. It was those composers who remained the measure against which British musicians were evaluated. George Bernard Shaw felt the Piano Quintet was in the same vein as Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, and was the finest thing of that sort since Beethoven’s Overture.
Like many Elgar works, the Piano Quintet is surrounded by a certain amount of dubious lore. Elgar seems to have been happy to cultivate an air of mystery around his works, and to encourage speculation about the sources and meanings of his musical material. (This is, after all, the composer of the Enigma Variations!). In this case, the lore is mostly attached to the first movement. The first four notes, played in octaves by the piano, may come from a Salve Regina chant. According to Elgar’s wife, the slow introduction evoked the spooky woods around the remote rural cottage where the quintet was composed (“Ghostly stuff,” according to Elgar himself). There is also a tradition that in the following Allegro section the rather sexy second theme, Spanish in character (violins in thirds, bouncing bows), is connected to a legend that a nearby group of old, gnarled trees were the figures of Spanish monks, punished with lightning for sinful acts (even the existence of the monks is spurious, let alone the more colorful parts of the tale).
The second movement is rich and melodic, featuring one of Elgar’s most noble and compelling melodies, first presented by the viola. A middle section is more personally passionate, with frequent tempo changes and indications to linger expressively (tenuto) on individual melodic notes, especially before the first section returns. The third and final movement opens with a slow introduction using material from the slow introduction of the first movement. The subsequent Allegro begins with a theme for the full string quartet marked “singing and with dignity.” A contrasting, syncopated theme in the piano is perhaps less dignified (as one critic would have it, “galumphing”), but, after a long transition based on the Salve Regina theme from the first movement, the main theme returns in all its glory, now promoted from “dignified” to “nobly.”
Notes by Dr. Derek Katz
About the musicians
Jeremy Preston is a section violin player with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, and the principal second of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. Prior to this he was the Associate Concertmaster of the Oakland East Bay Symphony and a tenured member of the North Carolina Symphony for seven seasons. He has performed with many orchestras throughout the U.S. and in the Bay Area, including the San Francisco Symphony and the New Century Chamber Orchestra. Jeremy is an avid chamber musician and has performed at venues throughout the Bay Area. Previously, he was a member of the North Carolina String Quartet and frequently performed with the Mallarme Chamber Players, the Peace College Manning Chamber Players, New Music Raleigh, and the Eastern Music Festival Chamber Players.
Trained at the New England Conservatory of Music, Rice University, and the Cleveland Institute of Music, Jeremy’s teachers include Marylou Speaker Churchill, Lynn Chang, Kathleen Winkler, Sally Thomas, and William Preucil. His chamber music coaches include Norman Fisher, Pamela, and Claude Frank and members of the Cleveland and Juilliard Quartets.
Jeremy maintains an active teaching studio out of his apartment in the Haight and loves living and hiking in the beautiful city of San Francisco.
Susan Freier, violin/viola, and co-Artistic Director of the Ives Collective, earned degrees in music and biology from Stanford University as a Ford Scholar and continued her studies at the Eastman School of Music where she co-founded the award-winning Chester String Quartet. The Chester went on to win the Munich, Portsmouth (UK) and Discovery Competitions and were the quartet-in-residence at Indiana University, South Bend.
In 1989 Susan returned to her native Bay Area and joined the Stanford faculty and the Stanford String Quartet. She performs with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and has been an artist/faculty member at the Newport Music Festival, Garth Newell, Music in the Mountains, Rocky Ridge Music Center, and the Schlern and Orfeo Music Festivals (Italy). Susan teaches and performs at the Mendocino Music Festival, the SoCal Music Workshop and the Telluride Chamber Music Festival.
Melissa Matson is a versatile chamber musician and the principal violist of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. She is Artistic Director of First Muse Chamber Music (an annual series of concerts at First Unitarian Church in Rochester), and is a frequent performer with Chamber Music Rochester and the Skaneateles Festival (NY). She is a founding member of the Amenda Quartet, whose acclaimed 2015-16 Project Ludwig performed the complete string quartets of Beethoven in the Rochester area. Her solo appearances with the RPO include Berlioz’s Harold in Italy (with conductor Andreas Delfs) and two performances of Mozart’s Sinfonie Concertante (with violinists Juliana Athayde and David Brickman).
Before joining the RPO in 1983, Melissa performed throughout the U.S. as a founding member of the Chester String Quartet (along with Susan Freier), top prize winners at the Munich and Portsmouth (England) international competitions. Originally from Chico, California, she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Eastman, where she studied with Martha Katz and was awarded the coveted Performer’s Certificate. Aside from teaching orchestral excerpts at Eastman, she devotes her extra time to the visual arts – including dyeing artisan fabrics.
Stephen Harrison, cellist has been on the Stanford University faculty since 1983. A graduate of Oberlin College and Boston University, he has been solo cellist of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players since 1985.
Stephen has been on the faculty of the Pacific Music Festival, the Orfeo and Schlern International Music Festivals (Italy) and the Rocky Ridge Music Center. He is currently principal cellist at the Mendocino Music Festival, and performs and teaches at the SoCal Chamber Music Workshop and the Telluride Chamber Music Festival.
For more than 20 years, Kyle Bruckmann has asserted an otherwise unparalleled role for the oboe within the realms of Free Improvisation and Creative Music. He is also a dedicated interpreter of Western classical repertoire, active in solo, chamber, and orchestral settings, with a particular commitment to contemporary composition.
Bruckmann is a member of performing ensembles including sfSound, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Quinteto Latino, Splinter Reeds, Eco Ensemble, Opera Parallèle, and the Stockton Symphony. He is also active in many collaborative settings, as bandleader and sideman and in ad hoc free improvisational groupings.
He has premiered dozens of works as a soloist and within these ensembles. Some of the composers with whom he has worked most directly and intensively include Olivia Block, Linda Bouchard, Chris Brown, Christopher Burns, Eoin Callery, Gabriela Lena Frank, José-Luis Hurtado, Maija Hynninen, Matt Ingalls, Christopher Wendell Jones, Michelle Lou, Sky Macklay, Paula Matthusen, Lisa Mezzacappa, Hyo-shin Na, Amadeus Regucera, Matt Sandahl, Ken Ueno, Theresa Wong, and Eric Wubbels.
Keisuke Nakagoshi, pianist, began his piano studies at the age of ten, arriving in the United States from Japan at the age of 18. Mr. Nakagoshi earned his Bachelors degree in Composition and Masters degree in Chamber Music from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Graduating as the recipient of multiple top awards, Keisuke was selected to represent the SFCM for the Kennedy Center’s Conservatory Project, a program featuring the most promising young musicians from major conservatories across the United States.
Mr. Nakagoshi has performed to acclaim on prestigious concert stages across the United States, including the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. He has received training from some of the most celebrated musicians of our time – Emanuel Ax, Gilbert Kalish, Menahem Pressler, Robert Mann, Paul Hersh, David Zinman – and enjoys collaborating with other accomplished musicians such as Lucy Shelton, Ian Swensen, Jodi Levitz, Robin Sutherland, Lev Polyakin, Axel Strauss, Mark Kosower, Gary Schocker and also conductors such as Alasdair Neale, George Daugherty, Nicole Paiement, Michael Tilson Thomas and Herbert Blomstedt. Mr. Nakagoshi is Pianist-in-Residence at The San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the award-winning Opera Parallèle. He resides in San Francisco.