Pieces by Takemitsu, Chen Yi, Saariaho and Martinů comprise the unusual program
By Peter Alexander Aug. 21 at 10:42 p.m.
Green Room Artists, the unconventional chamber music collective founded last year by violinist Leslee Smucker to explore some little-known corners of repertoire, this fall gets a jump on other classical music groups’ fall seasons with a concert titled “Night Spaces,” at 7 pm. Thursday and Friday (Aug. 23 and 24).
Like last year’s program, which was motivated by an unpublished piece by the French composer Gabriel Fauré, “Night Spaces” features pieces that are off the beaten path. Works on the program are by composers whose names may or may not be familiar to Boulder audiences, and all whom came from countries outside the U.S.: Tōru Takemitsu (Japan), Chen Yi (China), Kaija Saariaho (Finland) and Bohuslav Martinů (Czech Republic). The ensembles range from duos for violin and cello to a sextet with winds, strings and piano.
“I wanted to do a companion concert to our last one, in that there’s some bridges in sounds,” Smucker says. “This one focuses on both the conception of the historical nocturne, and the beauty and mystery of night music. Martinů’s Chamber Music No. 1, which has the subtitle of Les fêtes nocturnes (Nocturnal celebration), was actually the one I found first, and I just fell in love with it.”
The largest work on the program, Chamber Music No. 1 is scored for violin, viola, cello, clarinet, harp and piano, and it will close the concert. “It’s one of the last pieces Martinů wrote, and each movement is so distinct and wonderful,” Smucker says. “And Les fêtes nocturnes is like a night party, so I got really excited about that.”
From the Martinů piece, Smucker went on to find other pieces of chamber music connected to the night. The concert will open with Distance de Fèe for violin and piano by Takemitsu. Here the connection to night may be more in the sound of the music than in the original conception of the piece.
It is based on a poem by surrealist Japanese poet and artist Shūzō Takiguchi about a mysterious fairy. “It describes a mythological creature living in ‘air’s labyrinth . . . it lives in the spring breeze’,” Smucker says. “I read somewhere that Takemitsu never wrote an ugly note in his life. It’s true! Everything he writes is beautiful.”
Chen Yi’s Night Thoughts for flute, cello and piano is “definitely a nocturne,” Smucker says. “Chen Yi has her own distinct voice. You can hear all of these different layers of sound, and the flute has very ornate licks. Silence plays a prominent role, interspersed with all of these great textures.”
Saariaho has become well known in the U.S. since her opera L’amour de loin (Love from afar) was produced at the Metropolitan Opera last year—the first opera by a woman presented there in more than 100 years. Her work has been known to new-music performers for many years, though, and Smucker performed her Lichtbogen (Bow of light) when she was a student at CU.
Like Takemitsu’s piece, Saariaho’s Aure seems to be about a breeze. The composer wrote, “We were caressed by a gentle breeze that our ancient language called aure; a kind of delicate morning breeze misty and scented in the dew.”
It was originally written for violin and viola, then rescored for violin and cello, Smucker explains. “She played violin, and so she writes magnificently for violin. She uses her own extended techniques—harmonic trills and sul pont (on the bridge of the violin)—to achieve all these really interesting sounds. You have to get used to it, but it’s perfectly intuitive, once you really look at it.”
Playing on the bridge usually produces a harsh and sinister sound, but according to Smucker, Saariaho writes it differently. “We think of it as creepy, but the way she writes is twinkly and sparkly and shimmery,” she says. “She makes it pianissimo, and dolce, and it is beautiful.”
“I love the way that this concert reminisces about the elusive and mysterious quality of night music in general,” Smucker says. “Going from the very serene Night Thoughts to the sort of playful Fêtes nocturnes, I hope that people hear all angles of night music.
“All of these pieces are just extremely beautiful to me.”
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Green Room Artists: Leslee Smucker and Timothy Cuffman, violin; Megan Healy, viola; Adam Riggs and Zack Reaves, cello; Colleen White, flute; Kellan Toohey, clarinet; Kathryn Harms, harp; and Jessica Nilles and Joshua Sawicki, piano.
7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, Seventh Day Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton, Boulder
7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24, Caffè Sole, 637 S. Broadway, Boulder
Tōru Takemitsu: Distance de Fèe for violin and piano
Chen Yi: Night Thoughts for flute, cello and [piano
Kaija Saariaho: Aure for violin and cello
Bohuslav Martinů: Chamber Music no. 1, “Les fêtes nocturnes,” for sextet
Edited Aug. 22 to correct typos and inadvertent spacing errors.