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"Youth and Experience," with Mistral

 musicians of Mistral, including violinist Juliette Kang, cellist Owen Young, and pianist Sophie Scolnik-Brower (background), in performance, September, 2021
Seungoh Ryu
Musicians of Mistral, including violinist Juliette Kang, cellist Owen Young, and pianist Sophie Scolnik-Brower (background), performing together in September 2021

Sunday, February 5, 2023

On WCRB In Concert with Mistral, early works by Felix Mendelssohn and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor form a vibrant counterpoint to the rich sonic landscape of Gabriel Fauré's Piano Trio, one of the composer's last pieces.

Julie Scolnik, Artistic Director

Juliette Kang, violin
Gabriela Diaz, violin & viola
Stephanie Fong, viola
Owen Young, cello
Sophie Scolnik-Brower, piano
Julie Scolnik, flute

Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR - Fantasiestücke (Fantasy Pieces), Op. 5
Gabriel FAURÉ - Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 120
Felix MENDELSSOHN - String Quintet No. 1 in A, Op. 18 (arr. for flute and four strings)

This concert is no longer available on demand.

Learn more about Mistral and see upcoming concerts

Learn more about Julie Scolnik and Sophie Scolnik-Brower's recording "J.S. Bach's Complete Sonatas for Flute and Piano."

To hear a preview of the program with Artistic Director and flutist Julie Scolnik, use the player above, and read the transcript below.


Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath at CRB with Julie Scolnik, the founder and director of Mistral. Julie, thanks so much for coming to the station and talking a little bit today.

Julie Scolnik Well, thank you, Brian. I'm so happy to be here again.

Brian McCreath This program that you did in 2021, "Youth and Experience," has some pieces that fall on both ends of that spectrum, youthful pieces and pieces from late in one particular composer's life. But let's start with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and this piece, the Fantasy Pieces. I wonder if this is something you'd ever included in a Mistral program before?

Julie Scolnik Not this particular piece, but I have to admit that in, you know, the last five years or so, like many other artistic directors, I've made much more of an effort to include composers of color. And we have done quite a few works, even of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. This is the first time we've done the Fantasiestücke. Sometimes the way I put together a program is I have one idea in my mind and it works a bit like that children's book called If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, then he'll want to have milk with it.

What happens is it starts with one germ of an idea, and then I think, well, actually, if I have these four strings already for this quintet, and I have these players for the piano trio, then it would be really nice to do a string quartet as well. And then it just kind of evolves. And this is where we ended up with the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor piece. And when I heard it, I fell in love with it and I thought it was perfect and it was a good length, and everyone in my group really wanted to play it as well.

Brian McCreath Well, I was going to ask about the musicians and whether this was a surprise to them, if this was a discovery for them as well. Did you have anyone in the ensemble who had actually played these before?

Julie Scolnik That is a good question. I think maybe one person had. And for the others it was new and it was a happy discovery for sure, yeah.

Brian McCreath How would you describe Coleridge-Taylor's sound? I mean, what is it that makes it kind of different from any other particular composer? Is there a way to put that into words?

Julie Scolnik Well, let me think. I think I remember reading that he had a particular knack for chamber music, a beautiful knack for communication between the four instruments. The harmonies are just so lovely and so accessible, and it's always so lovely to introduce my audiences to composers they're not that familiar with.

Brian McCreath And did you find there was some reactions that...

Julie Scolnik Oh, they loved it.

Brian McCreath Yeah?

Julie Scolnik People always come up to me – well, for one thing, I've established a very close rapport with my audiences, and this is not self-serving, but I mean, this is why I love running my series so much. And I always get a slew of emails the very next day saying, "Thank you for introducing us to a composer I knew very little about". And he was definitely one of them.

Brian McCreath Well, this is the thing. I mean, it's not self-serving. It's just the fact. And I think that the devotion of your audience was definitely proven in the early days of the pandemic when you did these outdoor concerts and your audience came out with their lawn chairs. I remember it so well. You were one of the first to actually offer live performance in those terrible circumstances.

Julie Scolnik That's sweet, well thank you for bringing that up, Brian. It was so much fun. There were two things we did. It wasn't just the "Music in the Park," which we called it, but yes, we would just send out an email the day before and and say, "If you're around, my colleagues and I will be at Knyvet Park in Brookline, bring your chairs and your blankets. Stay away from each other, and we will play music for you for ninety minutes." And people came. It was just like, if they build it [laughs], they will come. If you announce it, you're going to play free chamber music in a park, the people will come. And people loved it because at that point they were starved for live performances and they felt it was a mini-Tanglewood. And we always did it at the golden hour when the sun was going down in the summer, probably at around 6:00 or 7:00. We have some amazingly beautiful photos and videos to show that.

