I can’t resist a tabloid-style headline like the one topping this column for what’s about to hit Walla Walla.
The Winter Chamber Music Festival returns Jan. 11-14 for four packed days with seven events. I may have to hit all of them.
The major classical work will be Garbriel Fauré’s “Piano Quartet in C minor, Opus 15.” The piece — for piano, violin, viola and cello — makes a fine representation of late romantic music. Fauré, born in 1845, when Chopin and Berlioz were still working, was later regarded as the leading French composer of his generation.
He was a radical, exploring new directions in music and thus risking the rejection of the establishment — a rejection that duly came about when he was denied an appointment to the Paris Conservatory in 1892. The director huffed, “Fauré? Never! If he is appointed, I resign.”
Fauré championed the music of younger composers such as Ravel, who dedicated his famous “String Quartet” to the master.
Later, as the 20th century rolled round, Fauré, who died in 1924, continued to champion the new music as well as the old. When finally appointed to the Conservatory, he promoted not only new works, but also baroque masters such as Couperin, among the greatest of French musicians, but who — mon dieu! — had been excluded from the curriculum.
The quartet will repay the repeated listenings afforded by festival founder Tim Christie’s practice of presenting some works on multiple occasions. The quartet performs in an open rehearsal, a “Tasting Music” event, and as the final piece on the Sunday evening concert at the Gesa Power House Theatre.
The festival’s “Portrait of an Artist” event features violinist Brittany Boulding Breeden, who has appeared here twice before. She is one of the leading performers in the Pacific Northwest, with a career going increasingly global, but up close and personal here.
Now, the defying physics part of this month’s performers:
First, the Walla Walla Symphony on Jan. 23 hosts the Peking Acrobats, a stunning group of virtuosi who seemingly drift effortlessly through space, disdaining gravity. They also must have bones made of liquid, so flexible are they.
Of course, there’s no magic, and as far as I can tell, no hidden wires. It’s just that their precision, balance and purity of movement trick your brain into seeing impossible feats. Well, impossible, yes, for most of us.
This group travels with their own ensemble of musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments to provide sounds as beautiful and exotic to our ears as their acrobatics are to our eyes. Take the kids.
Next I want to mention one of the most wonderful and scary instruments I have ever played. It’s the theremin, appearing in Walla Walla for perhaps the first time during the Chamber Music Festival. Christie is bringing Carolina Eyck to town for performances on Jan. 12, 13 and 14. She is possibly the world’s finest virtuoso on this bizarre and wonderful instrument, named after its Russian inventor, Leon Theremin, who patented it in 1928. This makes it about the first instrument in the short but honorable history of electronic music.
The theremin is played without being touched — the performer simply moves her hands through the air, and the instrument detects their proximity to its antennae — one for pitch, one for volume. The electronics of this need not detain us, but note the early date of invention. Nothing digital, no infrared detectors.
The darn thing is nearly impossible to make sound good. I think Eyck, who is German, must have the same grace and spatial sensibility as one of the Peking Acrobats in order to make the thing actually produce music, as opposed to just random, out-of-tune sounds.
But music it is; she even plays Bach. She wiggles her right hand just a little bit to provide vibrato, a small touch of which is needed, but too much of which would make the instrument sound like a musical saw. Eyck is a master; you will hear real music, not a saw.
She received her first instrument at age 7 from Lydia Kavina, who was a pupil of Theremin himself. Eyck also is a composer and has written beautiful music combining theremin with voice and other instruments. The festival will present her work titled “Fantasias for Theremin and String Quartet.”
Note for wish list: Carolina performing with the Peking Acrobats!
John Jamison teaches in the Quest program at Walla Walla Community College and serves on the board of the Walla Walla Symphony. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.