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From the Berkshires to Cape Cod

A collage of scenery, composers, and soloists
Beth Orkin/Library of Congress, John Ferrillo, courtesy of the artists, Wikimedia Commons
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Clockwise from top left: Leonard Bernstein, Tanglewood Lawn, Jon Manasse and Jon Nakamastu, Nauset Light on Cape Cod

Sunday, May 22, 2022
7:00 PM

WCRB In Concert features a Leonard Bernstein world premiere at Tanglewood and seaside chamber music from Cape Cod.

Aaron COPLAND Elegies
Leonard BERNSTEIN Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano
BERNSTEIN Music for String Quartet (world premiere)

Natalie Rose Kress, violin
Lucia Lin, violin
Daniel Kim, viola
Ronald Feldman, cello
Melvin Chen, piano

Concert recorded at the Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood on November 6, 2021

Johannes BRAHMS Clarinet Sonata in F minor: II. Andante un poco adagio
Gerald FINZI Five Bagatelles
Frederic CHOPIN Fantaisie in F minor
Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR Clarinet Quintet in F-sharp minor

Jon Manasse, clarinet
Jon Nakamatsu, piano
Escher Quartet

Concert recorded at the Cotuit Center for the Arts on August 3, 2021 (Coleridge-Taylor recorded at the Wellfleet First Congregational Church on August 6, 2021)

This concert is no longer available on demand.

Interviews and More from Tanglewood
Interview and More from Cape Cod
Interviews and More from Tanglewood

Learn more about events at the Stockbridge Library, Museum, and Archives.

Hear more about the world premiere of Bernstein's Music for String Quartet with Arun Rath and GBH News.

Hear violinist Natalie Rose Kress and cellist Ronald Feldman on performing the world premiere of Bernstein's Music for String Quartet:

211106 Stockbridge Library - Bernstein premiere interview - edit.mp3

Transcript:

Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath from WCRB with Ronald Feldman and Natalie Rose Kress, two members of the quartet that's giving a world premiere of a piece that has, well, been obscured for decades. So thanks for being with me. Ronald, you were a member of the Boston Symphony from a pretty young age and overlapped for many years, I think, with the time that Bernstein conducted the BSO quite frequently.

Ronald Feldman Absolutely. It was always a pleasure. For me, he created a sense in the orchestra of, you have to believe everything that he had to say, regardless of whether you agreed with it or not. I mean, he was just an amazing musician who had different ideas about how things should go in very traditional music. And you just wanted to believe.

Brian McCreath So it was successful? He was successful in making you believe that what he said was the right way to go?

Ronald Feldman Well, it was successful for me when I was younger. As I got older and a little bit more mature and had a little bit more experience, then I started to question some of the things that he decided to do during rehearsals.

Brian McCreath So you're in the cello section, and what's an example of a time when Bernstein might have said something, and you sort of had to just get on board and go with it?

Ronald Feldman Well, he would ask us sometimes to do things on the strings that were not appropriate for what we really could do. And so he would demand that we would do certain colors or different articulations or switches from a pizzicato [plucked] to an arco [bowed], things that really did not make sense for us. But we would try it, for sure, for sure.

Brian McCreath Okay. Natalie, you are of an age that you didn't have any personal experience with Bernstein. He was gone by the time you were really into your professional life. How would you characterize the sort of received wisdom about Bernstein that older generations have passed along to you? And what were your impressions even as you were growing as a musician about his music in general?

Natalie Rose Kress Well, my impression of Bernstein is just that he had a lot of passion and joy being a musician. And his spirit, I think, had a huge impact on a lot of people. And I've never seen anyone quite like him. You know, I've watched videos and heard a lot about him. And yeah, to me that that's what comes through in his music, too, his spirit and his joy.

Brian McCreath Yeah. What other music? What other pieces by Bernstein have you played in the past?

Natalie Rose Kress Well, I definitely love his West Side Story Suite. You know, I grew up listening to the Joshua Bell arrangement of it, and I definitely loved that New York City sound that he was able to capture. And, of course, the Bernstein Serenade for Violin. I heard the Midori YouTube videos, and of course, that epic YouTube video when Midori's string broke at Tanglewood and Bernstein was conducting and she had to grab the concertmaster's violin. And then the string broke again. And, you know, that was an epic, epic YouTube video for me growing up.

