CP's music critic sheds first Spoleto tear at Chamber Series opener

An eargasmic Schubert

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Hello there. Lindsay Koob is back on the Spoleto Buzz Blog with my usual running barrage of blogservations about the classical goings-on at the world’s most fabulous arts festival. Only this year, I’ve got quite a bit of help. Not only will my good friend and fellow classical geek Robert Bondurant be contributing a post or two, but I was fortunate to recruit some vibrant (and spectacularly qualified) new critical voices in the persons of musicologist Blake Stevens and composer Yiorgos Vassilondinakis: both of them are recently-appointed professors at the College of Charleston’s School of the Arts, who are helping us cover two of the hottest contemporary composers in town (Kaija Saariaho and Osvaldo Golijov).

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I was really pumped for my first event: Friday afternoon’s Bank of America Chamber Series opener at the Dock Street Theatre. And who should be occupying the seat next to me but Patrick Sharbaugh, the City Paper’s former Arts Editor, who's been doing some very interesting things in places like Japan and Vietnam in recent years. But we managed to entice him back to do some Spoleto overview writing this year. Welcome home, Patrick. The other welcome sight was that of series director Geoff Nuttall, sporting a new beard and an outlandish pinstripe suit with the coat stretching almost to his knees. And he was up to his usual old (and new) tricks and witty repartee as emcee.

Another cause for excitement is that this concert was the first of five consecutive chamber programs featuring the wonderful music of Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov, this year’s composer-in-residence for the chamber series. The concert led off with a terrific work of his, Lullaby and Doina, a three-movement chamber suite drawn from his film score to The Man Who Cried. It’s a gripping work of slow-burn, languorous gypsy-style passion (with a little Klezmer thrown in) — particularly in the first two movements — before the final section brought things to a rousing and furious finish. The new face (and sound) this year was that of violinist Mark Fewer, who’s substituting for Scott St. John, usual second violin for the St. Lawrence String Quartet (SLSQ), who is a new dad. Hearty congrats, Scott.

The second selection was by Louis Moreau Gottshalk, entitled The Union, it’s a rousing pianistic paraphrase of three patriotic songs that were quite popular in America around the time of the American Civil War: “Hail Columbia,” “Yankee Doodle,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” (which wasn’t to become our official national anthem for another 70 years). At the Steinway was Anne-Marie McDermott, who is back at the festival after a hiatus of several years. She burned up the keyboard, executing the work’s spectacular pyrotechnics (a-la Franz Liszt) with consummate skill and aplomb.

But the program’s pièce de résistance was an old series staple, and one of the world’s most beloved chamber masterpieces: Franz Schubert’s very great C Major Cello Quintet. It was offered as part of this year’s festival celebration of Spoleto founder Gian Carlo Menotti’s centenary year, as he always used to program it for the chamber series finale. This time, Geoff chose to offer it in the opening program instead. It also kicked off this year’s “mini-festival” of Schubert’s works, which will be capped off in the final program by (as Geoff described it) his delightful “party piece,” the effervescent Trout Quintet.

Composed just months before Schubert’s death at the age of 31 (and he knew his end was near), it’s a supremely haunting piece that stands as his farewell to the world and the life that he loved. Yet it’s also typically (for Schubert) manic-depressive material, laced with stormy outbursts of helpless rage at having to leave his earthly existence so soon. Yet the music’s poignant beauty and gut-wrenching emotion predominate. I can never get through it with dry eyes, as Patrick found out for himself (“Are you OK?” he whispered to me as I sat sniffling and dabbing at my eyes after the first movement).

This wonderful program — plus that evening’s first outing of The Magic Flute — made this the most memorable opening Spoleto day that I can recall.

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