Published on October 14, 2019 by CT Examiner | by Cate Hewitt
The 29th season of Musical Masterworks will come to a crescendo with a special celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday, featuring all of Beethoven’s string quartets in two three-day weekends of music March 13-15 and May 1-3.
For the two Beethoven weekends, the series is adding a Friday concert in addition to the usual Saturday and Sunday schedule in order to fit in all 16 of Beethoven’s string quartets, said Ed Arron, cellist and artistic director of Musical Masterworks in a telephone conversation on Oct. 8.
“This body of work is considered to be one of the greatest achievements in western art — it’s a pivotal body of work that took us from the classical era of Hadyn and Mozart. Beethoven single-handedly pushed the envelope into the next realm, breaking down the barriers and structures of classicism,” Arron said. “The music is so inventive. Each work takes on a life of its own. It is actually relevant for someone to attend all of these concerts to listen to arc of his career — it’s a window into a life, into a genius’ brain.”
It’s a pilgrimage to take in all of the quartets, Arron said. The series represents a microcosm of Beethoven’s life and each concert will include an early and late period piece, with a few exceptions.
“Each concert takes on a life of its own and is a small journey within the larger journey,” he said. “It creates a varied program, which is difficult to do with a single composer but Beethoven’s music lends itself to that.
The one constant in the Beethoven series will be the four players, who will sit in the same configuration for all of the concerts, Arron said. The quartet will include Arron, viola player Richard O’Neill and violinists James Ehnes and Amy Schwartz Moretti.
Like the previous groups, the quartet is “formed out of deep friendships,” Arron said.
‘Each one of us has our own very separate career performing solo and chamber concerts around the world and then we come together to play string quartets,” he said. “In this quartet, and all of the groups that I put together for this series, there is first and foremost an incredible mutual respect of the artistry of one another. Everybody brings something so incredibly special to the table and because it’s a chamber collaboration, you can see these high level musical dialogues come to life very vividly in this setting.”
The theme of friendship extends throughout the season, which kicks off on October 19 and 20 with Mozart, Ravel and Schumann pieces played by a trio of musicians who had known one another for years, Arron said.
“I love what deep-thinking and intelligent musicians they are,” said Arron of pianist Gilles Vonsattel, who is a veteran of the masterworks series, and violist Stefan Jackiw, who is debuting with the series. “The season will open with a very warm, genial and inventive Mozart sonata for violin and piano with Stefan and Gilles playing and then I will join them for the Ravel Piano Trio in A Minor and Schumann’s D Minor Trio, which is a personal favorite work of mine.”
Throughout the series, the combination of musical works and the chemistry of the musicians, many of whom are old friends, is what makes the concert series shine, he said. “These are friendships that run very deep, combined with that high level of mutual respect are ingredients for really special interpretations of this music.”
“We have to sort of counterbalance all of these Beethoven quartets that we’re doing with great other masterpieces so Mozart, Ravel and Schumann certainly hold up their end of the deal.” Arron said.
For the Dec. 7 and 8 concert, pianist Adam Niemann, flutist Tara Helen O’Connor and Arron will play pieces by Debussy, Villa-Lobos, Kevin Puts and Farrenc. “We played together a couple of seasons ago and the audience really responded — it was a combination of the instruments and the chemistry of personalities,” Arron said.
On February 8 and 9, Arron said he is bringing back “a couple of tried and true Musical Masterworks favorites,” played by two couples: violinist Tessa Lark and double-bassist Michael Thurber, and Arron and his wife, pianist Jeewon Park. The two duos will play selections by J.S. Bach, John Corgliano, Turino and Schubert as well as original compositions by Lark and Thurber.
“We’re going to go from the Bach piece to some original compositions by Tessa and Michael that are bluegrass-inspired and jazz-inspired because those are worlds they embrace in addition to the core repertory,” Arron said. “The audience will get to see some wonderful and creative compositions and living breathing composers.”
Arron will continue the tradition of introducing the pieces, which he said was started by the “legendary Charles Wadsworth,” a classical pianist and the original artistic director of Musical Masterworks.
Wadsworth’s pre-concert talks broke down barriers and the feeling of pretense that can be associated with classical music, said Arron.
“There’s an intimacy that comes from the hosting of the concerts and he had a way of bringing the audience in, sharing the history of the pieces, why he chose those pieces and what pieces of music mean to him and the players,” Arron said.
Arron said he likes to talk about the creation of the music by a composer and the recreation of that composition in the present, which will be “absolutely unique to the time and space.”
“In the First Congregational Church in Old Lyme, there’s a visceral, palpable, experience of listening to the music and watching the interaction of musicians. It’s so much like a conversation between instrumentalists. You can let this music wash over you and let it do what it will,” he said.
Arron grew up in a musical family. He was born in Cincinnati, moved to New York City when he was 10 years old and later attended the Julliard School. His mother was the executive director of Carnegie Hall and his father played viola at the Metropolitan Opera House.
“I was exposed to some of the greatest music making of the time and was very inspired by the artistry of the late 20th century,” he said. “I got to know the repertory growing up and chamber music became a passion of mine very early on.”
Programming the Musical Masterworks series is an extension of his childhood passion, he said.
“I like to create interesting contexts based on well-known masterpieces and all these hidden treasures of pieces I’ve discovered over the years,” he said.
In addition to curating several concerts series, he performs worldwide and is a faculty member of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Arron and his wife live in Amherst with their six-year-old daughter, Lily.
With every year, the history and tradition of Musical Masterworks has become more significant to Arron.
“It’s my 11th as artistic director and curator of these programs and as the years go by I just treasure this setting more and more. It’s a perfect acoustic, it’s a beautiful space, and we’ve got this audience that is growing but is also filled with people who have come along with this series for all of its years,” he said. “I feel like the setting in Musical Masterworks wonderful for breaking down barriers and letting people enjoy this incredible music.”