One of the major hurdles we had to clear to get our season online was finding a great videographer who knew how to capture live music with the highest quality and fidelity. Meet Chris Zaiontz of Wizard Broadcasting!
As we were figuring out how we could go online with our series this year, we knew we needed a space in which to perform, as our venue is closed to us until further notice (even with no audience). I was scrolling through social media one night, and I landed on Doc Watkins’ livestream from Jazz TX. “Wow”, I thought, “This looks and sounds great!” And everything clicked. Here was a venue already set up for live-streaming live concerts! Doc agreed to let us use his space and put us in touch with Chris, the Wizard at Wizard Broadcasting. Chris makes Doc’s livestream work seamlessly and look beautiful.
If you haven’t caught The Doc Watkins Show yet, we encourage you to take a look. First, because Doc puts on a great show, AND it will give you an idea of the quality of production you’re going to see from our livestreams this season. We think the high quality video and multiple camera angles will give you a new perspective on our concert experience! You can see any of the archived shows at Jazz, TX’s YouTube, or catch the livestream Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 CST. (Side note: Jazz, TX‘s kitchen is open Tuesday-Saturday, and we hope you’ll consider showing them a little love for hosting our livestream by adding them to your social distancing takeout routine!)
Next crucial component: making sure the audio is the very best representation of our real sound! Enter our long-time recording engineer, Bob Catlin. Bob has been recording our concerts since Day One and recorded our Grammy-nominated album, Salon Buenos Aires: Music by Miguel del Aguila. In fact, up until 2019, he had been at more Camerata concerts than Ken or I had (a story for another time!). He knows our sound as well as (and probably better) than we do!
We’re all in uncharted territory here, but we’ve assembled a really great team that we are confident will help us bring you the highest quality livestream experience possible! Our debut stream goes LIVE on Sept 13 at 3:00. Tickets available here!
The youngest composer ever to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music is Caroline Shaw (1982- ). At age 30, she received this honor for her a cappella vocal work Partita for 8 Voices. In addition to composing, Shaw is active as a violin soloist, chamber musician, and ensemble singer, chiefly with the group Roomful of Teeth, for whom she composed Partita. Her recent commissions include works for Carnegie Hall, the Guggenheim Museum, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter. She has also collaborated frequently with Kanye West. Shaw has studied at Princeton, Rice, and Yale Universities.
Shaw most often composes for a particular artist or ensemble, crafting her music to a degree on aspects of the artist/ensemble revealed through personal encounters. Blueprint was composed for the Aizuri Quartet, which played its world premiere in April 2016 at Wolf Trap Vienna, VA). The title of this seven-minute work uses that quartet’s name as a springboard for Blueprint. However, the work also relates closely to an early string quartet by Beethoven. As Shaw explains:
The Aizuri Quartet’s name comes from “aizuri-e,” a style of Japanese woodblock printing that primarily uses a blue ink. In the 1820s, artists in Japan began to import a particular blue pigment known as “Prussian blue.” . . . The story of aizuri-e is one of innovation, migration, transformation, craft, and beauty. Blueprint, composed for the incredible Aizuri Quartet, takes its title from this beautiful blue woodblock printing tradition as well as from that familiar standard architectural representation of a proposed structure: the blueprint. This piece began its life as a harmonic reduction — a kind of floor plan — of Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 18, No. 6 [“La Malinconia”]. As a violinist and violist, I have played this piece many times, in performance and in joyous late-night reading sessions with musician friends. . . . Chamber music is ultimately about conversation without words. We talk to each other with our dynamics and articulations, and we try to give voice to the composers whose music has inspired us to gather in the same room and play music. Blueprint is also a conversation — with Beethoven, with Haydn (his teacher and the “father” of the string quartet), and with the joys and malinconia of his Op. 18, No. 6.
Walker, Lyric for String Quartet
George Walker (1922-2018) is one of America’s most distinguished Black composers. Educated at Oberlin and Curtis conservatories, the Eastman School of Music, and Fontainbleau, Walker studied composition with such notables as Gian-Carlo Menotti and Nadia Boulanger, and piano with Rudolph Serkin and Robert Casadesus. Having taught in several major schools of music, Walker held chairs in composition at Rutgers University, the University of Delaware, and the Peabody Institute. He has also won two Rockefeller fellowships and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 1982, Walker was made a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1996, Walker was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his symphonic work, Lilacs, based on poetry by Walt Whitman. He was the first African American to be honored with that award.
In Walker’s adaptation for string orchestra, Lyric became the most often performed work by an American composer. About the music, Walker has written:
It was composed in 1946 and was originally the second movement of my first string quartet. After a brief introduction, the principal theme that permeates the entire work is introduced by the first violins. A static interlude is followed by successive imitations of the theme that leads to an intense climax. The final section of the work presents a somewhat more animated statement of the same thematic material. The coda recalls the quiet interlude that appeared earlier. Lyric is dedicated to the memory of my grandmother.
