Lest I forget those who like their Phoenixes hot off the press — Grammy Award-winning soprano Christine Brewer will be giving a master class at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham (Corthell Hall) on Friday, February 2, at 12:30 pm, on the heels of Thursday night’s performance at Merrill Auditorium. She will have sung with piano accompaniment by Craig Rutenberg — German lieder, American works, and art songs with which legendary Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad concluded her recitals in America. Lieder by Richard Strauss, Joseph Marx, and a liederkreis (song-cycle) by Richard Wagner (Wesendonck Lieder) on a Thursday night make for a good master class on a Friday afternoon. And Brewer makes for a great master, having performed opera, recitals, and symphonic vocal works in cities across America and Europe.
For those wondering, master classes are given by musical masters, usually in conjunction with a performance tour. Selected students perform pieces they are working on, and then the master comments about technique, musicality, and historical anecdotes related to the piece. The master asks the student to play certain passages to demonstrate particular details or achieve desired effects. A means of professional development for aspiring classical musicians, it also has educational value to the general public who is usually allowed to observe. If Brewer’s performance Thursday night (sponsored by PCA Great Performances) isn’t enough, watching her advise future masters may help uncover new local talent.
Musical mastery and educational commitments go hand in hand. The DaPonte String Quartet for example, moved to Maine in 1995 and hold mentoring and teaching as central to “ensuring that a great musical tradition will continue.” They’ve held workshops for elementary children, high schoolers, college students and adult amateurs from Alabama and Texas to Maine. Their performance schedule doesn’t let up either, with a steady bi-monthly Maine winter series that lands each concert in Newcastle, Portland, and Brunswick. This weekend, DSQ present works by Béla Bartók, Hugo Wolf, George Gershwin, and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Bartók’s String Quartet No. 5 (1934) is an arch form (he called it “bridge form”) of five movements: Allegro, Adagio molto, Scherzo: alla bulgarese, Andante, and Finale: Allegro vivace. Arch forms contain thematic repetition in reverse order, around a central movement, in symmetrical form. The first movement is sonata-like and itself arch-like: the exposition introduces themes, a development explores them, and the recapitulation repeats sections of the exposition in reverse order and with inverted (played upside-down) melodies. The three middle movements are each in ternary form (symbolized by ABA), including the central third movement with a time signature of Bulgarian folk music — beats in uneven groupings of 4+3+2. The final movement is also an arch of its own.
A rare exception to the rule, Viennese Romantic Hugo Wolf’s wild temperament compromised his teaching abilities. His most famous instrumental work, the 1887 Italian Serenade is regarded as the beginning of his compositional maturity. George Gershwin’s Lullaby (1919) was initially an exercise assigned by his music theory teacher, and Beethoven always provokes our thinking. His final major work, String Quartet No. 16 in F Major (1828) concludes with a final (fourth) movement titled in translation as “The Difficult Decision,” with written marks “Must it be?” under the introductory chords of the grave, and “It must be!” responding at the allegro.