Music Review: Creating inviting chamber music concerts
By Jim Lowe
Staff Writer | February 19,2013
MONTPELIER — Scrag Mountain Music has developed its own way of introducing chamber music to folks, and it certainly seems to work, given the response by a capacity crowd Sunday at Lost Nation Theater’s home at City Hall Arts Center.
Audience members were queried as to the images that the music’s themes brought to mind; works were performed one part at a time, then two, etc.; and one unsuspecting young member of the audience was even brought up to control the players by means of a “remote control.”
The result was a deeper understanding of the music and, hopefully, a deeper enjoyment of the work when it was played through — usually expertly.
The Warren-based Scrag Mountain Music is in its third season creating unusual and unusually accessible classical music programs. The founders and artistic directors, soprano Mary Bonhag and bassist Evan Premo — a conservatory-trained wife-and-husband team — invite their musician friends, local and from afar, to join them in concerts around central Vermont.
Joining Bonhag and Premo in Sunday’s concert were Montpelier flutist Karen Kevra and, from New York, violinist Owen Dalby and violist Meena Bhasin. The program, “Classical Folk,” mixed a classic with a folk-inspired classic as well as classically arranged folk, and had already been presented in Northfield and Warren.
The major work, with no folk influences, Mozart’s D Major Flute Quartet, K. 285, was given a beautifully lyrical performance, though not an entirely authentic one. Premo played the cello part on bass, but did it extremely well (it’s actually fairly unobtrusive) and it largely worked.
Kevra proved masterful in this Mozart with her trademark overtly expressive playing, matched all the way by the others. Although they played the slow movement, Adagio, more like the lighter andante, it was beautiful.
Bonhag sang brilliantly and sensitively with her pure and pliable soprano in Three Irish Country Songs arranged for voice and violin by composer Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979). Dalby managed the sometimes virtuosic violin part, which ranged in style from violin obbligato to Irish fiddle, with warmth and flair.
The program’s other major work, Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff’s (1894-1942) Concertino for flute, viola and bass, incorporated folk tunes in a Bartók-like style. The outer movements were driven by a chirping piccolo, played by Kevra, while Bhasin shone in the melancholic inner movements.
It was a beautiful performance of a beautiful work. Between movements, the players explained and demonstrated parts, querying audience members as to their thoughts. Unfortunately this made it impossible to hear the work as a whole. Perhaps it might have been better for the entire discussion to occur before the performance.
Virtuoso bass was heard in two works emanating from collaborations involving bassist Edgar Meyer and fiddler Mark O’Connor. Meyer’s Concert Duo No. 1 (called “Bell/Meyer” for its first performance with violinist Joshua Bell) ranged in style from classical to Appalachian to jazz and blues. Premo not only managed the bass part, he gave it real style, while Dalby matched him.
Bhasin had to play Yo Yo Ma’s complex cello part in O’Connor’s “Appalachian Waltz Suite” and delivered it with aplomb. Dalby had a great time with O’Connor’s virtuoso fiddle part, while Premo certainly enjoyed Meyer’s showy bass line. It was great fun.
Scrag Mountain Music has again proven itself, creating inviting concerts for the newcomer as well as the aficionado. And the ensemble’s “come as you are, pay what you can” policy makes it available to everyone.
Scrag Mountain Music
For information about upcoming Scrag Mountain Music programs, go online to www.scragmountainmusic.org.