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Silver-Sweet Sound, with Chameleon Arts Ensemble

Photos of musicians from Chameleon Arts Ensemble in performance. Clockwise from top left: Sarah Rommel, cello; Gary Gorczyca, clarinet; Deborah Boldin, flute; Mary Mackenzie, soprano; Scott Woolweaver, viola; Nancy Dimock, oboe; Mika Sasaki, piano.
Matthew Wan
Clockwise from top left: Sarah Rommel, cello; Gary Gorczyca, clarinet; Deborah Boldin, flute; Mary Mackenzie, soprano; Scott Woolweaver, viola; Nancy Dimock, oboe; Mika Sasaki, piano.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

On WCRB In Concert with Chameleon Arts Ensemble, music inspired by William Shakespeare takes center stage in colorful works by Korngold, Vaughan Williams, Thomas Adès, and David Matthews, alongside Elgar's Piano Quintet in A minor, his portrait of the majestic beauty of the English countryside.

Chameleon Arts Ensemble
Mary Mackenzie, soprano
Claire Bourg, Elizabeth Fayette, Stephanie Zyzak; violins
Scott Woolweaver, viola
Sarah Rommel, cello
Deborah Boldin, flute
Nancy Dimock, English horn
Gary Gorczyca, clarinet
Ina Zdorovetchi, harp
Mika Sasaki, Miki Sawada; pianos

Erich KORNGOLD Suite from Much Ado About Nothing, Op. 11
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Six Studies in English Folk Song
David MATTHEWS Terrible Beauty, Op. 104
Thomas ADÈS "Court Studies" from The Tempest
Edward ELGAR Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84

This concert was recorded at the First Church in Boston on March 4, 2023 and is no longer available on demand.

See upcoming Chameleon Arts Ensemble concerts.

Read the program notes for this concert.

Listen to an interview with Chameleon Arts Ensemble Artistic Director, Deborah Boldin, using the audio player above, and read the transcript below.


Edyn-Mae Stevenson I'm Edyn-Mae Stevenson from WCRB, and I'm here with Deborah Boldin, who is the artistic director of the Chameleon Arts Ensemble. Deborah, thanks so much for being here with me.

Deborah Boldin Thank you for having me, I really appreciate it.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson Before we even get into the music, I want to talk about the title because you chose a really beautiful title. "How silver-sweet sound." Just saying it out loud feels really musical. And I was wondering where that came from.

Deborah Boldin Well, it is from Shakespeare. We steal our concert titles from poets and other places, and this is from Romeo and Juliet, although there's no music inspired by Romeo and Juliet on this particular program, but I thought that the phrase was so beautiful as well, and I thought that it really fit the vibe of the music that we're going to hear.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson I think it really does. And Shakespeare really—it seems like he's watching over this entire concert. It's — he's got his hands in everything, even the pieces that aren't truly inspired by him. It took me a while to realize that not every composer on this program is British, because it feels like a real celebration of, like English music and English literature. And I was wondering how the program began to form in your mind. Was it like one piece in particular, or was it a combination of pieces that you really wanted to do?

Deborah Boldin Well, usually for Chameleon, it is one idea that comes together. So, in this particular case, I wanted to explore music inspired by Shakespeare. There actually is quite a lot of it, I have a file filled with notes about various works. And then finding the right combination, and also finding the points at which I deviate from the themes. So, as you mentioned, there are two works, one by Elgar and one by Ralph Vaughan Williams that are not inspired by Shakespeare but have a certain eloquence about them that I felt would fit into the vibe of the whole thing. So, I like Chameleon programs to be both inside and outside of a particular theme and inform one another.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson That's wonderful, and I really think that they do all fit together just really, really perfectly. And I'm so glad that you decided to include Korngold on this program because there's something so delightful about Much Ado About Nothing. I was wondering, what do you think it is that makes this suite just so fun?

