Wandering about the streets of an unfamiliar city in search of chance discoveries can be one of the ineffable joys of traveling—plodding down one gray street after another, examining plaques and statues for historic details, finding old bridges, mysterious-looking alleys, and odd doorways, making wrong turns along the way and backtracking. Just when that foreign city may seem drab or uninteresting, one makes a fortunate turn and discovers a festive square ringed with colorful shops and cafes full of people.
Just such chance discoveries of the musical kind are being offered this season in Time to Travel, the Faculty Chamber Music Series of the University of Tennessee School of Music. The series, consisting of three James R. Cox Auditorium concerts under the broad thematic umbrella of travel, will feature a variety of music department faculty performers in ensemble groupings. The first of these concerts is Sunday’s “Far Away Places.” However, musical travelers should beware—leave the familiar behind and be prepared for a little adventure.
A discovery for many listeners may be the works of Charles Martin Loeffler, the German-born American composer who died in Massachusetts in 1935. Originally a violinist by trade, Loeffler came to the United States in 1881 and took a violin position with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Ten years later, the BSO premiered his first orchestral work, Les Vieilles de l’Ukraine. His chamber works often featured slightly unusual combinations of instruments, as is the case of the work on this concert—Ballade Carnavalesque, a quintet for flute, oboe, saxophone, bassoon, and piano. Loeffler received the commission for the work in 1903 from Elise Hall of Boston, a wealthy amateur saxophone player. It is the particular warmth and mellow color of the saxophone, as well as the drive and punctuation of the piano line, that gives the piece its distinctive quality. The faculty performers will be Shelley Binder, flute; Phylis Secrist, oboe; Connie Frigo, saxophone; Keith McClelland, bassoon; and Fay Adams, piano.
While Benjamin Britten needs no introduction, the inclusion of his Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac, a work for contralto, tenor, and piano, on a chamber music program may need a bit of explanation. The Canticle II is a telling of the story of Abraham and the near-sacrifice of his son, Isaac, from Genesis. The text, however, is not from the Bible, but rather from the medieval Chester Miracle Plays. The two singers take the parts of Abraham and Isaac—and singing in unison, the voice of God’s instructions to Abraham. The result is an intimate lyrical piece, well suited to a chamber music setting. The singers will be mezzo-soprano Lorraine DiSimone and tenor Andrew Skoog. The pianist will be David Northington.
Contemporary American composer Libby Larsen will be represented on the program with a quartet, The Astonishing Flight of the Gump, the inspiration for which is a chapter in L. Frank Baum’s The Marvelous Land of Oz. The faculty performers will be Shelley Binder, flute; Phylis Secrist, oboe; Keith McClelland, bassoon; and David Brunell, piano.
The program will open with Variations on an Original Theme for Organ Duet by contemporary Australian-born Canadian organist and composer Barrie Cabena. The organists will be Karen Ladd and John Brock.
As an interesting departure from the structure of a traditional concert, the Time to Travel performances will begin with a reception in the lobby of the James R. Cox Auditorium one hour before the performance. Audience members will have the opportunity to mingle and chat with the performers and other music faculty members. The coordinator for the Faculty Chamber Series, Connie Frigo, explains: “It’s an opportunity for us to get to know our audience better. And it’s an opportunity for us to get to know each other better, the faculty.”
Frigo also mentions another first. “What we’re adding to the pre-concert this year is the opportunity for our student chamber ensembles to showcase their abilities and get some experience with a real audience,” she says. “So, for the 45 minutes leading up to the concert, various student chamber ensembles will perform on stage.”
To create a more intimate chamber music setting, some seating (on a first-come, first-served basis) will be available on the stage surrounding the performers. And Time To Travel: “Far Away Places” may be one of the better travel bargains around.