Program annotator William D. West has noted certain parallels between George Walker’s Lyric for Strings and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Each was originally the slow movement of its composer’s first string quartet, and both are elegiac pieces expressing an underlying sorrow. West writes:
The poignancy inherent in Walker’s thematic material, and the way he builds it to a searing climax half way through, may also suggest a profound grief, and in this case, of course, we know the connection with the passing of his grandmother. Appropriately, since this is a very personal memorial, the music in the string orchestra version remains intimate throughout, the equivalent of a personal letter which takes us briefly and succinctly into the private and confidential world of the sender.
-William D. West
Beethoven, Quartet in F Major, Op. 18, no. 1
The six works of Op. 18 represent Beethoven’s first burst of energy in the direction of the string quartet. At the time of writing (1798-1800), Beethoven had many occasions to experiment with the medium and to hear his music when the ink was barely dry. He regularly attended the quartet sessions of Prince Lichnowsky and Emmanuel Förster, a composer who exerted a degree of influence upon young Beethoven. There, a group of musicians was placed at Beethoven’s disposal, giving him opportunities rarely afforded a composer.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) composed the F Major Quartet second in the series, but he placed it at the head of the set because of its size and impressiveness. This work stems from 1799, and Beethoven dedicated its initial version to his friend, Karl Amenda. Two years later, the composer revised it with the statement, “I have just learned how to write quartets properly.”
The most impressive feature of the first movement is its initial “turn” motive. Beethoven intensively experimented with different versions of this idea, covering no fewer than 16 pages in his sketch books. At last, he devised a motive that music scholar Joseph Kerman says “behaves like a coiled spring, ready to shoot off in all directions. . . .” Although this motive dominates the movement with its 104 occurrences, there is a rich abundance of other thematic ideas. Kerman states that the movement’s mood “owes much to the perilous effort of holding all this material together.”
Beethoven did not give “names” to much of his music, but he occasionally had some extra-musical idea in mind. At the end of one sketch of this quartet’s Adagio, Beethoven wrote, “les deriers soupirs,” “the last breaths.” Reportedly, he interpreted this to his friend, Amenda, with the words, “I thought of the scene in the burial vault in Romeo and Juliet.” Broad theatrical emotion is rampant throughout the movement, but especially in the development, which romanticizes its themes as no quartet ever had before.
The size and emotional range of the Scherzo are slight in comparison with the preceding movements. However, as a witty respite, it works well. In the Trio section, a “limping” motive, adds a humorous touch.
Beethoven inherited from Haydn two responsibilities for the finales to early works such as this: They must be effervescent, and they must be sharply rhythmic or dance-like. The finale to the F Major Quartet fills both requirements — and then some. To balance the magnitude of the first movement, Beethoven here provides a lengthy sonata-rondo form with well-contrasted themes. The verve and directed energy of this finale provide an appropriate finish to a monumental accomplishment in chamber music.
If you’re here, you may be trying to figure out how to subscribe this season. I know, we changed everything (because everything changed around us!). We tried to anticipate how you might want to attend concerts this year and have laid out our suggestions for how to get it below. Try finding the statement that best matches what you want and see if our suggestion makes sense for you!
Scenario #1: I want to hear all the concerts AND I want to come to concerts in person as soon as possible! Get a subscription! We’re expecting audience capacity restrictions when we start performing for live audiences again, so only subscribers and donors will have access to the in-person concert reservation system. You’ll have access to our online series all season long for your entire household and can convert that to an in-person ticket on a concert-to-concert basis when we invite live audiences to our concerts again (probably not before mid-season). When you convert to in-person, your subscription will only be good for one seat, but you’ll be able to purchase additional in-person tickets for each member of your party (N.B. We may limit the number of additional in-person tickets each subscriber/donor may purchase depending on audience capacity restrictions). The reservation system will automatically build a bubble of empty seats around your party to preserve social distancing.
Donors and subscribers will also get to enjoy periodic in-depth interactive online discussions of chamber music repertoire with our musicians AND access to our curated archive of Camerata recordings!
Scenario #2: I only want to hear in-person concerts and I’m ok with missing concerts that are only online. Don’t get a subscription, make a donation! Donors will have access to the in-person concert reservation system when we return to performing for live audiences. We’re a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, so your donation is tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law and makes everything we do possible. Bear in mind, we expect about half the season may be exclusively online.
Scenario #3: I want to hear all the concerts but I don’t know if I will ever want to come to concerts in person this season. Get a subscription! You’ll have access to our online series all season long for your entire household and can convert that to in-person tickets on a concert-to-concert basis when you feel ready to come to the concert hall. Or you can stay in your home and watch the whole season online – the choice is yours with a subscription!
A perk of online access is you can enjoy a concert more than once!
Scenario #4: I don’t know what I want to do! We get it. Commitment is hard under the best circumstances. We recommend purchasing online access on a concert-to-concert basis (you can do this from our Tickets Page. You’ll get access for your entire household to whatever concerts you choose to enjoy live from your home or at your convenience for a limited time thereafter.