Brian McCreath Yeah, I know, it's a sort of legendary event at Tanglewood. It's gone down in history. What were your thoughts when you first heard that there was this quartet, and it had never been played before, and you would have the chance to play in the world premiere of it?

Natalie Rose Kress Yeah, I couldn't believe it. Once in a lifetime opportunity for me. And I think for anybody to have an opportunity like this. It's really incredible. Yeah. I mean to premiere any piece, but to premiere a piece after someone has already passed away and someone so great and famous as Bernstein, it's incredible.

Brian McCreath And Ronald, how about you? What was going through your mind when, I suppose it was probably John that mentioned this piece to you, John Perkel, who organized this concert. And, correct me if I'm wrong, though, but what were your thoughts when he mentioned this piece to you?

Ronald Feldman Well, it was hard to believe that there was a piece by Bernstein that had never been performed. And so I was thrilled to take a look at it. And we found that there are a lot of elements of Bernstein's rhythmic interest in all of the pieces that he composed. I mean, some of what we heard in this piece, by an 18-year-old, was very similar to what we would expect in some of his latter works.

Brian McCreath Well, tell me about that, because you've not only played, you know, with Bernstein as a conductor, but you've no doubt played tons of his music, like Natalie, as you just mentioned. And so when you confront this piece, do you see things of Bernstein in the String Quartet that was written by an 18-year-old? Are there elements that you can say, "Oh, yeah, right. This is kind of the forebear or the prelude to what came later."

Ronald Feldman Well, there's a lot of rhythmic interest, as one would expect with a Bernstein composition, and I think that stood out. There's a lot of variety in articulation, some of the harmonies. You can't really find some of the harmonies from his latter works, but they're there. You hear these tritones [an interval used throughout West Side Story] every once in a while. They just pop up out of nowhere and you think, "Oh, that sounds like something that Bernstein wrote, you know?" So, you know, it's there, a lot of what developed, you know, from that 18-year-old.

Brian McCreath You work regularly with young musicians of the age Bernstein was when he wrote this. And I wonder, if this piece had been presented to you by an 18-year-old whom you didn't know, didn't have a name attached to it. What would your thoughts be about it?

Ronald Feldman I think it was a very young piece that someone was struggling to find a voice. And I think that's what every composer is looking to accomplish. You know, as they write music, they have to find their voice. And this was a process for him. I don't think he was there yet, of course. But, you know, there are elements that sort of give you that information, that rhythm was important to him, and variety was important to him. And even for an 18-year-old to have something like this, immature as it was, it still has a feeling of what will be happening later, you know, in some of his oeuvre.

Brian McCreath Natalie, as you went through those different pieces that you've played by Bernstein, I think about how, in rehearsal, you and the ensemble had some decisions to make about how you would do certain things. They're pretty subtle, but significant in the end, about timing, of how transitions work, about the way particular notes are shaped. How much does your experience with Bernstein's music in other pieces sort of shape your approach to those questions and how you work them out with the ensemble?

Natalie Rose Kress Well, subtle is a good way to describe it because actually working on these pieces and also hearing a lot of his works that he wrote later, I think a subtle part of being a good composer is somehow being able to have very convincing imagery. And you can see hints of that in these pieces where he's able to create something very convincing for a moment. And you see him sort of experimenting with sounds and imagery and character. And I think he was very successful. In a few moments in this quartet. You see him working things out, and really fun and silly moments with really dark and and intense moments and even actual imagery of the beginning of the quartet, to me, sounds exactly like a train chugging along. And then you hear these like tritone train whistles coming out. And the more we worked on it, the more I think those things started to come out to us. And it's not just him putting notes on a page for an exercise for his teacher or whatever, but actually trying to find a convincing moment and create it. And I think it came through.

Brian McCreath That's a really interesting answer, the way that you characterize particular parts of the music is convincing, which, as a listener, we don't necessarily think of that because it's all convincing to us. We're just there. We're enjoying your playing. But I guess that that's part of how you draw a line from those mature pieces like West Side or Serenade back to this piece. You're looking for the convincing moments that you've very much been convinced by in those those later works, and now you're looking for them in this other work. Is that kind of the right picture that I'm getting in my mind?

