by Michael Caruso
Lyric Fest, the vocal/instrumental ensemble, opens its 2017-18 season Friday, Sept. 22, 8 p.m. in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. Founded and directed by mezzo-soprano Suzanne DuPlantis of East Falls and pianist Laura Ward of Chestnut Hill, Lyric Fest’s first recital of the season is entitled “Pedals, Page-turns and Postludes: A View from the Bench.”
The program has been chosen by Ward, one of America’s leading piano accompanists. She has created an informative and entertaining evening that will shine a series of lights on the art, craft and tricks of the trade of a collaborative pianist.
“I’ve selected from my list of top-40 art songs to demonstrate what it is that I do,” she said. “There’s a lot going on from the bench, and most of it is executed without anyone knowing.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Friday evening’s recital will be the specific piano on which Ward will be playing. In prior seasons, she has played the very fine Yamaha grand piano situated at the right front corner of the main sanctuary of Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church. Friday’s concert will mark the debut of the church’s newly acquired and fully restored 1896 ebony Model A 6’2” Steinway grand piano. The piano’s restoration was overseen by Farley’s House of Pianos in Madison, Wisconsin.
Ward detailed the church’s acquisition of this vintage instrument. “Two Januarys ago, Lyric Fest performed an all-Brahms program here at the church. I played the Yamaha and realized that we really could use an upgrade for vocal music that included so full a piano accompaniment. I had acquired my own piano at home from Tim Farley, an 1883 restored 7’2” Steinway Model C, so naturally, I thought of his Farley House of Pianos and gave him a call.
“When I explained to Tim the situation here at the church — its size and acoustical character — and what I thought we needed for the ensembles that perform here, particularly Lyric Fest, he told me about a vintage Steinway that he had recently acquired.
“Built in 1896, it belonged to Carrie Jacobs Bond. Now, hers may be a name even most music-lovers no longer know, but she was America’s first top-selling female composer of songs. She lived from 1862 until 1946 and was born in Jamesville, Wisconsin. Among her best-known songs is ‘I Love You Truly.’
“Tim came into possession of the piano and completely rebuilt it, every piece and every part. No modern parts at all. Whenever he was unable to locate an original part, he replicated that component by making it himself. The goal was to reflect the tone, timbre and touch of a Steinway grand piano from the 1890s. Some features unique to most fine grand pianos of that time include the use of Eastern white spruce for the sounding board rather than the Sitka spruce mostly used today.”
Upon learning of the possible availability of this vintage instrument, Ward immediately spoke with the church’s pastor, the Rev. Cindy Jarvis, and its organist, Ken Lovett, to begin organizing its purchase. With Farley willing to hold it in reserve for the church, the piano was bought and delivered this summer. It stands ready to join a multitude of other impressive instruments in Chestnut Hill, including the Chestnut Hill Presbyterian’s own Mander pipe organ.
When I spoke with Ward at the church, the piano had only recently arrived. Walking to the back of the sanctuary, she invited me to play the “Carrie” Steinway so that she could assess how it sounded in its new home. So I sat down and played my own solo arrangement of that classic Dutch Protestant hymn, “We Praise Thee, O God, Our Redeemer, Creator,” supposedly sung by the Pilgrims on that first Thanksgiving Day in 1621.
Without any extra effort on the part of my fingers, the piano’s tone welled up and out across the church, from front to back and front again, from floor to ceiling and top to bottom. Just think of what it will sound like when prodded by the fingers of a keyboard artist like Laura Ward.
For more information about “Pedals, Page-turns and Postludes,” visit www.lyricfest.org.
The Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts launched its “Annenberg Center Live” 2017-18 season with the first in a series of performances by the Daedalus Quartet of all the Beethoven string quartets. The concert took place Sunday afternoon in the Harold Prince Theater. The series includes further renditions of the remaining seven quartets that stretch across the months until April 23, 2018.
The 211-seat Prince Theater was virtually packed to hear violinists Min-Young Kim and Matilda Kaul, violist Jessica Thompson and cellist Thomas Kraines perform the String Quartet in C minor, Opus 18, no. 4; the String Quartet in F major, Opus 135; and after intermission, the String Quartet in C major, Opus 59.
Like his piano sonatas, Beethoven’s string quartets traverse the three periods of his compositional styles: the classical early period, indebted to Haydn and Mozart; the romantic middle period, the progenitor of virtually all of 19th century classical music; and the spiritually abstract late period that still sounds modern two centuries after the music was written.
The Daedalus Quartet wisely did not arrange their program chronologically, starting with the earliest and ending with the latest. While they did begin with the earliest, they followed it with the last major score Beethoven composed, playing the dramatic middle period work as their finale. This enabled their audience to get to know the classical string quartet structure and then hear how Beethoven eventually dismantled it. The C major Quartet proved the perfect culmination by harking back to what had been and gazing forward to what lay ahead.
String quartets of the past often smoothed over the apparent seams in Beethoven’s music by glossing over the tonal differences between the violins, viola and cello, thereby emphasizing the music’s ultimate resolution. Contemporary quartets, such as the Daedalus, often focus on the music’s developmental characteristics by highlighting the contrasting timbres of the instruments, projecting four voices rather than a single foursome, leaving more than a few questions unanswered.
The result Sunday afternoon was interpretation via dissection. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the moving parts of any string quartet quite so brightly delineated as they did in the Prince Theater’s relatively dry acoustics. While I can’t say that I found the Daedalus’ renditions definitive, I can’t deny that my attention was riveted.