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Masterpiece Discovery: Brahms Clarinet Quintet

January 17, 2013 at 9:25 PM

Brahms seems to be in the air!

When we formed the Salastina Music Society, our intention was to explore innovative ways to fully engage and enrich both new and veteran concert-goers. One of the three program formats we've developed is called “Masterpiece Discovery”.

The concept is to give our audiences a guided tour through one of the pillars of the chamber music repertoire. We begin by taking a look at the composer’s life and times, the distinctive qualities of his or her particular genius, and the historical and emotional context of the work we are presenting. We also discuss the idea of what makes something a “masterpiece”. Having to articulate this verbally can be an enlightening process, even if we’re already pretty familiar with the work! It has actually significantly changed the way we might have otherwise interpreted a piece.

Then we demonstrate the points we’ve made through carefully chosen musical examples from each movement. (The audience seems to particularly enjoy when we play a phrase as the composer might have written it, point out subtle genius changes and the different expressive results, then perform the phrase as inked.) After providing all of this context, we perform the work in its entirety. So far we’ve presented the Schubert Cello Quintet, Bach Concerto for Two Violins, and Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in this format. This Friday and Saturday it will be Masterpiece Discovery: Brahms Clarinet Quintet.

In case you’re attending the concert, I don’t want to post any spoilers…but suffice it to say, we will take some issue with the seemingly common idea that there is a sense of resignation in this work. “Autumnal” and “meditative” are also descriptors that are frequently used in connection with the quintet, but on the contrary we find the work to be saturated with an often impetuous, rhapsodic, full, and expansive beauty. At this point in his life, Brahms had nothing to prove; in fact, he came out of retirement just to give voice to a sudden inspiration. Given those circumstances, we can view this as an act of pure expression with no worldly agenda, simply an astounding artist being swept up once more by an impulsive creative surge. This is the distilled essence of Brahms, and it is characterized by endless depth and an overwhelming generosity of sentiment and beauty.

And this is why musical form is so important to him. An artist’s inclination is to share what is happening in his or her inner space in an intelligible way. Brahms’ expanse of emotion needs to be channeled into forms that we can all grasp, so he establishes a simple musical language with a handful of motives and creates an entire masterpiece using that language in a variety of remarkable ways so that we can connect with it on an entirely natural level. That’s as much as I’ll give away for now. Basically, a legendary master returns to the field and demonstrates that his kung fu is even more powerful than before.

This time we’ve asked KUSC host Brian Lauritzen, whom the LA Times recently called “the laid-back evangelist of the classical radio world”, to guide the audience on this exploration. It's always such a fascinating process to approach a work with new colleagues, especially ones as accomplished and brilliant as our guest artists this time.

If you happen to be in the Los Angeles area and are interested in attending one of the concerts, message me and I’ll give you a discount code!

January 18 at 8pm
Zipper Hall at the Colburn School

January 19 at 3pm
Chapel at Mt. St. Mary’s College (Brentwood campus)

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