But the second thing we did during the pandemic was that we created something called "Music in the Window," and we live on the ground floor of a beautiful brick building in Coolidge Corner. And my husband literally removed the windows. He didn't just open them, but he took out the entire panes and we pushed the piano up against the window, and people brought their own chairs and we put out chairs on the little side street. And we had a hundred people there once, after they got used to the idea, people would start to walk by. We also had speakers in the window. People would walk by and do a bit of a double take and they would turn around and come sit down and it became a thing, "Music in the Window." So that was really fun.

Brian McCreath That's amazing. And some great memories from a pretty difficult time for everybody.

Julie Scolnik Absolutely. Yeah. It was fun. And getting back to the program, besides the Coleridge-Taylor, who was also quite young when he wrote this string quartet, Mendelssohn's String Quintet, that is also on the program, was written when he was only sixteen years old. Sixteen turning seventeen, or something like that. And it's such a beautiful piece that I took the violin one part for myself on flute. It's something that my audiences have come to expect from me. It's not the first string quintet that I have ever played on my program. I've done two of the Mozart viola quintets on flute and the Dvořák String Quintet, the "American”, which I find works so beautifully.

The reason I love string quintet so much with the addition of the second viola is that it adds such a depth of harmony. Sometimes the flute can act as a solo instrument in this context, and in this particular piece, Mendelssohn surely intended the first violin part of this quintet for a friend of his whose name was [Eduard] Rietz. And when Rietz died in 1832, Mendelssohn wrote a new solo movement as a tribute. And to make room with it within the traditional four movements, he cut a minuet and trio that had been in third place and moved the scherzo originally in the second movement to its present position. In any event, the first violin part takes over rather noticeably at times, and it seems to be Mendelssohn's offering to his friend Rietz.

Brian McCreath And that intermezzo is so beautiful. It's so soulful, isn't it? It's really lovely.

Julie Scolnik It's so beautiful. And there is literally nothing that the flute has to change in order to play the violin part.

Brian McCreath I was just going to ask this. So it seems remarkable to me, but I mean, they're in the same range, you know, generally, the violin and the flute. But I wondered how complicated it might be, or simple it might be to take up the violin. Can you literally read off the violin part on the flute?

Julie Scolnik Yes. However, I've done many, many pieces that were originally for violin, and there will always ultimately be some octave that the flute will need to adjust. And it's not just a question of getting to the notes that the flute cannot play and then jumping up. You have to figure out how to make it work musically, which may mean that you start a phrase earlier from an octave higher or you have to make some adjustments.

But I've gotten so good at it [laughs], tell you the truth, that it's not a big deal at all. And for me, I always tell my audiences as a little bit of an introduction that I suffer from "repertoire envy" and that I have played many, many pieces written for violin. I don't know why I should be stuck playing just the flute repertoire. And I even made this joke once about why I founded my own chamber series, and that was so that I could play any piece that I wanted to.

Brian McCreath Julie, you're talking to a trumpet player. I know everything about repertoire envy, believe me. [laughs]

Julie Scolnik [laughs] I didn't know you...

Brian McCreath There's like, four trumpet concertos, right? [laughs]

Julie Scolnik Yes. I did not know you were a trumpet player!

Brian McCreath Yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh, yeah. So I've always thought that. I mean, people have always told me that the one piece for trumpet that other people envy is the Haydn Trumpet Concerto.

Julie Scolnik Huh, how 'bout that.

Brian McCreath But there's so many other pieces that we do in brass quintet, so it's like, "Oh, we love that. Let's take the Rachmaninoff Vespers and do that for brass". But no, I understand what you mean, and this is a neat way around it. This is a really cool way to open your own artistic life up to things that you wouldn't have done otherwise, but also the audience. I think that's where it really comes out, right? That the audience experiences something, whether they know the piece before or not, they experience something in a way they just won't experience anywhere else.

Julie Scolnik Yes, exactly. And I'm glad you brought that up about the audience, because one thing that's very important to me as I program works for my series is to recreate an experience I might have had with a piece of music, and the first time I ever fell in love with a piece and what it evoked in me and how each time I hear it as an adult. It brings back those earlier memories for me. You know, Proust had the Madeleine that did it for him.