Natalie Rose Kress For sure. I think we take it for granted when something is convincing, but I think that's where the mastery comes from, is someone actually being able to create that moment that is convincing and just to see the few moments that he did successfully. It shows where he's going to go.

Brian McCreath And that kind of brings me back to the way that you talk about Bernstein as a conductor of the BSO. He was convincing you guys on a regular basis, even when it might have gone against some of your other judgments. But does that kind of connect, that there are these convincing moments in the Quartet that are so strong in their character that you kind of have to buy into them, even if they're fleeting? I don't know, Ronald.

Ronald Feldman Well, what's I think interesting about the way he would work with the Boston Symphony, he was always finding things to do that you didn't see in your music. So I think that's the same way we're thinking about the quartet. Yes, he writes all the tempos, he writes the articulations, but he doesn't give you a lot of the nuances that are possible. And when he was conducting, that's what you would expect to see. You know, he would go beyond what was in your music, but you wanted to believe. So I think that we're able to, with the quartet, follow a lot of the instructions in the Quartet, but also move in a direction where, if it feels like a contour needs to be changed or dynamic needs to be changed, an accelerando added, there are all sorts of things that we're getting more comfortable making decisions about that were not necessarily in the music, but based on the way he worked, you know, with us.

Brian McCreath That's fascinating, too, your own personal experience with Bernstein and his approach to music by other composers gives you the confidence to work with his music in kind of the same way, that you're sort of taking the Bernstein approach to Bernstein's music.

Ronald Feldman Exactly. And I think that he'd be pleased to hear that we're making decisions based on the information that he gives us in the pieces for sure.

Brian McCreath Very nice. Ronald Feldman and Natalie Rose Kress, thanks so much. It's really exciting to hear this piece and I'm so glad that you're doing it. Thank you.

Ronald Feldman Pleasure. Thank you, Brian.

Natalie Rose Kress Thank you.

Interview and More from Cape Cod

Learn more about the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival.

Jon Manasse and Jon Nakamatsu share thoughts and comments on several highlights of the 2021 Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival (transcript below):

210806 CCCMF Jon and Jon Interview.mp3

Transcript:

Alan McLellan I'm Alan McLellan for WCRB In Concert, here with clarinetist Jon Manasse and pianist Jon Nakamatsu, co-artistic directors of the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival. You guys both have outstanding careers as soloists, and you've been co-directors of the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival for 15 years. Is that right?

Jon Nakamatsu Yeah, I think so.

Jon Manasse It's been...

Jon Nakamatsu It's a while.

Jon Manasse It's been 15 years and we're just about to hit our stride.

Alan McLellan Can you talk about what you've learned over that time?

Jon Manasse We've learned quite a bit. I mean, it's interesting coming in at the beginning and remembering those years and learning, really, what goes into, well, just getting two people on stage to play a concert and the collaboration that has to happen from the board, from the staff, from the administrators, from all the volunteers. It's enormous. And what we have learned and what we have really tried to promote throughout this is a sense of ownership that the community has of this festival. And it's a particular joy for us to see that come to fruition and to grow.

Jon Nakamatsu For me, I remember coming into this never having done anything like it before and and thinking how different it was to be on the other side of the table. You know, I'm always the guest anywhere I go and I'm the person who's being taken care of. And now we're in the roles of the caretaker. So that was really fun. You know, I remember sitting in my first concert where I wasn't playing actually, and thinking almost like a parent, you know, like, wow, we made this. This was amazing, you know? And we're not doing anything. We're not playing. We don't have to be scared. So it is just as great as any other part of our career, and we're just so thankful that we get to come do this every year or so.

Alan McLellan So, you've got five different programs on the festival this season, and it's just a fraction of the potpourri that you're used to having in the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival. So how hard was it to settle on the programs that you have, the five?

Jon Manasse You know, the good thing about having the two of us is we really do play off of each other, not just on stage, but really behind the scenes. And we bounce around these ideas. And I feel that we both come up with good ideas. But the fact that we have each other to sort of steer or guide or add a little nuance to a decision really, really helps. For example, the very first concert back, we wanted it to be just representative of everything everyone's heard and everything we've done.