Deborah Boldin Well, it has that kind of quintessential Korngold cinematic sweep. You know, this was written I think it was 1919/1920, and you can anticipate the great film scores that he did. There was one for the famous film of A Midsummer Night's Dream. And what he does is he creates this kind of technicolor world, pun intended, and draws us in in a way that's almost a tactile quality. It feels like you could reach out and touch one of the characters.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson He brings things to life in a really interesting way. And well, speaking of the pieces that are sort of outside of that Shakespeare influence, I learned something new while I was reading your program notes. I did not know that Vaughan Williams was a musicologist, and I think there's almost like a little bit of a danger with musicology that it becomes sort of like clinical or scientific. But the Six Studies in English Folk Song don't feel that way at all. And I was wondering why you think that is?

Deborah Boldin Well, they come from his deep love of British culture, of English culture, of English folk song. And what he does in that piece is offer just enough variation, or his own thumbprint on these traditional songs that you know that it's him. But yet, there's a reverence for the original source material, and you can identify it right away.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson It's hard to listen to them and be like, "Oh, that's not Vaughan Williams," for sure.

Deborah Boldin Right. And so, I think it captures both the sensibility, the English pastoral sensibility, and also his sensibility, which when he was younger, he studied with Ravel, and he studied with [Max] Bruch. And what he realized at one point was that he needed to kind of remove himself from that continental type of approach to music, and then really create something that had a British sound. Here in the States, one could make a parallel with Aaron Copland looking to create an American sound. Vaughan Williams did that.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson And it's originally written for cello, but you decided to do it with the English horn, which we don't hear enough of that instrument at all. And I was wondering what comes out with the English horn that you don't sort of hear with other instruments with this piece?

Deborah Boldin Sure. Well, I think that the English horn brings kind of this chocolate-y, velvety quality of sound that makes you feel like you're walking in wet grass almost, and I think it's interesting to know that there are seven different arrangements of this work. So, we didn't create the arrangement, this was created by Vaughan Williams. And actually, I believe there's even one for tuba, but this one I happen to love the most because there's the feeling of breath, which goes with the art of singing, of course.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson Yeah, absolutely.

Deborah Boldin And this really beautiful, lush color that you get only from the English horn.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson You're always very mindful to include composers from our time in your concerts, which is incredible. When you hear new music, what are you listening for? Like, how did that lead you to David Matthews and Thomas Adès on this program?

Deborah Boldin Well, I found David Matthews's music simply by delving into the Naxos online catalog. I'm kind of crazy in terms of the amount of research and listening I like to do. And I like to hear everything and then whittle down from there. So, it was just a period of time where I started just kind of going through the entire chamber music catalog online. And I found this composer, David Matthews, isn't that a pop artist? But then I realized that no, actually this is a British composer —he's a very well-known British composer, not well-known here in the States. And every single thing of his that I heard, I loved. And one of the things that I love about his piece, Terrible Beauty, is that for me, it feels both fresh and new, but also really connected to traditional or Classical with a capital C English music by way he treats the voice. So, it feels really like English song to me. And I thought, "Yeah, this is something we need to . . .we need to have more of here."

Edyn-Mae Stevenson I'm glad you brought up Terrible Beauty because it really feels like the high point, or a high point of the concert. And it tells two stories that, in many ways, are like kind of the same story, this fatal attraction. How does the music itself help tell that story?

Deborah Boldin Well, I think there are parallels perhaps we could draw between what Matthews has done in his scoring and what Korngold has done. Another type of cinematic approach. In this case, it's for a chamber ensemble, a larger ensemble, so there are more colors available to him, and he really uses the ensemble to set the mood for the text and for the vocal part, which comes both in the form of recitative, telling us something, and song, you know, enveloping us in something.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson Yeah, and that harp at the very beginning just pulls you right into it. It's like you're there.

Deborah Boldin It's shocking, actually. And it's, I think almost the entire first three minutes or so, it's just harp solo. It's an extraordinary part, and a long vocal diatribe, for lack of a better word.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson It's a really, really cool piece. I'm really glad you included it in here. And then there's the Court Studies from The Tempest by Thomas Adès. That's a very interesting title. What's that about?