For me, nothing brings back a certain period of my earlier life than hearing a certain piece of music recalls. Even music camp, at age thirteen, for instance, the first time I fell in love with, say, the Schubert Quintet in C, or many, many other pieces. And I feel that it altered my sensibilities in such a way that I hope it does the same for my audience members, too. And that brings me to the last piece on the program that you're hearing in today's broadcast, which is the Fauré Piano Trio. I remember that I was, you know, a serious, angst-ridden adolescent at Exeter when I was fifteen or sixteen. When I first discovered all of Fauré's chamber music, I had it all on one record. Record, remember those? [laughs]

Brian McCreath And you had to actually turn them over! [laughs]

Julie Scolnik Yeah, exactly! And so it had everything on both sides. And I remember falling in love with the Fauré Piano Trio. And it's not just a gorgeous piece, but it's so haunting, it's so melancholic. But when I hear that piece today, I'm right back where I was at age fifteen, wondering how the world was going to make sense, you know? And I think some of my audience members were surprised at how much they loved the music, too. Some people have these prejudices when they come to concerts, "Well, I'm not really sure I like Fauré", people will write to me, "So I'm not sure I'll come to your concert this time...", then I have to break down and say, "Please, you know, you have learned to trust me by now. Please come". And, you know, invariably they write and say, "I really loved the Fauré", so...

Brian McCreath So this is the thing. When you have an audience that has built up over 26 years, over a quarter century, they come to trust you. And so when there's something that they're not sure about, they're going to come along anyway. And that's a beautiful thing. But when I think about the Piano Trio by Fauré, you know, this is the experience end of the "Youth and Experience" model that you had. You know, you have Coleridge-Taylor and Mendelssohn with these pieces they wrote when they were really young.

Julie Scolnik Teenagers, yes.

Brian McCreath But here is Fauré. And what's really striking to me is that you listen to this and, you know, any piece of music, you know, we can receive just on its own merits. But if you look a little bit below the surface, this is not the kind of thing people were writing in the 1920s.

Julie Scolnik Yes, exactly.

Brian McCreath And so to me, it feels like I'm so, so entranced by the idea of Fauré, thinking back on this long life where an incredible number of things have changed in the world and society...

Julie Scolnik And they do...

Brian McCreath And yet here he is with his voice offering this Piano Trio at the very end of his life.

Julie Scolnik Yes, exactly. Took the words right out of my mouth. I've always read in program notes about him that he really blurred the lines of the past and the future, and he ventured into harmonic areas that had not been done before. And yes, he wrote it just one year before he died at the age of 78, I believe, it was written in 1923. And yes, I think some people may even find it difficult to access, you know, But I think it is absolutely stunning. And my daughter is on this performance, by the way.

Brian McCreath Yes. Yes. We're going to talk about Sophie in a couple minutes. [laughs]

Julie Scolnik Okay. Okay.

Brian McCreath Well, Julie, this is such a beautiful program. Like I said before, it's pieces that a lot of the audience will not have actually encountered before, or, and certainly in the case of the Mendelssohn, if they have, they haven't heard it like this before. Tell me about the program you're doing in February, "Silenced Voices," a really amazing lineup of composers and what your hopes are with this set of pieces, this set of composers?

Julie Scolnik Yes. Well, you know, this program is very special to me. And I'm worried a little bit about my audience, because we always do an annual Valentine concert. And you know, there are myriad facets of love that we can celebrate every Valentine's Day.

Brian McCreath And you have.

Julie Scolnik And we have, for about 25 years. Now in this particular one, we call it "Silenced Voices, Love and Remembrance". And underneath that, "a Valentine concert", because it is celebrating composers whose voices were silenced during a very dark period in history. It's a program for strings, piano, mezzo-soprano and flute, and it features a potpourri of works by Franz Schreker, Kurt Weill, Erich Korngold, Schulhoff, Mendelssohn and Shostakovich, and Zemlinsky, all of whom faced unique challenges and tragedies during this period.

Several of the composers were forced to flee their homelands and leave their legacies behind in order to escape oppression and discrimination under the Nazi regime. Others were arrested and even perished in concentration camps like Schulhoff, and still others were stripped of their art when their music was banned and removed from the repertoire of German orchestras by the Third Reich.

But of course, in spite of the obstacles they faced, these composers left amazing, enduring works that continue to move and inspire audiences around the world. And you know, this collection of pieces speaks for itself and doesn't need to be put in a memorializing context to appreciate them. However, they may engender deep thought in art aesthetics in history when they're juxtaposed in such a way.

Brian McCreath Most certainly, yeah.