Jon Nakamatsu So it was a recital, more or less. It was just the two of us. And that was, you know, we started with a work that we had personally a great connection to because it was really one of the first pieces that we had ever played together as a duo. And then we went into something brand new for both of us that we had never played together before, and that was a lot of fun.

Alan McLellan Can you talk about the significance of that First Sonata of Brahms? I mean, for you as a duo, as you're saying, it's been an amazing kind of part of your career. But did it also mean something for the return to live concerts after this hiatus?

Jon Manasse Yeah, Alan, actually, your question and your, sort of the vein in which you approached the question just gave me chills because, really, our very first recording together was the Brahms Sonatas. And that was really our springboard and everyone's reaction to it was so favorable, and we're so blessed to have that. And we thought, let's give a sampling of that. And the second movement of the Brahms F minor is what we decided to open with, not the whole sonata, but just that very poignant, introspective, but powerful, powerfully Romantic piece of music. And it was beyond gratifying to share that after all of this time of no one experiencing live music.

Alan McLellan Yeah, it's amazing. And it's a wonderful, kind of introspective movement, and that kind of reflects the way we've all been feeling this last year. And that's a kind of a nice introduction to the way to come out of it. And then you got into the Finzi Bagatelles after that, which is just charming stuff. I love that.

Jon Manasse Right. Well, we had to do something. Everybody was crying, so we had to cheer them up. So, the Finzi, Jon Nakamatsu pointed out very interestingly, share with how that starts.

Jon Nakamatsu It starts off with a C major scale in the piano. You know, how basic can you be? So, if you're talking about new beginnings, it's, you know, kind of hearkens back to our past as students, but also just the the discovery of the scale. You know, and I almost found it comical whenever I had to start that because, especially after the Brahms, you know, you think it's such a deep and meaningful piece. And then the first thing goes [sings].

Jon Manasse Well, but it actually works. It was sunshine.

Jon Nakamatsu It'll work. It will work. We will make it work.

Alan McLellan And then the Chopin F minor Fantasy follows, what a gorgeous piece.

Jon Nakamatsu You know, Chopin wrote, of course, many large scale works. And some of them he didn't consider, or even history didn't consider maybe his best. But this is one of, I think, his best. It's a fantasy. But, you know, and the form may be slightly different, but it really is a giant A-B-A form with an introduction and really every emotion in the book. And I think that, in times like these, when we are really reflecting on just what has happened to the planet and all of us, these kinds of pieces that really go through a maze of feelings and just structure make us mindful of what we are. And I think it's just such moving music from beginning to end, and it has a lot of notes, too. [laughs] I'm always reminded, you know.

Alan McLellan Well the Weber Grand Duo Concertante is just a panic. I mean, a panic as an enjoyable, wonderful, a good time of virtuosity.

Jon Manasse It sure is that, you know, it's sort of the perfect piece. It's like a mini opera. Alan. You know, he has a full blown aria in the second movement, and he has all the color and characters, and the virtuosity, that he composed [in] that piece for himself and his clarinet muse Heinrich Baermann. And of course, they toured together with it. It's reported that Weber had fingers at least eight times longer than Jon Nakamatsu's. [laughs] So I don't know how Jon does it, but it is phenomenal.

Alan McLellan What a great program. And then the next program is the Escher Quartet. Tell me how you got connected with that quartet?

Jon Nakamatsu Well, we've worked with the Escher a lot, even separately. You know, I've done tours with them, and we've gone all over and played a lot of repertoire. And I don't remember even how we were put together in the first place, except that we knew of them and wanted them here. And I can't remember which preceded what, but they've been our frequent guests and favorite guests, so it was kind of a no brainer when we were putting together a comeback season, so to speak. But, you know, one of many revered and beloved quartets would return. And so in this case, it happened to be the Escher. And we are so glad because, you know, I thought I had played the Schumann with them before, but now I'm not so sure. I'll have to wait and ask. But we actually did this together because...

Alan McLellan Yeah, this program is a great balance. You know, the Coleridge-Taylor, I find him such a fascinating character, English composer of African descent. Can you talk about him a little bit?

