"Boundaries," with Radius Ensemble
Sunday, February 26, 2023
On demand on WCRB In Concert with Radius Ensemble, works by Nino Rota, Valerie Coleman, Tōru Takemitsu, and Charles Ives illuminate concepts of borders, as well as the rewards of crossing them.
Jennifer Montbach, Artistic Director
Sarah Brady, flute
Jennifer Montbach, oboe
Eran Egozy, clarinet
Adrian Morejon, bassoon
Gabriela Díaz, violin
Noriko Futagami, viola
Miriam Bolkosky, cello
Ina Zdorovetchi, harp
Sarah Bob, piano
Nino ROTA - Quintet
Valerie COLEMAN - Rubispheres #1-3
Tōru TAKEMITSU - Toward the Sea III
Charles IVES - Piano Trio
Hear a preview of the program with artistic director and oboist Jennifer Montbach, and read the transcript below.
Alan McLellan The Radius Ensemble is in its 24th season now in residence at the Longy School of Music. And its artistic director is Jennifer Montbach. Hello, Jennifer, and welcome!
Jennifer Montbach Thank you, Alan.
Alan McLellan How does it feel to be in the 24th season?
Jennifer Montbach Wow, it's exciting. You know, you're out in a pandemic and all of us growing, growing up and growing out from our early days in graduate school to now being, we hope, a critical part of the Boston music scene. And we're very excited for the 25th coming up next year.
Alan McLellan This is an exciting time. And does it feel like you've come a long way?
Jennifer Montbach It does. You know, we originally began in a tiny venue, seating only 75 people, and now we're at Longy [School of Music] in one of the best spaces for chamber music in the city of Boston. Well, technically Cambridge, but in the greater Boston area.
Alan McLellan And you are artist-in-residence as well?
Jennifer Montbach That's right, yes. We joined the team at Longy in 2011, and part of our residency is a composition competition, where all of the student composers at Longy are able to submit a work to us for consideration on a future program. And everyone who submits gets a workshop with our musicians. So it's a wonderful way for us to connect with the students of Longy and also really nurture the next generation of young composers.
Alan McLellan Fantastic. Nina Rota's Quintet is the first on this program at the Pickman Hall at Longy School of Music. And if you know Rota, his film music is what's really familiar. Federico Fellini is his collaborator.
Jennifer Montbach 8½, of course.
Alan McLellan Yes. Can you tell us about that relationship?
Jennifer Montbach Yeah, he scored many of Fellini's films. He's also well known as the author of The Godfather theme. But, you know, it's interesting—in addition to scoring more than 150 films, he wrote ten operas, five ballets and dozens and dozens of orchestral, choral, and chamber music. So he was a very prolific composer.
Alan McLellan And his chamber music we're going to hear today. And even in that, he injects so much charm.
Jennifer Montbach That's true. He said, in fact, "When I'm creating at the piano, I tend to feel happy. But the eternal dilemma, how can we be happy amid the unhappiness of others? I do everything I could to give everyone a moment of happiness. That's what's at the heart of my music." He really cares about bringing beauty and sweetness to his music. So this quintet, it's actually scored for flute, oboe, viola, cello and harp, which is a slight departure for us, it's really just a lovely work.
Alan McLellan And from that inimitable Nino Rota sound, we move to something much more contemporary and jazzy, by Valerie Coleman. Jennifer Montbach, can you introduce it to us?
Jennifer Montbach Sure. Valerie Coleman was born in 1974 and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. She has an interesting Boston connection. She actually received a BA in theory and composition from Boston University. And of course, she's widely known as the flutist of the incredible Imani Winds,.
Alan McLellan An amazing group.
Jennifer Montbach Oh, absolutely. And we've done many works that they have brought into existence and commissioned as well as works that they have arranged for quintet, originally for other ensembles. She was the first commission of a living African American composer of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and she really explores the boundaries between classical, jazz and Afro-Cuban genres. She also is committed to incorporating political and social themes into her music. So this piece really explores the boundaries between different neighborhoods in New York. And it's oh, it's wild. It's really, really fun to listen to.
Alan McLellan And I'm speaking with Jennifer Montbach, oboist and artistic director of Radius. Jennifer, you come up with some amazing, eclectic programs.
Jennifer Montbach Thank you.
Alan McLellan How do you come up with them?
Jennifer Montbach Well, I begin with the central piece that really anchors the program. In this case, it was the Ives Piano Trio, which we'll hear at the conclusion of the evening. And then I tried to build around it, balancing, oh, lots of different things: length, country of origin, instrumentation. But I really try to connect them in some way and not necessarily in a way that is aurally apparent. It tends to be an intellectual connection, because I don't want a whole evening of the same soundscape. I really want you to experience a concert that has a lot of variety and changes in color and texture and voices. So the theme unites everything and gives you a little bit of an intellectual stronghold, but still you know that you're going to hear an evening of wildly different and eclectic and intriguing works.
Alan McLellan Next in this program of boundaries, we're turning to something a little more metaphysical. Toward the Sea III by Toru Takamatsu, a Japanese composer from the mid 20th century. Those were tumultuous times—
Jennifer Montbach Indeed.
Alan McLellan —that Takemitsu lived through.
Jennifer Montbach Indeed. And, you know, he really felt a push and pull between his Japanese heritage and his American life. Early in his career, he really distanced himself from Japanese influence, but he was drifting back towards tonality and Japanese influence when he wrote this piece. Actually, it was commissioned by Greenpeace for its Save the Whales campaign.
Alan McLellan And when was that?
Jennifer Montbach That was in the late seventies. And he wrote three versions: one for flute and guitar, one for flute and harp and orchestra, and then this final and in my opinion, favorite version, for alto, flute and harp, performed by Sarah Brady, our concert MVP tonight, and Ina Zdorovetchi on Harp. But he's really investigating the boundary between the human and animal worlds in this piece. And the subtitles are just delightful. We've got The Night, Moby-Dick, and Cape Cod. So there's a connection there to Boston as well.
Alan McLellan Such gorgeous, ethereal sounds in that music.
Jennifer Montbach Absolutely. Yeah.
Alan McLellan Jennifer, now we get to music by a brilliant American composer, the 20th century, Charles Ives. He's so appealing because he was an insurance man as well as an innovative composer.
Jennifer Montbach That's right, that's right. He was really the quintessential American maverick. And his music, I think, is appealing because it's so new and different. Yet, he hearkens back to tradition and familiarity in such an intimate and comfortable way. So when you listen to his music, you feel both challenged and kind of in the know.
Alan McLellan That's great, yes. There's connections there that you latch on to. And he had a great instinct for that.
Jennifer Montbach He did, yeah.
Alan McLellan So we're going to hear the Piano Trio.
Jennifer Montbach That's right, for violin, cello and piano. He began composing this in 1904 during his sixth college reunion from Yale. So this is one of his earlier works, but really sets the stage for his creative endeavors and sort of his stylistic template. So you'll hear music that is very familiar, but also pushing boundaries.
Alan McLellan A program exploring boundaries in music. My guest helping to illuminate the music is Jennifer Montbach, artistic director of Radius. Jennifer, thank you so much for being here.
Jennifer Montbach Oh, it's been such a pleasure. Thank you.