A prime reason why the NOVA Chamber Music Series consistently excels in its unique programming brand is demonstrating how the deep bench of world-class musical talent in Salt Lake City and throughout Utah can tackle just about any curveball a composer could conceive of throwing their way.
For NOVA’s 46th season, the Fry Street Quartet, whose members serve collectively as the music directors for the series, has put more than a few exclamation marks on the art of curating dynamic musical personalities for programming concerts. “There are so many phenomenal musicians in Utah,” Anne Francis Bayless, Fry Street Quartet’s cellist, says. “This season’s repertoire is definitely personality driven and there are plenty of pieces that are excellent fits for the musicians who will be performing them.”
The attention to individual personality also facilitates how NOVA’s musical directors map out the season, thinking about all of the boxes to be checked in curating a repertoire that emphasizes contrasts in styles. “We are not a traditional chamber music series and so we mine deeply and broadly as possible performers and pieces to satisfy our programming objectives,” Robert Waters, the quartet’s first violinist, explains.
In recent years, NOVA’s concerts have testified that a chamber music listener’s diet can be easily diversified, reaching beyond traditional staples such as the string quartet or the Pierrot ensemble.
The 2023-24 season promises to be a thrill ride with many surprising twists and turns. There are two major world premieres: a multimedia composition with dance by Laura Kaminsky and a joint premiere of a string quartet that Utah State University and NOVA commissioned from Gabriela Lena Frank, whose works are among the most widely performed around the country, among contemporary composers. Frank’s work will receive its first performance in Logan at the USU campus. Also, there will be performances of two new commissions, courtesy of the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music’s Composing Earth cohort.
There are rarely heard musical jewels, some of which will be receiving their Utah premiere. The NOVA season encompasses perhaps the largest body of works featuring the broadest spectrum of contemporary composers and chamber music from the 20th and 21st centuries that any professional music programming organization in Utah will offer during the 2023-24 season. The six subscription series concerts at the Libby Gardner Hall at The University of Utah, as well as the pair of gallery series concerts at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, feature the elite of Utah musicians, all of whom have an international reputation.
LIBBY GARDNER SERIES
The Libby Gardner Series opens Sept. 17 with a Hungarian flourish, showing why this Eastern European country of 10 million people holds more than its own for inspiring centuries of composers and musicians.
The concert includes Haydn’s famous Gypsy trio from 1795 (Piano Trio No. 39 for violin, cello and piano), inspired by the musical wizardry of the Magyars. Three 20th century composers from Hungary round out the program. From 1990, György Kurtág’s Hommage a Robert Schumann, scored for viola, clarinet and piano, pays tribute to Schumann’s flair for suites of short fantasy pieces.
For Six Bagatelles, scored for woodwind quintet, György Ligeti transcribed excerpts from a collection of eleven bagatelles he wrote, in which he started the first piece from just a pair of notes from the chromatic scale and then added another pitch, until the last piece incorporated all twelve pitches. Composed during the time when the Communist regime in Hungary censored the composer’s music, this transcribed set is a jaunty and rollicking interpretation of the country’s folk music roots. The pieces are juxtaposed perfectly, with Kurtág’s piece emitting a haunting mood while this early Ligeti piece is cheerful.
The featured work will be Béla Bartók’s Violin Sonata No. 1, composed in 1921, a bona fide example of the acrobatic risks that both violinist and pianist take in traversing the respective range of their instrument as well as the breadth of dissonant chords, only periodically coming together in this mesmerizing rhapsody. Suiting up for this musical beast will be Robert Waters, Fry Street Quartet’s first violinist, and pianist Jason Hardink, who also is a former NOVA music director.
The Fry Street Quartet has been exploring Bartók’s chamber music in recent concerts and it seems fitting that Waters and Hardink are presenting perhaps the composer’s most complex and daring example near the end of that journey.
The musicians for this opener set the heavy hitters standard for the season. They include violinist William Hagen, violist Yuan Qi, pianist Cahill Smith, oboist Zachary Hammond and clarinetist Erin Svoboda-Scott.
The Oct. 22 concert is one of the season’s prime examples of the elegant musical quilt the quartet of music directors has fashioned. There is something very familiar to whet the audience’s appetite: Debussy’s Petite Suite, composed between 1886 and 1889, which has been transcribed endlessly. But, this performance features the composition in its original form of piano four hands. The match is perfect for the pianists scheduled to perform: the husband-and wife team of Jason Hardink and Kimi Kawashima.