Mid-March 2020: After we postponed our final concerts of the 19/20 season and a set of in-school education concerts for elementary students due to the coronavirus pandemic, we needed a moment to catch our breath. We then moved our attention to finding a way to salvage our annual free masterclass for area student string quartets. It had been scheduled for late-May. We knew we wouldn’t be able to see students in person as we normally do for this class; we would need to move the event online. As we worked through the logistics, we discovered that the entire format would have to change. Live quartets became recorded solos. The ephemeral live class became something that could live forever and ever online. What had been improvisatory teaching had to now be carefully planned. We learned a lot along the way and discovered many ways going online actually enhanced what we could do and extend our reach.
Suffice it to say, we needed HELP! I won’t go into all the technical details here (it would take up a ton of space and I don’t think I could do it if I tried…). I can tell you that SSgt Jaime Parker (US Air Force Band of the West and Stacey’s husband) volunteered his considerable expertise to help us design the class from the ground up and masterfully ran all the technical components so all four of us could focus all our attention on teaching. It would not have been anything close to the smooth and effortless event that it was without his help. Jaime, you da best!
PERFORMERS & REP
We knew we would need to shift from a quartet class to a solo class to accommodate social distancing. While it was possible that some student quartets may have had a pre-pandemic recording they could have sent us, we thought it was very unlikely. So the call went out on our social media channels for area student violinists, violists and cellists to send us their solo videos. We got so many responses we had to add a second class – good problem (also easy to do when you’re online)! We were so impressed with their intrepid spirits – diving right in to this experiment with their solo performances!
INTERACTING WITH A RECORDING
One challenge of teaching via recording that we didn’t anticipate was the discomfort of not knowing how any comment landed. Playing in a master class is an extremely vulnerable thing for anyone to do – you’re putting your art out there specifically to be criticized in front of people! For this reason, when we work with students, we constantly check body language and facial expressions to see if we are communicating effectively and that the student feels safe. Because we didn’t have the students patched in live, we couldn’t see their faces to be sure. As a teacher, it felt like I was missing a limb! I couldn’t read the student’s face to see if they understood me, if they wanted to hear more from me on this topic. Or if they were ready for me to stop talking.
NO MORE IMPROV!
In a master class, we are working on two levels. The first level is working with the student performers to help them improve whatever issues are holding them back. The second is making that work relevant and interesting to the audience of learners. In a live class, we are able to conduct a process of trial and error with the student performers. Try this…kind of works; try this other thing that builds on the first thing…better still; try something else that approaches from another angle… really getting there now. It’s improvisatory.
Because we used recordings and had no live interaction with the students, this trial and error process was not available to us. So we really leaned into Level 2, making the work relevant and interesting to the audience of learners. This required much more planning. We couldn’t improvise in this situation.
An advantage of using recordings and being online is that it allowed us time to prepare and more tools with which to teach. We watched the videos in advance and carefully formulated a coordinated approach. In a live class, we don’t know exactly what we’re going to need to address until the students play, so we have to improvise. With recordings, we could plan in advance what to address and even coordinate who would talk about what.
Being online also gave us new and unique tools that we would’t have had in a live class, too. We could rewind videos to the exact moment we wanted to work on, prepare music scores for the audience to see (with annotations, even!); we could even cue up videos of other performers to demonstrate different approaches instead of just telling students to go check them out later. This was definitely a perk of the format!
EXTENDED LIFE ONLINE
Once each live master class is over, it only lives in the memories of the people that were there; an online event can reach more people and potentially live forever online! It’s gratifying for us to reach more students by having our class online. And as a student, I know I would have loved to refer to a video instead of depending on my memory! Lots comes at you quick in a master class and it’s hard to take it all on board when you’re the student under the microscope. Our classes aren’t available for ever and ever, but they are still archived here and here.
Our first foray into online content was definitely a learning experience. We learned that a knowledgeable assist is invaluable and that we can (and must!) do a lot in advance to make an online event go smoothly. We also had to make peace with the fact that Murphy’s Law will probably still assert itself somewhere along the way but that going online also creates new opportunities to enhance the experience. More online content is coming soon – our entire 2020-2021 season will be available online and we’re thinking ways to use what we learned to enhance those concert experiences. Online doesn’t have to be a weak substitute for live – it can be its own unique experience!
“It would be hard to imagine two more compatible musical partners than Mr. Zerweck and Mr. Valkov – compatible with each other and with Beethoven. Both revealed themselves to be fearless, ferocious musicians – at times, even frightening. They could be sweet and gentle when the composer insisted, but with a loosening of the reins they could rip your throat out. In a good way, of course.”
Read the rest of Mike Greenberg’s review of our Beethoven250 program here: http://incidentlight.com/Music%20reviews/camerata-zerweck-valkov-olmos-ensemble-soli-200221.html