Each summer, the Garth Newel Music Center, in Warm Springs, Virginia, hosts the Emerging Artist Fellows program – a four-week long intensive chamber music program for violinist, violist, cellist and pianists, ages 18 to 28.
Near the end of the program, the fellows travel to Green Bank Observatory to perform a selection of classical pieces they have learned during their time at Garth Newel.
On July 19, the GBO science center auditorium was transformed into a music hall as six trios and quartets performed pieces from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
The first trio – Aubrey Williams, violin; Lindsay McKenna, cello; and Meihui An, piano – performed “Piano Trio No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 8” composed by Dmitri Shastakovich.
Williams explained the piece was Shastakovich’s first piano trio which he wrote when he was 16-years-old.
“Dmitri Shostakovich was a twentieth century Soviet composer,” she said. “He took inspiration from folk music around his region which leaned into dissonance and unconventional harmonies.
“We can still hear his traditional training and romantic music with these simple and pure melodies while also seeing how he’s starting to experiment with his stark tension that leans into dissonance and really twisted harmonies.”
The first quartet in the concert was Evan Llafet, violin; Ella Golden, violin; Søren Lorentzen, viola; and Lindsay McKenna, cello. They performed “String Quartet Op. 95,” composed by Ludwig van Beethoven.
McKenna introduced the piece, saying it reflects the emotions Beethoven was feeling at this particular time in his life.
“This piece was written in a very tense moment in Beethoven’s life,” she said. “At the time, he was living in Vienna and Napoleon had just invaded, so a lot of the anger and frustration that he was feeling is demonstrated in this experimental work that plays with frustration and complex harmony.”
The quartet played the fourth movement of the piece, which is title “The Serioso Quartet.”
Performing “String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor,” composed by American Florence Price, was the quartet of William Peltz Smalley, violin; Aubrey Williams, violin; Armando Atanda, viola; and Monica Grady, cello.
“Florence Price was an American composer,” Grady said. “She was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her music has a distinctly American sound.
“I think in this music you will hear a strong connection to spirituals and ragtime music. The fourth movement in particular, is fast – it’s fun – it’s very playful.”
The next quartet – Ella Golden, violin; William Peltz Smalley, violin; Søren Lorentzen, viola; and Rowena Bakka, cello – performed “String Quartet Op. 76, No. 5,” composed by Joseph Haydn.
In his introduction to the piece, Lorentzen shared information about Haydn’s career.
“The first is that he was a court composer,” he said. “He composed a lot of music for different Dukes and Nobles to be played at their fancy dinner parties. The second thing is that Haydn was reputed to have quite the sense of humor. One story goes that he was seen giggling in the back of the concert hall during the premiere of one of his own symphonies. You’ll see both of those aspects in the first movement we play.”
Lorentzen explained that the piece was played at the fancy dinner parties, after the feast, when the partygoers would waltz.
“It starts out fairly normal, but soon a wrench is thrown in the waltz, leaving the dancers a step off while Haydn giggles in the background,” he said. “After that, while the dancers are milling around, the next movement starts with a fanfare calling everyone to attention, after which follows a kind of rustic, rowdy dance, kind of like a hoedown.”
Performing “String Quartet in A Major, Op. 41, No. 3,” composed by Robert Schumann, was the quartet of Evan Llafet, violin; Yin-Chi Lee, violin; Armando Atanda, viola; and Monica Grady, cello.
Lee briefly introduced the piece, calling the movement fast paced with a theme that reappears.
“Also, you can hear the two contrasting characters debating [in the piece],” she said.
The final piece of the evening was performed by a trio – Yin-Chi Lee, violin; Rowena Bakke, cello; and Meihui An, piano.
Bakke introduced the piece titled “Piano Trio in G Minor, Op. 15,” composed by Bedrich Smetana.
“A really important thing to know about this piece is that it’s autobiographical,” she said. “It was dedicated to his daughter, who died at the age of four from tuberculosis. Through all three movements, there is a lot of grief and anger, and there are also beautiful melodies that I think are memories of his daughter.”
The piece goes through many changes – fast-paced and frantic, to melodic and lyrical, back to frantic, then to a funeral dirge.
“I think all the character changes represent Smetana’s struggle to go through the stages of grief and just to accept that his daughter has died, and the grief that comes with that and moving on with his life,” Bakke said. “There’s a lot of intensity in there, and I think it’s a really beautiful piece of music.”
The 11 fellows performed the full selection of pieces Saturday and Sunday at the Garth Newel Music Center, in Warm Springs, Virginia.
Along with the Emerging Artist Fellowship Program, Garth Newel also offers strings and chamber music programs. For more information on the programs and performances at the center, visit garthnewel.org