The New York Philharmonic String Quartet, comprising four principal members of the orchestra, perform in Bridgehampton on April 1. ZACH MAHONE
Orion Weiss and Gilles Vonsattel perform piano four hands on April 29. COURTESY BRIDGEHAMPTON CHAMBER MUSIC
Flutist Marya Martin, founder and artistic director of Bridgehampton Chamber Music, during the BCMF 2022 Brian Little Concert. COURTESY BCMF
The frozen ground is beginning to thaw, green shoots are peeking out from the branches and songbirds are once again chirping on the soundtrack of the season. Spring is coming on across the East End and with it the return of Bridgehampton Chamber Music’s Spring Concert Series.
This year’s series will feature three concerts in April and May at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church, each with distinctly different experiences, showcasing many musicians familiar to BCM audiences performing some material and techniques new to the annual showcase.
The New York Philharmonic String Quartet will start things off on Saturday, April 1, with a dynamic, emotional program including “In Response to the Madness,” a 2019 work by composer Joel Thompson inspired by civil unrest. On April 29, Orion Weiss and Gilles Vonsattel are set to perform a piano four hands program — a first in the BCM’s Spring Concert Series’ 7-year history. Finally, violists Ettore Causa and Matthew Lipman will be showcased in three works on May 20 accompanied by a talented group of fellow musicians including BCM Artistic Director Marya Martin.
Carter Brey, principal cellist with the New York Philharmonic and a member of the string quartet, described in a recent interview a moving, “intensely emotional” and vibrant program for the April 1 audience comprising classical and modern compositions.
The evening will start with the quartet’s rendition of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 19, “Dissonance,” which begins, he said, “with the most incredible slow introduction … before the sunshine breaks through the clouds.”
It will end with what Brey calls one of the crown jewels in string quartet compositions, Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 11, “Serioso.”
“(It) never fails to blow me away by its emotional depth and virtuosity,” he said.
In between the classics, the quartet will perform Joel Thompson’s “In Response to the Madness,” written in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands, and knee, of Minneapolis Police Office Derek Chauvin and others.
“It reflects the conditions of the moment … including the civil disturbances following George Floyd’s death,” Brey said “It’s a very, I would say, restless piece of music, violent at times.”
The New York Philharmonic String Quartet — Brey, violinists Frank Huang and Qianqian Li and Cynthia Phelps on viola — was formed in 2017 and has been preparing and playing this particular program for about a year, Brey said. The rehearsals are methodical, painstaking and sometimes exhausting, but absolutely essential, he added.
“We work hard to bring out the emotional message of the composers, that’s job number one for us,” he said. “If you want to be free in your playing and spontaneous in performance you have to do the opposite in your preparation.
“That’s the only way you can untether yourself in performance.”
The second in the three-part concert series, entitled “Rites of Spring — Music for Piano Four Hands,” will have pianists Weiss and Vonsattel sitting side by side playing the same piano on April 29 performing four works. They are Claude Debussy’s “Petite Suite,” Mozart’s “Andante and Variations in G major,” Gabriel Fauré’s “Dolly Suite” and Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.”
Four hands piano is as much as feast for the eyes as the ears, requiring the musicians to navigate around each other’s movements while finding their own keys in time. The concert marks the first time BCM spring audiences will see such a performance, Martin said. Previously, one four-hands piece was featured during the more expansive BCM summer festival.
“There is choreography to it. That is one of the truly stunning things. They have to get out of each other’s way all the time, lifting their arms and hands so gracefully to let the other person in there and sometimes crossing over each other,” Martin described. “It’s like a ballet. Their hands are going up and down like swans and the sound is huge. You get this wall of sound coming out that can be very gentle and then really powerful.”
Last in the series is set to be a celebration of the viola on May 20 with two familiar BCM participants, violists Ettore Causa and Matthew Lipman. They will be joined by Martin — herself a world-renowned flutist — violinists Sirena Huang and Paul Huang and cellist Oliver Herbert. The group will perform Friedrich Kuhlau’s “Quintet for Flute, Violin, Two Violas, and Cello, No. 3,” Paul Coletti’s “Moonlight Journey” for two violas and Brahms’s “Viola Quintet No. 2 in G major.”
As artistic director, Martin chooses the performers and programs, plans the order of the concerts and shapes the series as a whole. Her approach to the spring and fall events differs slightly, she said, to the way she handles the summer festival. In the spring and fall, the concerts are standalone shows with players coming to the East End for the night, fitting the shows and the rehearsals for them into their otherwise busy schedules. There is a little of a “mix and match” style to choosing the pieces in collaboration with the groups, she said. What doesn’t change is the focus on the audience and the feeling of building a relationship with them.
“We’ve gotten to know the audience quite well and they us. That relationship is always growing,” Martin explained. “I recently met a man, the most wonderful woodworker who makes inspired Japanese furniture and he said to me, ‘You know, Marya, we come to all of your concerts. I feel as if I know you,’ and that is exactly what I love. The audience feel like friends and the [Bridgehampton Presbyterian] Church feels like home. And our organization is musician run, so it feels like a collective, a collaboration.”
All of which, Martin said, results in Bridgehampton Chamber Music having a more inspired, comfortable feeling.
“I like to think that, anyway.”
Just like last year, the concerts will be held with no intermissions. The consolidated programming was first introduced as a way to cope with COVID-19 protocols and regulations. By shortening the concerts, the group could keep the audience to half-capacity and do two shows a night. With restrictions on indoor gatherings lifted, BCM returned to regular, full audience shows, but found the shorter concerts were too popular to give up.
“People, I think, feel there’s more of a flow to the concerts now … and it doesn’t take up your whole evening. You can go off and have a drink and have dinner afterward and it’s promoting people coming more often,” Martin said. Growing the audience is a priority. “The thing I hear most often is, ‘I don’t know about music,’ but I tell them, they don’t have to.
“Just come, shut your eyes and enjoy it and react to it in any way that comes to you,” Martin said. The music, the shared experience with the audience and the intimate setting the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church provides work “like magic.”
Tickets for each of the concerts are $75 for the lower-level center seats, $50 for lower-level side and balcony seats and $10 for students. Subscriptions to all three installments of the spring mini-series are $185 and $120. Shows begin promptly at 5 p.m. at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church, 2429 Montauk Highway, Bridgehampton. For more information, or to purchase tickets in advance, visit bcmf.org or call 631-537-3507.
One fine body…