Horn­ing in:

Albany Times Union (Sunday) - - UNWIND - Joseph Dal­ton

Up­com­ing Trio Val­torna con­cert to in­clude pieces that fea­ture brass.

We’re fed such a steady diet of world pre­mieres in the Cap­i­tal Re­gion – due pri­mar­ily to the Al­bany Sym­phony but also thanks to con­tri­bu­tions from EMPAC and the Mu­si­cians of Ma’al­wyck, among oth­ers – that it’s easy to as­sume when it comes to clas­si­cal mu­sic there’s brand new stuff and re­ally old stuff and noth­ing in be­tween. An al­ter­na­tive to this mind­set will come with Trio Val­torna’s Jan. 26 con­cert at the Emma Wil­lard School in Troy, pre­sented by the Friends of Cham­ber Mu­sic.

The pro­gram will be an­chored by the Brahms Trio in E-flat Ma­jor, Op. 40 for horn, vi­olin and pi­ano and also fea­ture the Ravel Vi­olin Sonata No. 2 in G Ma­jor. Along­side those big names, the third piece might seem a sus­pi­cious out­lier.

Yes, “Twi­light Mu­sic” is by a liv­ing com­poser, John Har­bi­son, who turned 80 last month and whose mu­sic has ap­peared on count­less ASO pro­grams over the years. But “Twi­light Mu­sic” isn’t new out of the box. It dates from 1985 and has been recorded three times, which is a pretty good in­di­ca­tion that the piece has been em­braced by mu­si­cians and au­di­ences alike. Sur­pris­ingly, none of those record­ings is by David Jol­ley, the horn player who com­mis­sioned the piece and who’s made it a sta­ple of Trio Val­torna’s reper­toire.

“Some­times with a mod­ern piece you get a lit­tle tired of it, but this has nice stay­ing power,” says Jol­ley. “It’s had a life be­yond and is con­sid­ered a mas­ter­work by horn play­ers.”

Jol­ley was a mem­ber of the Do­rian Wind Quin­tet when he met Har­bi­son in the early 1980s. The group was on a Euro­pean tour and gave a con­cert at the Amer­i­can Academy in Rome where Har­bi­son was in res­i­dence. Within a year or so Jol­ley had the idea to com­mis­sion a new horn trio and thought of Har­bi­son, who read­ily agreed. Jol­ley men­tioned the project to pi­anist Charles Wadsworth, di­rec­tor of the Cham­ber Mu­sic So­ci­ety of Lin­coln Cen­ter. Wadsworth and his team came on board with fundrais­ing sup­port and also pre­sented the de­but con­cert.

“I’ve al­ways loved John’s mu­sic be­cause it has a won­der­ful com­bi­na­tion of the cere­bral and the emo­tional,” Jol­ley said. “I’ve heard him talk about the Trio over the years and he says it’s like an in­ti­mate con­ver­sa­tion with an un­der­cur­rent of sad­ness.”

Of course, Jol­ley wouldn’t be such a booster of the piece is it weren’t f lu­ent and f lat­ter­ing for the horn.

“John writes splen­didly for all in­stru­ments and re­ally knows what makes the horn sound won­der­ful,” says Jol­ley. “The horn is one of the in­stru­ments most like the hu­man voice. When a com­poser treats the horn like a tenor voice or a con­tralto, then the writ­ing is amaz­ing and suc­cess­ful. When like it’s a close cousin of the trum­pet, it doesn’t work so well.”

Some­one else who got the horn right is Brahms. He wasn’t the first to write for the horn­vi­o­lin-pi­ano com­bi­na­tion, but he set the gold stan­dard in 1865 with his Opus 40. Ac­cord­ing to Jol­ley, pretty much all of the reper­toire fol­lows in the foot­steps of Brahms and most pieces are en­vi­sioned as com­pan­ions to his Trio. Jol­ley cites an “ex­plo­sion” of new horn trios in the 1980s and 1990s from such com­posers as Ligeti, Wuori­nen and Wyner.

