Feb. 6, 2017 --
The Marine Band’s Chamber Music Series returns at 2 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 12, with an homage to classic early 20th century repertoire and caps off with a contemporary selection that will test the limits of the performers. The concert is free, no tickets are required, and will take place at the John Philip Sousa Band Hall at the Marine Barracks Annex in southeast Washington, D.C., and will stream live at www.marineband.marines.mil and www.youtube.com/usmarineband.
The recital begins with British composer Sir Arthur Bliss’ Quintet for Oboe and Strings. Music scholar Andrew Burn cites the Oboe Quintet as one of three pieces where “Bliss’ voice assumed the mantle of maturity … all are imbued with a quality of contentment reflecting his serenity.” Although his music came to represent the musical establishment of Britain, the Quintet for Oboe and Strings mischievously quotes Irish folk music. The soaring themes and pastoral passages result in a highly accessible and enjoyable musical visit to the British Isles.
Richard Strauss’ glorious Suite of Waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier follows. In 1911, Strauss decided he needed a change of pace from his heavy modern compositional style, and decided to write what he referred to as a “Mozart Opera.” It was quite popular with the public, and was performed nearly fifty times during that year alone. To accommodate the large audiences, special “Rosenkavalier” trains ran between Berlin and Dresden during 1911 in Germany. This Suite of Waltzes from the opera was arranged for the Metropolitan Opera Brass by noted New York trumpet player John Sheppard. The work opens with the famous horn call from the beginning of the opera, a tribute to Strauss’ father, who was a virtuoso horn player. The other two waltzes in this suite hail from the third act of the opera, where they are played by musicians offstage.
The next selection, Claude Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, highlights the dynamic relationship between musicians onstage. To most listeners, the sonata’s form is hardly classical, and he continues his expansion of the sonata frontier by mixing harmonic modalities and rapidly shifting tonalities. He also uses many extended cello techniques to create otherworldly timbres and a stark contrast to the rich countermelodies in the piano. Debussy expertly utilizes the acoustics and ranges of the cello and piano so that both instruments can be heard by the audience at all times. And though the cello and piano do not often play the same compositional material, they work together as a team by constantly playing off of each other’s motifs to reach the thematic highs and lows together.
Composer Hugo Wolf was no stranger to the highs and lows of life as a musician. His Italian Serenade was originally intended to be a full string quartet with three movements, but circumstances did not allow for that. Having just returned to composing after years of relatively little compositional output (in addition to ending up on the losing side of a public feud with Johannes Brahms), Wolf set to work on three sets of lieder based on poems by Goethe, Joseph von Eichendorff, and Joseph Viktor von Scheffel. Perhaps in an effort to prove that he could compose instrumental music as well as Brahms, Wolf also began work on a string quartet. Shortly after beginning work on the quartet, Wolf’s father passed away, sending him into a severe bout of depression. He never finished the work as he originally intended but eventually came to terms with the already finished portion as a stand-alone piece he would call the Italian Serenade. The work became known as the first of Wolf’s “mature style,” and certainly has its roots in the vocal style of music he was more familiar with composing. The way the different instruments are used together is quite vocal in nature, with themes being passed from pair to pair. While Wolf’s life was filled with depressive and neurotic obsessions, the Italian Serenade, with its energetic and singing melodies, stands as a shining example of his brilliant but troubled compositional mind.
The concert concludes with David Lang’s these broken wings, composed in 2007. This performance modifies the original instrumentation of the work with a soprano saxophone substituting for the flute and piccolo part by permission from the composer. The piece was commissioned by the ensemble eighth blackbird who assured Lang that they could play anything. He obliged by producing a work he knew would be challenging and put the musicians through their paces. The second movement is more introspective with the instructions to the musicians to “drop things.” Lang said, “People can choose at moments to drop something, drop metal on the floor, to drop something, move it around. Just the action of having this beautiful thing punctuated by these things, which sound sort of like accidents, it seemed very human and very painful to me.” He concludes the piece with a lively dance-like movement with a complex time signature. “In the last movement I wanted to make a music that danced and pushed forward, in the hope that it would encourage the musicians to do so as well.”
The Chamber Music Series concert is free and no tickets are required. The Marine Barracks Annex is accessible by Metro via the Navy Yard or Eastern Market stations. Free parking is also available under the overpass on 7th Street, across from the Annex.
Complete program and notes
Directions and parking
Watch the live stream