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Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013

Chambers of Delight

Present Music’s intimate concert series

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Present Music’s artistic director Kevin Stalheim doesn’t worry about his audience’s intellectual comfort. He trusts that if you are attending a PM concert, you are an adventuresome, open-minded, curious concertgoer who sees no future in barring new music and living composers from the performance hall. Furthermore, he’s not all that concerned with his musicians’ comfort. By pushing musical boundaries, Stalheim has found himself in the company of artists for whom stretching skills can pay big dividends in both musical growth and excitement.

Stalheim is enthusiastic about PM’s upcoming program, In the Chamber. This concert features works for small chamber ensembles, which, he feels, are a perfect match for the intimate and unusual venues in which they will be performed. Featured performers include Michael Mizrahi, of the piano faculty at Lawrence University Conservatory of Music; PM favorite, Eric Segnitz, on violin; the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Margot Schwartz on violin and viola; Erin Pipal on viola; Adrien Zitoun on cello and MSO’s versatile William Helmers on clarinet.

On the program is Andrew Norman’s Sabina, a mesmerizing, aural representation of light shining through the intricately carved stone windows of Rome’s Santa Sabina Cathedral as scored for violin, viola and cello. Ted Hearne is an enormously talented composer comfortable in several genres; his Vessels for violin, viola, and piano creates an atmospheric sensation of tension and anticipation. Nico Muhly’s Motion (an homage to those among us who count obsessively) is composed for clarinet, string quartet and piano and offers contrasting layers of pointillism and lyricism. Timothy Andres’s hauntingly beautiful I Found it by the Sea, a warm and veiled work for violin, viola, cello and piano, is inspired by Brahms’s Piano Quartet, Op. 25, which Andres considers one of the high-water marks of chamber music. Additionally, Wisconsin composer Ben Johnston—about whom Segnitz (an artist not given to hyperbole) says is the world’s greatest living composer—has refashioned his saxophone quartet O Waly Waly Variations for string quartet. Johnston’s score of the folk song “O Waly Waly (The Water is Wide)” is a marvel of a piece: the rich, tonal voicing injected with poignant musical question marks, inevitably acquiesces to love’s disappointment. Finally, The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, by Osvaldo Golijov is based on the story of a medieval Jewish mystic and is written in the klezmer style for clarinet and string quartet. Golijov, whose compositions are much in demand, was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship in 2003.

Dreams and Prayers features Helmers on clarinet. He has performed this piece previously but has not otherwise played a lot of klezmer-style music, so he relishes the opportunity with full respect and enthusiasm for the genre. With its laughs and sobs, this music’s emotions are universal.

This widely appealing program will be performed in three disparate venues (one of which is already sold out). Performances with tickets remaining will be held at: The Schlitz Audubon Nature Center (1111 E. Brown Deer Road) at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16, and at The Hamilton bar (823 E. Hamilton St.) at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23. On Sunday, Feb.17, Present Music will travel to Memphis, Tenn., to play this program at the University of Memphis; the next day, the musicians will collaborate with composition students at the university’s music school.
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