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Chamber Music Series

LIVE FRIDAY January 29 7pm
STREAM SUNDAY February 7 2pm

2021

First United Methodist Church

610 2nd Avenue North

Viola Power is a reunion with Cascade Quartet former longtime violist Jennifer Smith

Jennifer Smith

Cascade Quartet

Jennifer Smith, principal viola of the String Orchestra of the Rockies, lives in Great Falls where she maintains a large private studio of violin and viola students.

 

For 17 years, she was violist of the Cascade Quartet and principal viola of the Great Falls Symphony. A frequent performer throughout Montana, she is also faculty at the Red Lodge Music Festival, plays in the Big Sky Festival Orchestra, and performs with the Chanticleer Quartet each August in Indiana. 

 

In the summer of 2008, Smith and her husband, writer Scott Friskics, were the recipients of the Artist*Wilderness*Connection program’s artist-in-residency grant. The result is their highly successful interactive performance piece, Crossing Boundaries: Musings on Bach in the Backcountry, which explores the place of wilderness in contemporary society through written word and music for solo viola. 

 

Smith has performed internationally, premiered Dan Bukvich’s Viola Concerto with the Great Falls Symphony in 2003, been published in the American String Teacher magazine, and is a past-president of the Montana chapter of the American String Teachers Association (ASTA). 

 

Smith’s education includes the Cleveland Institute of Music and Yale University, where she served as teaching assistant to both Heidi Castleman and Jesse Levine, respectively. Other formative teachers include Karen Tuttle at the Peabody Conservatory and William Lincer.

 

She is the proud mother of an active nine-year-old son, Colin, whose favorite activities include Taekwondo, Hip-Hop, and Little League Baseball.

The program opens with a pair of short works uniting the talents of two musical giants.

J. S. Bach composed these fugues as part of his monumental two-volume collection of preludes and fugues for keyboard. A fugue is a piece in which different voices share a melody by turns, interweaving in sometimes complex ways, and Bach’s fugues had a profound effect on later composers. A generation after Bach, Wolfgang Mozart arranged some of them for string quartet as part of his study of this older compositional technique. Although Bach’s music was out of style by the time Mozart came around, the younger composer revered him, famously saying, “Bach is the father. We are the children!”

 

This is a sentiment with which Anton Bruckner, whose quintet makes up the rest of the program, and who was himself a master of fugal improvisation at the organ, was in complete accord.

Viola Quintet by Anton Bruckner

Like his symphonies, this work is majestic and monumental. It’s been called “one of the most idiosyncratic but deepest chamber works since Beethoven.”

Anton Bruckner was born in Ansfelden, a small burg in the Austrian Alps, and though his music is sublime, in his dealings with others he remained all his life an awkward, unworldly country bumpkin. The title of his standard biography captures this in two words: Rustic Genius.

 

Stories about Bruckner's lack of sophistication abound.  The most renowned conductor of the day, and one of the few who could see past Bruckner's gaucheness to appreciate his true gifts, was Hans Richter. After a rehearsal which Richter led for the premiere of his Fourth Symphony, a pleased Bruckner tipped him an Austrian thaler –– about a quarter.

 

Bruckner's fame rests on his nine mature symphonies. They are majestic, monumental, solemn, reverent, and ever reaching for the heavens. If this sounds more like the description of a cathedral than a symphony, perhaps that is because Bruckner, an extremely devout Catholic, spent most of his life as an organist performing in Gothic cathedrals. The String Quintet –– his only chamber work –– has the same majesty and power. 

 

Like all Bruckner's symphonies, the Quintet opens with a sense of breadth, solidity, and deliberation. This is conveyed right from the start with the sighing melody which the violin plays over a pedal tone in the cello and rich harmonies in the other voices. The second movement was at first thought to be unplayable, so Bruckner, often too ready to bow to figures of authority who did not deserve his humility, substituted an easier movement in its place. Nowadays the Quintet is invariably played with Bruckner's original quirky (and admittedly difficult) Scherzo.

 

It was in his slow movements that Bruckner went deepest, and the Adagio of this Quintet is certainly the heart of the work. It is full of poignant Wagnerian harmonies and long-spun, deliciously slow melodies that are full of yearning for the divine. At times it positively soars. The Finale begins almost sprightly by Bruckner's standards. Later the viola introduces a lovely ländler –– a kind of simple Alpine song –– and it is this tune that gets the most play in the movement. Cyclic references to the other movements appear in the course of this finale, and the work ends with the first violin soaring once again over a solid pedal in the cello. It is an immensely satisfying conclusion, although there is nothing flashy about it. It is the steeple of the cathedral that Bruckner builds for us.

 

– Notes by Thad Suits

Anton Bruckner

1824 - 1896

PROGRAM NOTES

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Chamber Music Series