Tonal vision The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival
The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival gets underway this week with two go-rounds of its opening program on Sunday, July 16, and Monday, July 17. For this 45th season, which runs through Aug. 21, the enterprise will be following formulas familiar from past years. Most of its programs will adhere to a variety-show format in which variously constructed standing ensembles or ad hoc groups (with a few soloists mixed in) offer a mélange of pieces that are worthy of programming even if they may not have much to do with one another in tandem. As in past seasons, there will be an artist-in-residence whose presence is slight. There will be a handful of piano recitals. There will be appearances by established string quartets who appear most seasons on the festival’s roster. There will be some new works cocommissioned by the festival. There will be a couple of Baroque programs. And there will be a few bigdeal concerts that ought to command special notice.
The big-deal concert that will probably prove most popular with the audience takes place on Aug. 17: Stravinsky’s theater piece The Soldier’s Tale, performed at the Lensic Performing Arts Center (where most of the festival’s events unroll in the latter half of the season, following opening weeks at St. Francis Auditorium). Stravinsky and his literary collaborator wrote this odd but appealing work in Switzerland just as World War I wound down, crafting it as a portable dramatic presentation that could be carted about simply and mounted with minimal expense. (An influenza epidemic prevented the intended tour from taking place, but the work did catch on later.) It tells the story of a soldier who trades his violin to the devil, gains it back, and loses it again, with curious adventures befalling him along the way. The festival has assembled the requisite seven-piece musical ensemble, which will be led by John Storgårds, who will also serve as the featured violinist. The Finnish musician currently serves as principal guest conductor of the BBC Philharmonic and of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa. The work’s narrator will be the well-known character actor Wallace Shawn, and the piece will be presented in a theatrical version designed and directed by Doug Fitch. Filling out the program are duo-piano pieces by Rachmaninoff and Piazzolla, played by the team of Anderson & Roe.
Storgårds also appears as a conducting violinist earlier the same week in a work rarely encountered on the concert stage, Kurt Weill’s Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra. Weill is most widely remembered for the acerbic scores he wrote for the “alternative theatre” of the 1920s and ’30s, and particularly his Brecht collaborations like The Threepenny Opera and Happy End, but as a brilliant pupil of the composer Ferruccio Busoni, he started out as a modernist with more mainstream aspirations. (He wanted to take lessons from Schoenberg but couldn’t afford it.) The Violin Concerto, from 1924, is a restless work that takes a loose approach to tonal structure, a piece we might as well call Expressionist, one that sounds very much of the 1920s yet offers some premonitions of the somehow kinky sound for which Weill would become famous. You can hear it at the Lensic on Aug. 14, surrounded by a work that is its exact contemporary — Poulenc’s Sonata for Horn, Trumpet, and Trombone, also from 1924 — and one of chamber music’s enduring classics, Mendelssohn’s C-minor Piano Trio.
The other concert of unusual interest takes place on July 28 at St. Francis Auditorium — a rare performance of Morton Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2, played by the FLUX Quartet. Let’s cut to the chase: The piece lasts six hours in a single span without any