By Charmagne Eckert
Photos by Ania Simpson / Musical Masterworks
The discussion is intense. To one side, a generously proportioned speaker holds forth his opinions in a sonorous voice, his tone insistent. Across from him a protest is mounted, riding over his arguments in a back and forth counterpoint, soon supported by another delicate, but no less adamant, companion. The conversation is intelligent, passionate and utterly compelling; private, and at the same time, inclusive of the listener. It is what Johann Wolfgang Goethe is said to have called, “four rational people conversing.” It is Chamber Music.
For just over a quarter century, Musical Masterworks has been offering world-class chamber music performances in the beautiful, acoustically flawless Meetinghouse of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Connecticut. Musical Masterworks was born of a passion for music in all its forms, and from the recognition by its founders, that access to outstanding classical music need not be limited to large urban venues. As one of Masterworks’ founders and President, Alden Rockwell Murphy puts it, “There is a deep love of music in this community, there are people who have been aficionados all of their lives, and also people who are surprising themselves as they are discovering chamber music for the first time.”
Under the leadership of its present Artistic Director Edward Arron, who was bequeathed the position in 2009, Musical Masterworks has been subtly transforming to reflect the impassioned musicianship that illuminates Arron’s mastery as a renowned cellist. He follows in the tradition of excellence established by the first Artistic Director, Charles Wadsworth, who is perhaps best know as the Founding Artistic Director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York City. Arron brings his virtuosity as a performer, devotion to education – traveling worldwide to perform and as Professor of Cello at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst – but he also a parent. The integration of education and performance with personal life are part of what informs Arron’s work with Musical Masterworks; for him, music is clearly something to be lived. “The musical [experience] is elemental. People are using their imaginations, they are cooperating, they are being inspired to do [their own] great things. The arts bring out so much humanity and the world is desperately in need of that. To bring music to communities, and to push the envelope in creating wonderful contexts with programs; or simply educating young children, starting them on instruments, opening the channels of the imagination – this sense of being steeped in the world of music and trying to pass that along feels right for me,” Arron says. Arron’s interest in sharing his enthusiasm for chamber music with younger generations meshes seamlessly with the educational component of Masterworks’ mission to bring professional chamber music ensembles into area schools. Their community outreach program has been active since 1997 and has brought over 35,000 concerts to more than 20 schools.
Accordingly, the upcoming 2016-17 season offers a special opportunity that younger audiences may find of particular interest when, on December 3rd and 4th, Musical Masterworks presents the Brooklyn Ryder quartet. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette hailed them as, “. . . four classical musicians performing with the energy of young rock stars jamming on their guitars, a Beethoven-goes-indie foray into making classical music accessible but also celebrating why it was good in the first place.” Arron who has know the musicians for many years, elaborates, “They have combined extraordinary musical training and things they have experienced traveling the world with different kinds of music. In addition to their tremendous talent, they are engaging and unpretentious. It ends up being a truly joyful couple of hours.” Beyond a cheeky elegance likely to appeal to all ages, one of the members, Collin Jacobsen, is also a composer. The quartet will be performing a selection of his original works, framed by Boccherini and Beethoven, providing a unique opportunity to, as Arron puts it, “ . . . have a living breathing composer up there who can explain his piece and then deliver. Collin’s music is powerful, accessible; it’s clever. And here we’ve actually got the composer on stage and playing it for our audience.”
A new feature this season is the pre-concert talk being presented by Arron at the February performances in direct response to multiple requests by audience members eager to learn more about the structure and context of the music they so enjoy. The February evenings feature the works of Johannes Brahms and Robert Schuman, including Schuman’s Frauenliebe und-leben song cycles. “That, I think, is just a wonderful world to walk into. With the relationships between Johannes Brahms and the Schumans – Robert and Clara – how they influenced each other personally and compositionally. And to see with the Brahms song cycles, how the music is put together with the text. Our audience [members] are very acute listeners and I think this will lend another dimension for them in understanding how characters and motif are used. I am thrilled that they seem interested in digging deeper and understanding the history and artistic aspects of the music,” Arron explains. The talk will be suited for everyone from older children to adult and promises to offer a consideration of history and musical structure blended with the dramatic story of the intertwined private lives of three great composers.
Musical Masterworks enriches the lives of everyone who has had the fortune to experience their offerings, but it is because of the enthusiastic support of individuals and businesses in the community that it is possible for Masterworks to keep bringing this remarkable music to the region. Above all says Murphy, a debt of gratitude is owed to the many individuals who have worked tirelessly to ensure the ongoing success of the programs, “Our board of directors are all volunteers and they are just amazing. They really know how to run an organization like this. We could never do this without everyone who gives so generously of their time.”
Even the setting is essential to the tone and integrity of the concert series and, to Arron, it could hardly be a more ideal collaboration. “The Meetinghouse is one of the most incredible chamber music venues I’ve ever set foot in. The acoustics are perfect, it’s aesthetically gorgeous and there’s this incredible immediacy between the performers and the audience because the audience is so close to the stage. There’s an electricity and energy that takes place every single time. For those who’ve experienced it there is a realization of how powerful – healing and truly inspiring – live chamber music can be.”
To experience for yourself the upcoming 2016-17 Musical Masterworks season – opening October 22nd in the iconic colonial Meetinghouse of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme – visit: http://musicalmasterworks.org/concerts.
For further information and to purchase tickets contact:
Link to Concert Schedule: http://musicalmasterworks.org/concerts
First Congregational Church of Old Lyme
2 Ferry Road
Old Lyme, CT 06371