Review: An Intimate Evening with the Ivy Street Ensemble

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By Theresa Allen, guest blogger

On April 26, 2019, the Ivy Street Ensemble presented a spirited evening of chamber music at the Lone Tree Arts Center. The performance celebrated the music of three, prolific, male composers, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ferde Grofé alongside the works of two modern, female, master composers, Rebecca Clarke and Maria Newman. Members of the Ivy Street Ensemble include Catherine Peterson on flute, Erik Peterson on violin, Phillip Stevens on viola, and Danielle Guideri on cello. All of the performers are also members of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

The concert featured commentary by Betsy Schwarm, a local music historian, who warmly provided context and analysis on each composition for the audience.  For those of us who were new to chamber music, Schwarm said that this form was written to be performed by three or four instruments in small intimate spaces, such as a living or drawing room. She said that in chamber compositions, no one particular instrument is the star, rather the music is an interplay of parts that showcase the strengths of each instrument.

The concert opened with “Serenade for Flute, Violin and Viola Op 25” by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Schwarm explained that Beethoven wrote this in 1801, when he was merely 30 years old. At the time, Beethoven was writing Mozart inspired symphonies and this playful, light, spirited piece reflects that influence. While chamber music may have been originally played in a drawing room, the Lone Tree Arts Center’s stage has wonderful acoustics and this beautiful, elegant music filled the room leaving the audience with the sense of having experienced something quite remarkable.

The second performance, “Two Pieces for Viola and Cello,” by Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) was constructed in two parts, the first a lullaby, a form most of us are familiar with and the second part was a grotesque, which Schwarm described as being quirky and irregular. Stevens and Guideri performed together giving us a beautiful, soft lullaby that was executed with dramatic precision and then a bright, lively, full-sounding piece for the grotesque movement.

The Ivy Street Ensemble then performed Table d’Hote: Humoresque, by Ferde Grofé (1892-1972), which was originally written in 1945. Schwarm explained that the title takes its name from the convivial gathering of people conversing around the main table in a restaurant, and as such, the performance evolves through many moods from cheerful to melancholy and back to lively.  I noticed members of the audience listening so intently and silently that you could hear a pin drop.

We then heard a thrilling rendition of Mozart’s (1756-1791) “Quartet for Flute and Strings in D Minor, Op. 285” which was written for the flute as the lead. The first movement was a lilting serenade that transitioned into a soft, sad mood that allowed the audience to appreciate the mastery and genius of Mozart.

The last work that the Ivy Street Ensemble performed was “Pennipotenti for Flute, Violin, and Viola” composed by Maria Newman (1962). Schwarm noted that Newman is from Los Angeles and is the daughter of composer Alfred Newman as well as related to Randy Newman, the musician. Composed in 2005, the title of this composition means “the power of feathers,” and Newman created in four movements representing birds. The first movement, “The Dipper,” soars bewitchingly light and playful, the second movement “The Hummingbird,” is fast and furious, the third movement, “The Snowy Owl” is quiet with its deeply moving harmonies and textures, and the last movement, “The Falcon” is complex, contemporary, and full of energy and power. Newman’s piece was a splendid ending to a delightful evening of beautiful music sprinkled with charming stories by Betsy Schwarm.

In addition, the Ivy Street Ensemble also generously gave each member of the audience their latest CD, Serenades: Then and Now. If you’d like to learn more about the Ivy Street Ensemble, you can visit their website at http://www.earwarp.com

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