Spring 2022

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A Mirror of Starlight

Kenji Bunch (b. 1973) | Diddley Bow

Julia Wolfe (b. 1958)  | The Four Marys

 

Evan Ziporyn (b.1959)  | Be-In for String Quartet and Bass Clarinet in B-flat

 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756—1791) | Clarinet Quintet in A-major, K581         

I. Allegro        

II. Larghetto 

III. Menuetto 

IV. Allegretto

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Sasha Callahan and Megumi Stohs Lewis, violins

Alexander Vavilov, viola

Leo Eguchi, cello​

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Our first piece, Diddley Bow, was a seed planted in the fertile soils of the American South. What exactly is a ‘diddley bow’?  It’s a simple one string folk guitar, usually a homemade cigar-box type construction, played with a glass bottle as a slide. As humble as its constituent parts, this instrument is the foundation of what we think of as the crying blues guitar sound - think Stevie Ray Vaughn or B.B. King. In the hands of Kenji Bunch, the sound of the diddley bow blooms into a perfect little gem of a violin duo, in the mold of Bela Bartók’s famous forty duets (based on the music of Bartók’s own Eastern European roots). To wit, this duo is one installment of a larger project to create an American companion to the famous Bartók set.

 

Julia Wolfe’s Four Marys is another work which owes its genesis to an American folk instrument. In her own words: Four Marys was inspired by my love for the mountain dulcimer, a 3-stringed lap instrument from Appalachia. It is the one string instrument I play.The material is derived from gestures that are characteristic of dulcimer playing – the crying quality of the sliding melody string, the mesmerizing strumming of the drone strings. It is as if I have put a magnifying glass on these sounds to look at them up close and big.The title Four Marys is the name of a Scottish folk tune that I heard Jean Richie sing and play on the mountain dulcimer. — Julia Wolfe

 

Be-In, by featured composer and performer Evan Ziporyn, is another work inspired by uniquely American traditions and sounds, this time blending the hippie movement of the 1960’s with references to the influential American minimalist work, In C, by Terry Riley. The result is groovy, with fun swirls of color and a dark, throbbing grittiness.

 

Whereas the composers on the first part of our program lift our everyday experiences up out from the earth, Mozart seems to use the language of heaven to sing the blues. The late 1780’s was for him a time of both incredible difficulty and inspiration. He had already ceased to make public concert appearances, which combined with economic strain of the Austro-Turkish on the patron class, caused great hardship. Add to that what seems to have been an acute depression, and it boggles the mind what he was able to produce, including his opera Così fan tutte, his final three symphonies, and this incredible Clarinet Quintet.

 

The work opens with a transcendent lyricism that puts in motion the character of the whole work. Set in the key of A Major, the strings ring with a warmth that rides on air. The movement is peppered with passages of incredible virtuosity, passing throughout the ensemble, and finally closes with joyous outburst. The middle movements (the second slow and the third a minuet), continue the balance of beautiful moving lines and energetic verve. The Minuet is notable in that it is constructed with an extra trio section - meaning it follows an ABACA form instead of the usual ABA. In the final movement, Mozart passes up the traditional Rondo form for something a little more terrestrial, a theme and set of variations. Some composers looked down on variation sets as simple, perhaps even student efforts, and here the simplicity might ring partly true. Our theme is brightly chirpy, and in uncharacteristically regular phrase lengths, yet what Mozart evolves from it is anything but square. He unfolds a tale of clever twists and turns, one which ultimately races to a seemingly inevitable happy ending.

 

~ Leo Eguchi