Also, Lullaby for the Transient (2018) by Michi Wiancko, will be featured, which is scored for string quartet and clarinet. Wiancko, whom Bayless knows as a friend, was commissioned by the Aizuri Quartet to write the piece, which had premieres at LiveConnections in Philadelphia and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, on consecutive days five years ago. Erin Svoboda-Scott will be guest clarinetist.
Korean composer Isang Yun’s music was featured in an outstanding concert earlier this year at Westminster College. Another Yun work, highlighting his striking imagistic textures for instrumentalists, receives its NOVA premiere: Gasa, from 1963, scored for violin and piano. The featured performers will be violinist Laura Ha and Hardink on piano. Yun’s primary musical concern was the fusion of traditional Korean music through Western avant garde musical techniques. After experimenting with 12-tone techniques Yun developed his own musical personality beginning in his post-serialistic “sound compositions” of the early 1960s. Yun’s music has employed techniques to augment traditional Korean musical sounds, such as glissandi, pizzicati, portamenti, vibrati, and above all a very rich vocabulary of ornaments. Essential is the presence of multiple-melodic lines, which Yun called “Haupttöne” (“central” or “main tones”).
Closing out the concert will be an appearance by the Fremont String Quartet, representing the Utah Symphony’s string musicians. Featured will be a work that is not often performed because of its virtuosic demands, William Walton’s String Quartet in A Minor (1945-46). Madeline Adkins (violin), Claude Halter (violin), Brant Bayless (viola) and Matt Johnson (cello) comprise the quartet.
The Nov. 5 concert will feature the Salt Lake City premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank’s new work that was commissioned by the Utah State University, NOVA and the Fry Street Quartet. USU’s role is important as it supported Frank’s residency at the Logan, Utah campus. Frank’s new work will receive its first performance at USU in Logan. Since the quartet became NOVA’s music directors, Frank’s music has been periodically featured. One of her latest works, an opera El Último Sueño de Frida y Diego (The Last Dream of Frida and Diego), about two of the last century’s most familiar and celebrated artists, received its premiere last fall in San Diego and has been produced at the San Francisco Opera. The New Yorker’s Alex Ross praised the work, which he described as “a magic-realist meditation on the lives and love of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera,” adding that the work “reveals a significant music-theatre talent.” He noted, “Frank, a Berkeley native, has mastered the intricacies of operatic construction on her first attempt, producing a confident, richly imagined score that is free of lapses and longueurs. Let’s hope that more opera commissions come her way.”
The concert also will feature a lovely companion piece from 1912, Joaquin Turina’s Escena Andaluza, op. 7, which will be performed by the Fry Street Quartet, along with violist Brant Bayless. Turina wrote the work, during the time he was studying with French composer Vincent d’Indy while he was trying to replicate the music of the Impressionistic school and soundscapes by composers such as César Franck. But, then Turina was redirected by Spanish composers Isaac Albeniz and Manuel de Falla, who were living in Paris at the same time. Hence, Turina followed suit, capturing the romantic textures of the music one might hear on an evening in Andalusia.
Bayless will also perform in Brahms’ String Quintet in F Major, Op. 88 (1882), a work that the composer considered among his finest pieces of music, as he commented to his longtime friend Clara Schumann.
JAN. 21, 2024
The 2024 portion of the season will open with a Jan. 21 concert featuring the music of Utah composer, Igor Iachimciuc, a native of Moldavia who is on the University of Utah music faculty. Composed in 2020, Four Imagist Songs, scored for soprano, oboe, violin and tuba, is a compilation of songs inspired by poets Ezra Pound, Adelaide Crapsey, John Gould Fletcher and Amy Lowell. In a note, Iachimciuc explained the provenance of this tribute to Imagism, which emphasizes minimalism in finding the proper precision of language. “These features resonate with my personal taste and my music addition to these poems does not necessarily expand the main ideas, but reinforce them,” he explained. “Each of the four movements has an individual harmonic organization, which allowed me to achieve different colors to paint key words. I wrote this short cycle specifically for my New Music Ensemble students. It is a very rare combination of instruments and I could not find any compositions written for it. After spending a lot of time looking, I thought it would be faster to write a piece for this unique group.”
The concert offers a fine sampler of contemporary music. This includes Bright Sheng’s Hot Pepper (2010), scored for violin and marimba. Based on a folk song from China’s Si Chuan province, which is well known for its hot and spicy cuisine, the work was commissioned by Camerata Pacifica and by Bob Peirce as a birthday celebration for his wife, Sharon Harroun Peirce.
