As seen in The Day, October 4, 2018
It may seem a thousand textural and aesthetic light years from the foul lines and sculpted green fields of a baseball diamond to the hushed acoustics and tuxedo’d finery of a symphony performance.
Not so much, though, if you’re Edward Arron, the distinguished cellist and artistic director of the Musical Masterworks chamber music series in Old Lyme. Arron, you see, is a huge baseball fan — go Cincinnati Reds! — and sees a happy metaphor linking baseball’s Opening Day with this weekend’s inaugural Musical Masterworks concerts for the 2018-19 season, taking place as always in the First Congregational Church.
“I love baseball,” Arron says — acknowledging devotion despite a few decades of “frustration and heartbreak” as a Reds fan — “and there’s such a feeling of anticipation and excitement as Opening Day approaches. There’s that sense of fresh possibility, and it’s the same way with a new concert season.”
It’s also quite notable that this 28th Musical Masterworks season will be the 10th under Arron’s stewardship — an anniversary that makes him happy in a reflective fashion.
“As a chamber musician, I don’t like personal fanfare,” says Arron; indeed, anyone who speaks with him on even a casual basis knows he’s as self-effacing as he is perpetually cheerful. “But 10 years provides a nice point of context for all the programs I’ve had the pleasure of conceptualizing and all the wonderful musicians and audiences who’ve taken part. It’s fun to think back on the highlights, but it’s also helpful going forward to try to do things we’ve never done before.”
This weekend’s program is a perfect representation of what Arron’s describing. It opens with Dvořák’s Silent Woods for Cello and Piano, Opus 68, No. 5, then uses Rebecca Clarke’s Dumka for Violin, Viola and Piano as a segue to another Dvořák work, the Piano Quartet in D Major, Opus 23. The presentation closes with Fauré’s Piano Quartet in C minor, Opus 15.
“As a starting point for the season, Dvořák is very close to my heart, and we’re going to set the mood and tone for the concert with Silent Woods,” Arron explains. “Clarke’s composition follows, which is very clearly influenced by Dvořák, and you’ll hear how she takes it forward. Then we’ll play his first piano quartet, with its incredible intimacy and a bohemian folk element to it, but it’s also a work not many fans or for that matter musicians are particularly familiar with.
“In this way, the audience will have some expectations and will recognize some familiar musical language, but ultimately, over the course of the concert, the music will take them places they’ve never been. This is part of what I mean by combining the familiar and unfamiliar.”
Closing the performance with the Fauré, Arron says, is perfect because, while it’s “one of those old warhorses people love, and it was composed near in time to the Quartet, it also displays a very different type of romanticism and so there’s a continuity but also a contrast.”
Each of the five programs carefully and creatively embraces Arron’s old/new philosophy, but it’s also important to note the entire season is part of an overall musical journey; while each concert certainly works as a meaningful standalone experience, Arron likes to contemplate a longer-term musical thread — in the sense that programming is an expression unto itself. And one aspect of that, certainly, is the change of seasons and how well the gorgeous sight lines and pristine acoustics of the First Congregational Church play into the whole scenario.
Arron says, “I find myself, when I’m trying to write a blurb to send out before a concert, incorporating into that paragraph something about how that program will play into the season — warm and cozy in the winter or fresh and bracing in spring or, again with the Dvořák, very autumnal and suggesting the foliage and rich colors. Performance and composing are art forms, but programming is also an art form rather than a means to an end. And atmosphere and environment of Old Lyme and the First Congregational Church make such a significant difference.”
The other programs for the 2018-19 Musical Masterworks season, along with commentary from Arron.
Dec. 1-2 — Schubert’s Winterreise, D. 911
Performers: Baritone Randall Scarlata and pianist Jeewon Park
Arron: “This is an incredible song cycle for baritone and piano; transcendent and sublime. This is one of two pieces Schubert composed in his last year and there seems to be very much a feeling that he had one foot in the afterlife.”
Feb. 10-11 — Barrière’s Sonata in G Major for Two Cellos; Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht for String Sextet, Opus 4; Brahms’ String Sextet in G Major, Opus 36
Musicians: violinists Jennifer Frautschi and Jesse Mills; violists Ettore Causa and Nicholas Cords; cellists Arron and Wilhelmina Smith
Arron: “It will be a joy to play a string sextets program with especially dear friends. It’s an appropriately uber-romantic program for Valentine’s Day, and both composers were wringing the last drops out of the Romantic era.”
March 30-31 — J.S. Bach’s Prelude, Fugue and Allegro for Solo Guitar, BWV 998; Villa-Lobos’ ‘Aria’ from Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5 for Cello and Guitar; de Falla’s Suite Popular Española for Violin and Guitar’ Gnattali’s Sonata for Cello and Guitar; Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango for Violin and Guitar
Musicians: guitarist Colin Davin; violinist Tessa Lark; cellist Arron
Arron: “Yes, we’re actually having guitar! There are so many great chamber music pieces with guitar but I’m not sure they’re played as much as they should be. Colin is a wonderful player. I kept imagining the beauty of his sound in that church, and to bring back Tessa — she’s a big Masterworks favorite — to explore that instrumentation made it easy; that particular program just exploded to life.”
May 4-5 — Haydn’s Piano Trio in C Major, Hob. XV:27; Prokofiev’s Sonata in f minor for Violin and Piano, Opus 80; Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-flat Major, D. 929
Musicians: pianist Gloria Chien; Arron; violinist Soovin Kim
Arron: “Well, it’s a fun program to bring it all to a close. Soovin is another fan favorite and longtime contributor, and his wife, Gloria Chien, is a wonderful player and they have such empathy. Plus, I threw in another Schubert. I love him, too. I’m 10 years in (at Masterworks) and I realize there’s no limit to the number of programs I can put together. It’s the kid in a candy store idea. Or the first day of baseball season.”