Julie Scolnik So very excited. Very excited also to end the concert with the most exquisite aria by Korngold called Marietta's Lied. And it's very tricky to decide how to end a program like this. You know, that amazing Shostakovich Piano Trio is so intense and we haven't done it. We have done it on our program, but maybe ten, twelve years or so ago. And to follow that with this sheer heavenly piece of music that's only six minutes long, I think is the way to go.

Brian McCreath That's beautiful, beautiful something really to look forward to. Another major development recently is the release of this complete Bach flute sonatas you recorded. With Sophie, your daughter, as pianist.

Julie Scolnik Yes.

Brian McCreath And I was so delighted to get it. It sounds beautiful. And recorded right here at CRB. We're proud to say...

Julie Scolnik Yes, with our own wonderful, best in the world, audio engineer Antonio Oliart, who's a dear friend, and he's been recording our Mistral concerts for years and years and years in spite of his crazy schedule.

Brian McCreath We know everything about that!

Julie Scolnik I wouldn't do it without him. Yes. So this has always been a dream of mine to play these sonatas with my daughter. Well, first I've always wanted to do them. And once I realized that my daughter was becoming a professional pianist back when she was in high school, I thought, okay, she is the pianist I want to record this with. But, you know, there are many hundreds, if not thousands of recordings of these Bach sonatas. I didn't care.

There aren't that many with piano, however, most of them are with harpsichord, and I so prefer them with piano because of the dynamic range and the range of expression that's possible. And there aren't too many mother-daughter duos, I don't think either. So we had a great time. We did it during the pandemic, and rather than coming in over the course of two days to do all seven of them, we just took our time and did them one at a time, one a month, really, that way we could concentrate on rehearsing them and putting it in the bag and then working on the next one. And that was kind of fun.

Brian McCreath Well, this may be impossible to answer because it's so, so deep within you, but is there any way you can describe the collaboration artistically with a daughter, with your own child? What is this? She brings ideas, I imagine to you that you didn't expect, but that you . . . and vice versa.

Julie Scolnik Wow. That is a good question. I have to think about it for a second. Well, for one thing, we are extremely close, so it's not like working with a regular colleague, which can be a double-edged sword, as you can imagine. We annoy each other plenty. Like any close mother-daughter, we also are closer than I could possibly be with any, you know, unrelated colleague. But I am very inspired by her musical ideas. I never cease to be surprised by them. She's hardcore in terms of tempos and metronomes, and I think we've lost tempo, and she keeps me on the straight and narrow.

And we're hard on each other, really. And so when we come up with a result, an artistic creation or a result of this recording process, we were very proud of it, and happy that we got through it, actually. But no, it was so much fun. You know, sometimes people, the question is, has been around now for such a while. People always say, what's—because we've been performing together since she was about, you know...Well, she started accompanying my son. I mean, when she was ten, he was five and she did all his Suzuki book recitals. And so it's not as if it just happened yesterday. This has just been so much a part of my experience as a mother raising children who are musicians. We've always played together. The three of us play together as well.

Brian McCreath It was Sasha, the cellist.

Julie Scolnik Sasha the cellist, and now conductor. But people have always said, "What's it like to play with your children? It's so touching to watch you". And it is extremely moving to be able to make music with my children, to be able to share something that's the most important thing to me with my children who love music as much as I do. So, I can't put it any other way than that, except one pat answer I came up with was it was worth waiting for.

Brian McCreath Nice. I also think, though, as I consider the two of you playing, listen to the music that, not that we want to draw parallels between ourselves and Bach too strongly in any case, but he played with his own children so much. His children were so much a part of his life musically, not just in a familial sense, but he played with them. He performed with them. And I just wonder, with this concentrated effort to record all of these sonatas, is there anything that by being immersed in them during that period of time when you would practice and then come and record, practice, record, what did you learn about Bach that maybe you didn't quite know before?

Julie Scolnik Oh, that is such a good question. All I can really say in response to that is that I heard new things every time, you know, and my appreciation for them, even though they are like members of my family, meaning that I remember which one I played at thirteen at music camp, which one I played for my senior recital at Exeter in high school, which one I played for my Master's recital, and which movements I would pull out each time for a memorial service or a wedding. I can say that they never get old. They are still what we have to be proud of in the flute repertoire, you know, besides the French music. And I just heard new harmonies each time and never got sick of them. So that's, I guess, my response to that.

Brian McCreath Brilliant. Well, Julie, it's such a pleasure to always hear Mistral and now to hear you and Sophie play Bach together. Thanks so much for being here. I appreciate it.

Julie Scolnik Brian, thank you so much for having me on for this broadcast.