Jon Manasse Absolutely. You know, I was thinking of a word. How do we get with the Escher? The Yiddish word is "bashert." It was just meant to be. They're just, it's a great match. We love playing with them. They love coming here. And you mentioned the Coleridge-Taylor. It will be their first time playing this piece, their first performance of it. And as you mention, he's of Anglo-African descent. The guy only lived 37 years. He was deeply, deeply inspired by Brahms. He heard Brahms's Clarinet Quintet at the Royal Academy, I guess it was around 1891. And just a few years later, he came out with this piece, actually at the behest and maybe a dare from his teacher, Charles Stanford, at the Royal Academy, who said, "I don't think anybody could write this form ever again without Brahms on their shoulders," basically, with that influence. And in that piece, Coleridge-Taylor really pays homage not just to Brahms, but Dvorak. When Coleridge-Taylor had tours here in the United States, successful tours, he was likened to Mahler. He really became very prolific. And the piece is absolutely powerful and I'm so glad it's being done here and being done more and more.

Alan McLellan Yeah, that's great. It's such a great piece and it's really fun that we have that on there. And then and then we were talking, Jon Nakamatsu was talking a little bit about the Schumann Quintet. What a great piece on any program.

Jon Nakamatsu Yeah, that's, you know, it's a staple, a chestnut, the evergreen hit. But, you know, there's a reason for it. And when you think that maybe, when it came out, it was as popular as it is today. You know, it was the first of its kind. And it's an amazing creation and a sprawling, large form from a composer who really, I think, thought of himself as a composer of small forms. But it's very successful, even in terms of a public piece, because of the unity really from the beginning to the end. There's even the cyclical theme of the first movement that comes back in the end of the last movement and sort of ties everything together. But, you know, within it you have every possible color and shade of song and lyricism and the excitement of movements like the third movement, for example. So it's a piece that every audience just loves over and over.

Alan McLellan Gorgeous. Yeah, it's a whole it's a concert of lyricism, I think. We have to wrap this up, but I'm going to ask you about the Imani Winds. They've been featured at the Cape Cod Festival many times. Can you talk about your relationship with them?

Jon Manasse Well, he's had a wonderful relationship, you've toured with them.

Jon Nakamatsu Well, I feel lucky because, you know, I like the Escher, I got to tour with the Imani many times over different seasons. And we've played a lot of different repertoire. And I've gotten to know them not only as musicians, but as friends and colleagues. And that's been a gift. And then bringing them here was kind of a no brainer for us in the beginning. And they've come also several times because they have a following here and people just love what is still in the modern chamber music hall unusual repertoire. I mean, most people that you ask who have subscriptions to chamber music series do so because of strings. But we forget that there are people who play the clarinet and other beautiful instruments and even play them all together. And they don't blend in the same way a quartet, a string quartet, would blend. And to me, that's the beauty of hearing this ensemble. It's not going to be the kind of homogenous whole that you have with a string ensemble. And then the repertoire is as varied and vast as it is in our programs this year.

Jon Manasse He's been very generous in his description of the woodwind quintet because last time he told me it's sort of the exhaust pipe of classical music. [laughs]

Jon Nakamatsu No, I didn't say that. [laughs] I'm going to get in trouble.

Alan McLellan That's great. And also, I should ask you about pianist Brian Zeger, who was artistic director there. I didn't realize that.

Jon Manasse Absolutely. I think it was right after Sam Sanders, who was the founder. I was lucky enough to be a student of Sam Sanders at Juilliard, in his chamber music class. And I got to know Brian through Sam. And for us to... This is part of the cohesion that we love, frequently, the Borromeo [Quartet] comes here. This is actually the first year in many that they have not. We love the continuity. We love the unity. And so Brian Zeger returns as a performer. And it just, it makes the whole festival complete for us.

Alan McLellan Well, I think the audience is in for a treat for the whole festival and is very lucky indeed to have you guys. So, thank you.

Jon Manasse Thank you. Alan.

Jon Nakamatsu Thank you, Alan.

Alan McLellan So Jon Manasse and Jon Nakamatsu, many thanks. I'm Alan McLellan. This is Classical Radio Boston.