Originally slated for a performance last season, Dai Fujikura’s Prism Spectra (2009) will be performed in Libby Gardner Hall, as opposed to the original decision to present it in the UMFA gallery series, mainly because of the unique electronic demands for the piece. Scored for viola and electronics, the work abounds in the musical imagery that mimics the movement of tropical fish in the sea. Fujikura, a Japanese composer who lives in the U.K., explains in a note at his website how he originally had hoped the composition would be set with a virtual string orchestra led by violists. “Sometimes being a composer – a wizard who aims to make an instrumentalist’s dream come true – is challenging,” he wrote. “This virtual string orchestra had some ‘ego’ problems. Sometimes they don’t obey the soloist, sometimes they are late, sometimes they play much louder than they should and sometimes they play out of tune…so in this sense, it is really a virtual orchestra.” The semi-improvised live electronics became the vehicle for rendering the effects of the fish swimming in the sea. Brant Bayless is featured violist.
From 2015, Jonathan Bailey Holland’s His House Is Not of This Land is based on an installation art piece, Cornelia Parker’s Anti-Mass (2005), a suspended mix of wire and burnt wood collected from a Southern Baptist church that was destroyed by arson. Scored for violin, viola, cello, bass and clarinet, the seven-minute piece emulates the call-and-response dynamics of Baptist church services. In an interview published elsewhere, Holland, who is now dean of the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University, said he “listened to recordings of old church services ‘where the congregation was very vocal and people were singing along — not necessarily singing in tune but just responding to feeling the spirit in the moment, church moans and that kind of thing.’”
Rounding out the concert will be Fry Street Quartet’s performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135 (1826). In his excellent guide to chamber music, Melvin Berger notes that Beethoven sent the following note to the publisher: “Here, my dear friend, is my last quartet. It will be the last; and indeed it has given me much trouble. For I could not bring myself to compose the last movement. But as your letters were reminding me of it, in the end I decided to compose it. And that is the reason why I have written the motto: ‘The difficult decision—Must it be? —It must be, it must be!'”
MARCH 10, 2024
The March 10 concert reflects an “embarrassment of riches,” when it comes to programming, as Waters explains. The centerpiece will be the world premiere of Laura Kaminsky’s Desert Portal, a work she completed in 2020. The concerns about climate and the environment anchor the 2020 work, whose premiere was delayed by the pandemic. It is scored for two flutes, clarinet, trombone, cello and two percussion; with projections and dance. Kaminsky also wrote the original music that was featured in the film Rising Tide: The Crossroads Project with the Fry Street Quartet, which NOVA presented as a streaming video on demand option. As The Utah Review noted in 2020, it is a transfixing film that signifies the enlightened intertwining of science, social conscience, music and art that strikes the precise, relevant tone for the challenges of human sustainability and the achievement of human vibrancy.
Also on the program is Jessica Rudman’s The Time Before We Became Strangers (2015), a nine-minute work she wrote for the Ensemble Mise-En. Rudman, who is on the University of Utah music faculty, said she wrote the piece at the same time she was working on a large dance project, influenced by ballet. In a program note, Rudman explained, “To me, the music depicts a vignette: two strangers meet, have an intense relationship, and part ways almost as if their whole involvement was imagined during a brief moment where they pass by one another on the street.” The work is scored for flute, clarinet, horn, trombone, violin and bass.
Scored for solo flute, Shawn E. Okpebholo’s On a Poem by Miho Nonaka: Harvard Square (2011), the concert will feature Jeiran Hasan, who is among the newest additions to the Utah State University music faculty. In a program note, Okpebholo builds the piece on the word “resonance” from Nonaka’s poem. “The word can also mean evoking images, memories, and emotions which she beautifully achieves in Harvard Square,” Okpebholo explained. “This composition is for the virtuoso flutist, utilizing various extended flute techniques. For example, the composition begins with the flute playing bamboo tones, a way for the modern western flute to, by using nontraditional fingerings (which I notated in the score), sound like a shakuhachi flute, a Japanese bamboo flute.”
Pianist Viktor Valkov, who also is on The University of Utah music faculty and has performed before on a NOVA concert, will play Brahms’ Fantasies for Solo Piano, Op. 116 (1892), a collection of seven short pieces that presumably were dedicated to Clara Schumann. She later wrote that the Fantasies are, “a true source of enjoyment, everything, poetry, passion, rapture, intimacy, full of the most marvelous effects […]. In these pieces I at last feel musical life re-enter my soul, and I play once more with true devotion.”
