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Festival Concert 1

  • Darrows Barn 3 Round Top Lane Damariscotta, ME 04543 USA (map)

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25th Anniversary season
Music of Our Common Earth

Festival Concert 1

August 1, 2019
7:30 pm – Festival Concert at Darrows Barn
6:30 pm – Pre-concert lecture by Mark Mandarano
Season Opening Champagne Concert at 5:00 pm
A special Champagne toast to open the 25th season takes place at 5:00 pm, followed by a solo recital by Vijay Iyer.
Darrows Barn at Round Top Farm

Dinner provided by Damariscotta River Grill is available for purchase starting at 5:45 pm before each Festival Concert, located under the tent outside of Darrow’s Barn.


Ludwig van Beethoven String Trio in D major, Op. 9, No. 2 (1798)

Jennifer Koh, violin; Dimitri Murrath, viola; Wilhelmina Smith, cello

Vijay Iyer The Diamond (2018)

Jennifer Koh, violin; Vijay Iyer, piano


Maurice Ravel Duo (1920)

Jennifer Koh, violin; Wilhelmina Smith, cello

Vijay Iyer The Law of Returns (2017) (commissioned by the Witold Lutosławski National Forum of Music in Wrocław, Poland)

Vijay Iyer, piano; Jennifer Koh, violin; Dimitri Murrath, viola; Wilhelmina Smith, cello


Program Notes

The arts have long been a forum for the dialogue between cultures and ideas. Embracing new trends, pioneering new avenues, borrowing, stealing, appropriating the building blocks of other individuals and other cultures, are all part of what has established tradition, and will forever be what renews it and steers it in promising directions. The composers on tonight’s program all built upon the work of others: Beethoven, from his models in Mozart and Haydn; Ravel, from Debussy as well as from jazz; and Vijay Iyer, in writing a work as a response to the passing of one of his mentors. In crossing these boundaries, the whole of music is rewired and smelted into a stronger, more tensile alloy that guides the artform into the future.

In Beethoven’s early years, he proved himself adept at innovating within the models recently established by Haydn and Mozart. The three String Trios of Opus 9 (1797–99) show not Beethoven the revolutionary and not yet the universe-embracing composer of the Ode to Joy. Rather, in these works we hear evidence of a master craftsman whose compositions already teasingly tweak the poised, aristocratic style of the time by subtly introducing his innovations, such as the kind of major-minor mixture and bold emphasis that got Mozart into hot water with his audiences just a few years before. Beethoven trusted that his audience would accept these compositions for what they were—pieces reveling in the pleasure of invention and the glimmers of an honest representation of human struggle.

The first movement of the Trio in D major begins amiably enough with coolly symmetrical phrases, which, soon enough, are met with humorous rejoinders. As things progress, cadences introduce surprising turns to the minor, hinting at a deeper seriousness that comes to the fore in the development section. There is a distinctly operatic tone to the second movement Andante, which seems to emerge as much from the world of Beethoven’s Italian contemporaries Rossini and Salieri as it does from his own native northern Germany. The coda is especially daring and expressive. The Minuet also begins by seeming enjoyably familiar, but soon enough finds itself enmeshed in minor keys. The Trio, while rhythmically echoing like a children’s round, investigates unstable harmonies with nearly wicked single-mindedness. The word “Rondo” is deceptively printed in the score before the final movement, but the structure is much more complex (indeed, it is as excellent an example of the blend of sonata-rondo as one could hope to find). There is the expected jovial first theme, but instead of the simple, rounded structure of a rondo melody, it comes across as an integrated paragraph with clear cadence at the end. A new idea immediately ensues, also with a defined endpoint, lingering on a half-cadence. What follows sounds like the first theme returning but turns into development, toying with motivic elements. After this, the first half of the piece is repeated, followed by an exuberant coda where all hints of minor-key struggles are banished.

In a tribute to Claude Debussy after his death in 1918, his publisher sent a request to several prominent composers, such as Stravinsky, Bartók, and Dukas, asking that they each compose a piece of music in memoriam of the pioneering French composer. Ravel’s contribution was a one-movement duo for violin and cello (which he later developed into the multi-movement Sonata). In this work, we can see Ravel engaging with the intersection of various musical materials. Throughout his life, Ravel, like many of his contemporaries, was fascinated with folk song and in particular the way such songs are often rooted in the pentatonic scale. In addition, Ravel had recently encountered jazz, which has its roots in the “blues” scale, at the core of which is, once again, the pentatonic scale, inflected by a mixture of major and minor. The final element was the desire to explore modernist approaches to music, to embrace more dissonant harmonies and “exotic” scales. By innovatively melding the elements of traditional folk music with the new combinations made possible with jazz, Ravel builds a bridge, musically, to the distinctive modernist sound, which can be strange and alien territory. Beneath it all is a unity, complexity derived from the utmost simplicity.

Vijay Iyer has risen to prominence as much as jazz pianist and composer as he has as a composer and performer of music in a “classical” tradition. About his works on tonight’s program, Iyer provides the following notes:

In The Diamond Sutra, an early Buddhist text also known as The Diamond that Cuts Through Illusion, the Buddha leads his interlocutor, the Elder Subhuti, through a series of questions and provocations. The Buddha then concludes the session by offering this teaching to those assembled:

All composed things are like a dream,
a phantom, a drop of dew, a flash of lightning.
That is how to meditate on them;
that is how to observe them.

This duo piece is in four sections, corresponding roughly to these four disparate visions of impermanence: four distinct moments of interplay between form and emptiness, four corners of a diamond. This series of images is itself a “composed thing,” gathering dissimilar elements into a unified system. It suggests that the things we make are similar to things that exist beyond intention. The Buddha’s utterance helps us hear so-called “composition” and “improvisation”—or the encompassing category, “music”—as part of an even larger aggregate: that which forms and recedes.

The Diamond is a part of Jennifer Koh’s project Limitless, which she describes as follows:

Limitless celebrates the collaborative relationship between composer and performer, while also exploring the historical role of the composer as performer. This spirit of collaboration contrasts with the conventional notion that composition and performance are discrete and detached parts of the musical process.

Vijay Iyer’s notes on his recently composed piano quartet begin with a quote from Muhal Richard Abrams:

There seems to be a consistent law that pervades human activity. . . . I’ll just say it’s the law of returns. . . . You breathe out and you breathe in—it’s pulsating. When we do this music, we have a responsibility. The first move is a selfish move: here’s what I want to do. [When] we come to these audiences; then, we get what the effect was.

–Muhal Richard Abrams

The Law of Returns (2017), for piano and string trio, is dedicated to composer-pianist Muhal Richard Abrams (1930–2017), a celebrated jazz pianist who collaborated with Dexter Gordon, Woody Shaw, Max Roach, and an entire catalogue of other greats. The piece develops from a mysterious beginning to a series of cyclic pulsations that form the basis for rhythmic and textural interplay. There is a deliberate openness in construction that is meant to remain open to a range of responses. It is not quite a finished monument to Mr. Abrams, but rather a raw, personal response to his departure, a strongly felt remembrance, and an animated meditation on his influence as an artist and teacher.

 By Mark Mandarano and Vijay Iyer

Later Event: August 5