Deborah Boldin Well, he has created a series of linked miniatures, there's six miniatures on members of the Court of Naples from Shakespeare's The Tempest, which is actually a reimagining of his opera on The Tempest, which dates I think from 2004, or thereabouts. And what he has created, I think, is completely extraordinary in the way that he's able to tell a story with no words whatsoever. I think it's kind of interesting to think about imagining Shakespeare's language, and his stories, and literature in general without speaking it, and what can we bring to taking those words and creating them in sound.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson I feel like that makes it sit alongside the Korngold piece like really perfectly. It's almost like they're bookending. And then the concert ends with the Elgar Piano Quintet, which he said himself, and you put this in your program notes, that it “runs gigantically and in a large mood,” which is not something that you hear about a chamber piece very often. How do you go about accomplishing that with just five musicians?

Deborah Boldin Well, it's . . . I think it's really in the scoring. It's densely scored, there are lots of doublings, the piano part is huge, and you think of one person's hand covering the entire keyboard practically, and I think that it's both sound and texture. And this is great late romantic music that draws us in and puts its arms around us. And it also is in the colors that he is creating with his writing. I think that these are deep tones. This isn't pastel or sweet — actually runs contrary to our title, "silver-sweet sound." But these are deep tones.

If you think deep in the forest, the kind of textures of old wood, bark, and moss on the ground, and his wife had an entry in her diary about the composition, and suggested that it was inspired by these ghostly trees near their cottage in Sussex. No one knows for sure whether that's true, but taking that as kind of a visual starting point as you enter into this . . . Elgar's world is just wonderful, and makes you think this could be a story that you just create on your own, or that you're swept up in. And that was one of the reasons why I wanted to include it. And also it's a work that nobody plays. Why is that? There are so many really great piano quintets. We don't need to just have Brahms. Brahms is awesome, don't get me wrong, but I love to highlight some of these lesser-known pieces. And from an Elgar perspective, he has only three major chamber works: Violin Sonata, String Quartet, I think, and this Piano Quintet, they were all composed around the same time. The quintet is, I think, that jewel of the three.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson I'm really glad that you mentioned that about like being in the forest, because it does feel . . . there's something about it that's very dark and earthy, and that's just . . . you framed it so perfectly. I love that.

Deborah Boldin Oh, thank you.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson So what can we expect from you and the Chameleon Arts Ensemble in the near future? Is there anything that you'd like to tell us about?

Deborah Boldin Oh, gosh! Well, we're at the end of our 25th anniversary season. We have one more concert coming up on May 20 and 21, and we are celebrating with Schubert's Octet, and a program that I've called "Diversions and Entertainments." I thought in terms of being in a celebratory mood, let's go for broke with music with the feeling of celebration. So, Schubert's Octet is actually a big divertimento, outdoor party. And we'll also be playing two works that are 20th century and 21st century re-imaginings of the outdoor divertimento, Paul Hindemith's Kleine Kammermusik for wind quintet. Which is really a 20th century classic, and one of my favorite pieces for wind quintet, and a fantastic divertimento by the Chicago based composer, John Musto. It's titled simply Divertimento, and it's scored for the really interesting combination of flute, clarinet, viola, cello, piano, and percussion. And it has this kind of urban, quirky vibe, with a little bit of West Side Story thrown in.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson Ooh, okay.

Deborah Boldin And it's going to cause everybody to have a big smile. And we've also taken the opportunity to share a fantastic Fantasy for violin and piano by Florence Price, not often heard, and that will be our festive opener for our Season 25 finale.

Edyn-Mae Stevenson That sounds like a really, really fun concert. I can't wait to hear it. Thank you so much. Thanks for sitting down and chatting with me today.

Deborah Boldin Thanks for having me, Edyn-Mae.