The concert also has a rare treat: Lili Boulanger’s D’un Soir Triste (1918).The sister of Nadia Boulanger, the teacher of many composers, Lili composed this work, whose title translates to “Of A Sad Evening,” shortly before she died at 24. Composed as part of a diptych that included D’un Matin de Printemps (Of A Spring Morning), the work was brought forward by Nadia for others to reconstruct, shortly before her own death in 1979.
APRIL 14, 2024
The April 14 concert, the final of the Libby Gardner series, will feature two new commissioned works, courtesy of Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music’s Composing Earth cohort: Akshaya Avril Tucker, scored for the Fry Street Quartet and tenor Thomas Glenn, who is on the Utah State University faculty, and Aida Shirazi, scored for the quartet and soprano Jin-Xiang Yu. Both works are timed for the month’s celebrations of Earth Day and the intensified focus on changes in the climate and environmental impacts.
Tucker is inspired by the music and dance traditions of South Asia, having trained as a cellist and Odissi dancer from a young age.Originally from western Massachusetts, Tucker is pursuing her doctorate in composition at the University of Southern California, studying with Ted Hearne, Nina Young, and Don Crockett.
A native of Iran, Shirazi focuses on timbre for organizing structures inspired by Persian and English languages and literature. Shirazi’s music has been featured at international festivals and concert series, including venues such as Maison de la Radio France, Radialsystem Berlin, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Kennedy Center.
The nod to vocal soloists continues with Ned Rorem’s Four Santa Fe Songs (1980), scored for mezzo soprano, violin, viola, cello and piano. Rorem set the songs to poems by New Mexico poet Witter Bynner. Aubrey Adams-McMillan is guest vocalist.
As in other concerts of the season, the program closes out the year’s series with another rarely heard jewel: Mel Bonis’ Piano Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 69 (1905), scored for piano, violin, viola and cello.
It is a Late Romantic chamber work. Her full name was Melanie Helene Bonis but she used Mel because she correctly assumed that women composers would not be given the same attention or merit as their male counterparts. At 18, she became the first woman to be admitted to the Paris Conservatory, in 1876. She was prolific, composing more than 300 works, and much of her music was played during that time. But her music became obscure and it was only more than a quarter of a century after her death in 1937 that her oeuvre was resurrected and studied.
A delightful opener, Cellist Walter Haman and pianist Mitchell Giambalvo will perform Beethoven’s Magic Flute Variations, based on Mozart’s famous opera.
The concert puts the final exclamation mark on this personality-driven season, with other heavy hitters including Kathryn Eberle (violin), John T Posadas (viola), Kimi Kawashima (piano) and Haman who will perform on the Bonis piece.
Two Gallery Series concerts are slated in the G.W. Anderson Family Great Hall at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. In the March 24 concert, the Fry Street Quartet continues exploring Benjamin Britten’s chamber music in juxtapositions with various composers. This time, it is Schubert, including a set of lieder for voice and piano and Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 959, one of three such works he composed in the final year of his life, before his death at the age of 31. Meanwhile, the two Britten works are Phantasy Quartet (1932), which he wrote at the age of 19 and it is scored for oboe and string trio, and the lovely Canticle III: Still Falls the Rain (1954), scored for tenor, horn and piano. Among the featured performers are tenor Thomas Glenn and Lauren Hunt on horn.
One of the titans from Utah’s incredible bench of pianists, Frank Weinstock, will perform the Schubert sonata. The work teems with pastoral, playful and nostalgic moments, such as those found in Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. The Andantino movement has the capacity for an ethereal eeriness that only Schubert could have fashioned.
The May 19 concert highlights violinists Alexander Woods and Aubrey Woods, the husband-and-wife duo who are among Utah’s most celebrated musicians. Their performances of Baroque music on period instruments have garnered a strong reputation. Alexander teaches violin, chamber music and directs the baroque ensemble at Brigham Young University. Aubrey is concertmaster of the Ballet West Orchestra, as well as being a frequent substitute with the Utah Symphony.
The concert features selections from the Big Three of the Baroque Era: Bach, Handel and Vivaldi. There also is Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, a 1933 work for piano and violin.
The final work is Kenji Bunch’s Apocryphal Dances, for string quartet and which premiered in 2017. Described as a love letter to the old style dance music composed in the 18th and 19th centuries, the work nevertheless has the contemporary harmonic language that adds the proper bite in this homage to an earlier period.
For tickets and more information, see the NOVA Chamber Music Series website.