Yet the horn that Brahms wrote for is very dif­fer­ent than the in­stru­ment we know to­day. The mod­ern in­stru­ment uses valves, which al­low it to play mu­sic in any key. Though that tech­nol­ogy was be­gin­ning to be used in Brahms’ time, he wrote for the nat­u­ral horn.

“The horn was a very dif­fer­ent in­stru­ment in those days,” says Jol­ley. “It weighed about a third of what it does to­day and had a float­ing ethe­real sound.”

A rec­og­nized master of the in­stru­ment, Jol­ley main­tains a busy teach­ing sched­ule at most of New York City’s top con­ser­va­to­ries. He’s also a mem­ber of Wind­scape, a wood­wind quin­tet that played for the Friends of Cham­ber Mu­sic in 2014. With vi­olin­ist Ida Kavafian and pi­anist Gilles Von­sat­tel, he is a found­ing mem­ber of Trio Val­torna, which was launched in 2011.

Jol­ley says that they’ve per­formed vari­ants of the cur­rent pro­gram many times. “The Brahms is so im­por­tant for this com­bi­na­tion, there’s no way to avoid it. But Har­bi­son wrote some­thing fresh, orig­i­nal and heart­felt.”

Trio Val­torna per­forms 7:30 p.m. Satur­day, Jan. 26, at Kig­gins Hall, Emma Wil­lard School, 285 Pawl­ing Av­enue, Troy. Tick­ets are $15-$25. Call (518) 833-1874 or visit: friend­sofcham­ber­mu­sic. org.

Bat­tenkill Cho­rale founder re­tir­ing

Ru­mors have been go­ing around for at least a year, and now con­duc­tor Janet Mcghee con­firms the sad news. After con­certs on Jan. 19 and 20, she will re­tire as mu­sic di­rec­tor of the Bat­tenkill Cho­rale, the ad­ven­ture­some cho­rus she founded 24 years ago.

“It’s time to make more space in my life for other ad­ven­tures, plus the phys­i­cal de­mands of the job con­tinue to take a toll on me,” says Mcghee. “This has not been an easy de­ci­sion, one I’ve wres­tled with for sev­eral years now.”

In typ­i­cal Mcghee fash­ion, her mu­si­cal farewell won’t rely on sen­ti­men­tal fa­vorites, though there will surely be an emo­tional ef­flu­ence from her de­voted singers.

The pro­gram, ti­tled “Chil­dren of the Holo­caust, Im­mi­grants of Hope,” will fea­ture “An­nelies,” com­poser James Whit­bourn’s set­tings of Anne Frank’s di­ary (in English trans­la­tion), and Ron­ald Per­era’s “The Golden Door,” a can­tata based on in­ter­views with im­mi­grants who passed through El­lis Is­land. In ad­di­tion, the Glens Falls Sym­phony Chil­dren’s Cho­rus will per­form “I Never Saw An­other But­ter­fly” by Charles David­son, with texts by chil­dren at Terezin con­cen­tra­tion camp.

“I think this con­cert, with its theme of lis­ten­ing to the voices of chil­dren and im­mi­grants, couldn’t be more im­por­tant or timely,” says Mcghee.

The 65-voiced Bat­tenkill is plan­ning to carry on. Noah Palmer, al­ready a busy lo­cal choral con­duc­tor, will lead a con­cert in the spring. More guest con­duc­tors are ex­pected through­out the 2019-20 sea­son un­til the right match is found.

The Bat­tenkill Cho­rale per­forms at 3 p.m. Satur­day and Sun­day, Jan. 19 and 20 at Zankel Mu­sic Cen­ter, Skid­more Col­lege, 815 North Broad­way, Saratoga Springs. Tick­ets are $20. Call (518) 692-7458 or email: bat­tenkilltick­[email protected]

Bernard Mindich

Trio Val­torna

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