When Brahms’ powerful B major Piano Trio came to its exciting conclusion last Saturday, the standing-room-only crowd went wild. Granted, this was Montpelier’s Unitarian Church and not Madison Square Garden, but it was Vermont after all.
Yet, folks can be heard anywhere and everywhere saying, “Chamber music is boring!”
One organization that continually annihilates that myth in Vermont is Montpelier’s Capital City Concerts, founded nearly 20 years ago and directed by flutist Karen Kevra. Inspired by the late Louis Moyse (who coached many of the early programs), the series presents concerts, often mixing local and traveling musicians, but of a quality matching those anywhere.
Sunday’s concert proved a good example, with the players’ chemistry in the Brahms becoming electric. Violinist Theodore Arm joined the husband and wife team of cellist Edward Arron and pianist Jeewon Park, all veterans of the series, for an intimacy possible only among old friends. Whether introspective or passionate, it’s intimacy that makes chamber music work.
Arm, the “elder statesman” of the group, played with deep sensitivity and a silky lyrical sound that could deliver excitement when called upon. He was also heard in a performance of the beloved “Meditation” from Jules Massenet’s opera “Thaïs,” joined by Park, that broke hearts.
Arron, one of today’s best young cellists, can be robust or delicate, passionate or intimate, always with a rich sound and deep musicality. He was matched all the way by the warm musicianship of Park, who seems to be able to play anything with musicality and (seemingly) easy virtuosity. They joined in a rich and robust performance of Astor Piazzola’s “Le Grand Tango,” a true masterpiece that is much more than simply a tango.
Kevra was part of the program as well. It was obvious that she was the protégée of Moyse, when she gave Camille Saint-Saëns’ Romance, Op. 37, the rich sound and expressiveness it deserves. Often treated as a trifle, Kevra gave it the full Moyse sound, matched all the way by Park’s expressiveness on piano.
Where folks might get the idea that chamber music is boring was in Friedrich Kuhlau’s Grand Trio, Op. 119. Kevra, Arron and Park likely played it as well as it could be, and there were some nice moments in the slow movement and the finale, but this is decidedly a mediocrity (i.e. boring).
That was made up for by Arron and Park’s exquisite performance of “The Swan” from Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals,” which opened the program. Nothing like dessert first.
But it was the Brahms that made this concert so memorable. In lesser hands, it could have been boring, as the writing is often dense and complex, and the “plot” is episodic. However, Arm, Arron and Park delivered the roller coaster emotions of the work, all the while maintaining the dramatic arc. It was masterful music-making that realized the poetry of Brahms.
In Vermont, Capital City Concerts isn’t an anomaly. Ever since Marlboro Music Festival was founded in 1951, Vermont has been home to some of the finest chamber music in the world. The number of summer music festivals seems endless — I know, I attend as many as I can, and there are other regular season top-notch chamber music opportunities throughout the state.
So, if anyone tells you that chamber music is boring, ask them if they have attended any lately.