The year's shortest month began, ironically, with a veritable musical marathon, offering worthy events almost daily during the first week. Getting to five of them was well worth the sacrifice of time and shoe leather.
The College's new Music Fest chamber series offered its big event of the season: the four-concert "Extravaganza" celebration, with four concerts packed into the first four days of the month. The two I was able to catch (Friday at Randolph Hall and Sunday at Ashley Hall) upheld the lofty quality standards established in earlier outings. I don't have room here to write about all seven of the works I heard (and the eight artists who played them), so you'll have to settle for highlights.
I've written in columns past about the outstanding resident regulars in this series. But among the starry guest musicians imported for this cluster of concerts, Armenian cellist Suren Bagratuni (pictured above) is surely one of the most incisive and fleet-fingered masters of his instrument I've ever heard in person. He impressed and delighted in several works: mainly Tchaikovsky's virtuosic Pezzo Capriccioso and a rare baroque sonata for cello duo by Jean Barriere.
Violist Randolph Kelly shone brightly in Schumann's Fairy Tales, with piano -- and the big work that he was a part of (Dvorak's beloved Piano Quintet in A Major) was the highlight of the series for me. Violinist Almita Vamos brought Brahms' D Minor Violin Sonata to searing life. Guest pianist Volodymyr Vynnytsky was the keyboard workhorse, appearing in all four concerts.
I reluctantly passed on their Saturday event to catch the Charleston Symphony's latest Masterworks concert. Maestro Stahl led only his 46 core musicians this time -- a bit of a letdown after their recent reinforced go at Bruckner. But their reduced numbers were quite enough for the opening numbers: a sprightly Rossini overture and Schoenberg's ultra-romantic Transfigured Night. And Beethoven's bracing Symphony No. 7 came off nicely, too. Sure, the limited strings sounded a bit thin; but, after all, Beethoven himself seldom heard his music from bigger orchestras than this.
Rounding out the weekend was another CofC event: a Sunday evening of solo and chamber music at Recital Hall performed by students in honor of a special friend to the School of the Arts: Mr. John Zeigler, who celebrated his 95th birthday that week. Listed in the program were no fewer than 16 different awards and scholarships benefiting various SOTA programs that Zeigler has established over the years. Many who entertained us that evening owe their college training to his generosity. Happy birthday, John.
Tuesday evening's International Piano Series offered two milestones of the keyboard literature, as played by Anne-Marie McDermott, who's appeared here often during Spoleto. Her selections could not have been more different: Bach's massive and supremely tricky Goldberg Variations, and the "heavenly lengths" of Schubert's searing final Sonata in B-flat. She delivered both with wondrous skill and assurance.
Unfortunately, there's no room for even a bare mention of the other noteworthy events I missed. Boredom remains a rare condition for classical fans in Charleston.