PREVIEW: Summer Music – Festival Orchestra, Beethoven Series

Music Beat

Beethoven continues, guest conductor leads group in Bartok, Rachmaninoff

By Peter Jacobi H-T Columnist
June 24, 2012


It is a week of continuations.

Another string quartet comes to town — the Shanghai — to take over for the Penderecki in the currently ongoing cycle in Auer Hall of the Beethoven String Quartets, all of them.

Another guest conductor — Roberto Abbado — arrives to rehearse and lead the Festival Orchestra, this following a highly successful outing for the ensemble under the previous guest, Matthias Pintscher.

More Beethoven

On a former visit, two summers ago, the Shanghai Quartet helped celebrate Chopin’s Bicentennial by collaborating with the Jacob School’s Edward Auer in performances of the composer’s two pianos concertos, these reconstructed for string quartet, bass and piano. This time, the four musicians — violinists Weigang Li and Yi-Wen Jiang, violist Honggang Li, and cellist Nicholas Tzavaras — are here for that Beethoven extravaganza.

They’ll play two concerts, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, touching on quartets the composer wrote early (Opus 18, No. 1, 3 and 6), middle (Opus 59, No. 3, and Opus 95), and late (Opus 131).

“We’ve been practicing while on our Asian tour,” cellist Tzavaras told me by phone, just a matter of hours after he and his colleagues returned from that tour. “And we’re looking forward to being back in Bloomington as part of this Beethoven project. For your audience there, it will be quite an experience to listen to this great music as performed by different quartets. I think that’s a terrific idea.”

The Shanghai did the whole cycle by itself during the 2003-4 season, said Tzavaras, “to mark the quartet’s 20th anniversary, and we’re planning to do that again in 2014 for our 30th. When we did it before, it was in China. That was the first time the whole cycle had been played there. Also, several of the quartets had debuts.”

Speaking about what makes these works so special, Tzavaras said: “To play all 16-and-a-half quartets is a rite of passage for a string quartet. The music spreads across Beethoven’s life. You listen to the quartets as you grow up. You study them. Then, you get into nuances, styles, techniques. It becomes such a great project. We’ve been with it a long time. There’s no end to studying them. Our performances continue to evolve. For me, as cellist, the Bach sonatas and the Beethoven quartets are the most important in my repertoire.”

Tzavaras hails the Bloomington experience. “We love staying in college towns,” he said, “to spend five or six days rather than just come and go. In Bloomington, we’re exposed to an exciting student-centric atmosphere. Plus, there’s a teaching component. I really appreciate that. And you’ve got some really good restaurants! We like the idea of coming back.”

Roberto Abbado

I caught up with Maestro Abbado at his home in Milan.

“I’m relishing my days here,” he said when I phoned. “They’re coming to an end. I have to go to New York for the Caramoor Festival. I’ll be in Bloomington. Concerts with the Monte Carlo Philharmonic and a new production of ‘Don Giovanni’ for Bari, Italy, are all just ahead.”

Does it get wearing, I asked.

“Oh, no. It’s very exciting doing guest work with different people, different personalities, different styles, and having the opportunity to put them together in my vision of the music.”

What about working with students versus seasoned professionals?

“Well, you have very good students at Indiana, almost ready to start their professional life,” responded Abbado. “They just need a little more experience. They’ve got lots of enthusiasm and energy to go along with talent. And you know, when I guest conduct elsewhere now, players come up to me and say, ‘I played for you in Bloomington’ and ‘Have you heard my new recording?’ What you do at the university has helped bring them success. They express happiness for their experiences in Bloomington. Such recognition makes me grateful. It brings me joy.”

The maestro has chosen Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances for his concert in the Musical Arts Center Friday evening. “During my visits to Indiana, I choose works important to the repertoire of major orchestras,” Abbado explained. “The students will play these pieces many more times in their careers. Right now, many will have never played them before. This is a great opportunity to instruct those who haven’t and to further knowledge for those who have.

“The Bartok is one of the most complex pieces,” he continued. “It was premiered in America. Bartok was sick and worried about World War II. The music is deep and satisfying. The Rachmaninoff was among his last works. He had lost part of his melodic flush, but he had learned much in orchestration and harmony.

“The Dances are among his most interesting compositions. They’re a feast for an orchestra and wonderful to hear. I consider Rachmaninoff not as a superficial composer at all. Some people call him a 19th century man in the 20th century. He is an absolutely 20th century personality, expressing in his music all the internal complexities of his time.”

So, among the highlights of the week: Beethoven for strings, Bartok and Rachmaninoff for orchestra. Music to look forward to.

If you goTO THE SHANGHAI QUARTET: The visiting foursome continues the cycle of Beethoven Quartets with two concerts featuring six of the works, from those written early to those composed in midlife and late.

WHEN: Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 8

WHERE: Auer Hall, second floor of the Simon Music Center, 200 S. Jordan Ave., Bloomington

TICKETS: $12 for adults, $6 for students; available at the Musical Arts Center box office, 812-855-7433

TO THE FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA: Guest conductor Roberto Abbado leads the orchestra in music of Bartok (Concerto for Orchestra) and Rachmaninoff (Symphonic Dances).

WHEN: Friday evening at 8

WHERE: Musical Arts Center, 101 N. Jordan Ave., on the IU Bloomington campus

TICKETS: $15 for adults, $8 for students; available at the Musical Arts Center box office, 812-855-7433

Reach Peter by sending an email to with “Jacobi” in the subject line.

Show times

This evening at 8 in Auer Hall, faculty pianist Edmund Battersby performs music of Haydn, Schumann, Ravel, Chopin and Scriabin. Free.

Monday evening at 8 in Auer, violinist Sarah Kapustin and pianist Chih-Yi Chen play works of Mozart, Bartok, de Falla and Stravinsky. Tickets: $12 for adults, $6 for students.

Wednesday evening at 7 on the Musical Arts Center lawn, the Summer Concert Band, conducted by Stephen Pratt, features music of Wagner, Puccini, Sullivan, Tucci, Grainger, Strauss, Barker and Goldman. Trombonist Carl Lenthe is soloist. Free.

Wednesday evening at 8 in Auer, the Festival Chamber Players (Sarah Kapustin and Peter Vickery, violins; Atar Arad and Steve Wyrczynski, violas; Peter Stumpf and Nathan Vickery, cellos) play music of Beethoven, Brahms and Prokofiev. Tickets: $12 for adults, $6 for students.

Saturday afternoon at 4 in Musical Arts Center 301, Carol Vaness directs a Summer Opera workshop, “A Whirlwind of Musical Madness,” featuring scenes on the theme of love.

Saturday evening at 8 in Auer, cellist Peter Stumpf and pianist Evelyne Brancart offer music of Brahms, Britten and Chopin. Tickets: $12 for adults, $6 for students.

The Shanghai Quartet returns to Bloomington this week for two performances in Auer Hall. Courtesy photo

Copyright: 2012


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