Green Room Artists open the new season with music about night and breezes

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).

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Members of Green Room Artists performing last year in e-Town Hall

Like last year’s program, which was motivated by an unpublished piece by the French composer Gabriel Fauré, “Night Spaces” features pieces that are off the beaten path.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.

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Violinist and Green Room Artists founder LesleeSmucker

“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.

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Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu

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.

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Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. Photo by Andrew Campbell.

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

“Night Spaces”

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

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Edited Aug. 22 to correct typos and inadvertent spacing errors.

 

New chamber music collective Green Room Artists debuts in Boulder

Little-heard pieces of French music form Friday’s opening concert

By Peter Alexander March 19 at 5:40 p.m.

Leslee Smucker recently graduated with a doctorate in violin performance from CU Boulder, and she is like a lot of new graduates. “I was thinking, ‘what should I do?’” she says.

Unlike most recent graduates, however, she decided to boldly create a new organization to answer that question. Green Room Artists, a collective of chamber musicians that she formed with friends, will give their first concert at 7 p.m. Friday (March 23) in eTown Hall.

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The musicians of Green Room Artists were chosen to be easy to work with. Photo courtesy of Green Room Artists.

The program includes an unpublished and nearly unknown piece by French composer Gabriel Fauré, along with other rarely heard chamber music by French composers of Fauré’s era: Albert Roussel, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.

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Leslee Smucker, artistic director of Green Room Artists

The long-term plan Smucker has for Green Room Artists is not particularly about repertoire—“I’m a little bit genre-less,” she says of her musical interests—but more about the milieu of the performances. “I wanted it to be a casual feeling, like a house concert (with) lots of conversation, building community around new musical ideas.

“I believe that audiences are smart, and I want to give them something that they can really think about, that when they leave they can have something to take with them.”

To bring this about, she called friends among the many outstanding professional musicians in the front-range area. She picked not only people that she knew were good musicians, but also ones that she knew would be good collaborators.

“I want to work with people that I can work with, and that other people can work with,” she says. “If you get along, you don’t always have to agree. If you genuinely respect each other, that translates to an audience.”

The program for Friday’s concert started with a research project Smucker did as part of her doctoral studies at CU. She was taking a graduate seminar with assoc. prof. of musicology Carlo Caballero on the music of Fauré when she discovered the manuscript of a piece that had never been published.

“The Bibliothèque nationale (National library) in France has a lot of things digitized,” she explains. “I was just looking at all of this stuff and I saw the manuscript of this piece.” The music she discovered was written for a play by Georges Clemenceau, who is better known as the Prime Minister of France in the early 20th century than as a writer.

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CU assoc. prof. Carlo Caballero

When Smucker learned that the incidental music for Clemenceau’s Le Voile de Bonheur (The veil of happiness) had never been published and was once thought to have been lost, she decided to write about it for the seminar. That led to a joint article with Caballero for a forthcoming volume from Cambridge University Press—and to Friday’s performance of the music.

The score calls for an unusual group of instruments, which got the ball rolling on the membership of Green Room Artists: string trio, harp, flute, clarinet and percussion. Because it is a relatively short piece, Smucker looked for other music by French composers around Fauré’s time that used some of the same instruments.

The works she found for the program are Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro for string quartet, harp, flute and clarinet; Roussel’s Serenade for flute, string trio and harp; and Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis, an instrumental work for two harps, two flutes and celesta based on poems by Pierre Louÿs written in the manner of the Greek poetess Sappho. Smucker will read the Louÿs poems to introduce the individual Debussy movements.

Caballero will present a pre-concert talk at 6:15 p.m. Friday, and will also play the celesta part on the Debussy.

The program is an interesting excursion into an area of French repertoire that is not well known in this country. Consequently the style can be difficult for American audiences and musicians, but Smucker and her friends are excited to bring it to life in Boulder.

“We all love French music,” Smucker says. “There is that kind of gauzy, dreamy quality that is hard to pull off. Try to forget whatever has happened outside and just let yourself be open to those sorts of sounds. You don’t have to be French to be moved by this music. It’s a very enjoyable concert to come to!

“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it.”

As for what comes next for Green Room Artists, Smucker has no shortage of ideas. “I have lists and lists of concerts that I want to do,” she says. “I have probably 50 concerts that I want to do, (and) sometimes I just look through those and I’m like, ‘What should I do next?”

Stay tuned.

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Le Voile de Bonheur
Green Room Artists
7 p.m. Friday, March 23
eTown Hall, Boulder

Gabriel Fauré: Incidental music for Le Voile de Bonheur (The vale of happiness)
Ravel: Introduction and Allegro
Albert Roussel: Serenade
Debussy: Les Chansons de Bilitis

Tickets