Chamber Music at Great Gorge leaves audience breathless

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:50

    VERNON-The second concert of Chamber Music at Great Gorge's 2004-2005 season left an audience of about 160 souls delighted and wanting more. The concert took places in St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic church on Route 517. "Completing six seasons is supposed to be a sign of success," said Vernon resident pianist Gail Niwa, who founded the chamber group and serves as its artistic director. The chamber ensemble gives two concerts each season. Another concert is planned for some time early in the autumn. Accompanying Gail Niwa were her brother, David Niwa, and cellist Eugene Moye. All the chamber ensemble members are internationally acclaimed, award-winning musicians and teachers. Gail Niwa lead the chamber group in an imaginative program that featured glowing performances of American composer Paul Schoenfield 1986 "Café Music," Polish composer Karol Szymanowski 1915 "Fountains of Arethuse," French composer Olivier Messiaen's 1941 "Praise to Jesus Eternal," and Russian Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Trio Opus 50." Schoenfield's Café Music provided a lively opening. In three parts, the beginning Allegro suggests a speakeasy with its rollicking ragtime and jazzy melodies. The following Rubato is ultra romantic, recalling such Hollywood greats of the 1930s and ‘40s, as Max Steiner's score for "Gone With the Wind." Café Music concludes with a Presto evoking a stylish gathering at an Art Deco café photographed by Brassaï. The great 20th century Polish composer, Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937), after years of neglect, finally is getting some attention. His "Fountain of Arethuse," superficially reminds one of a piano sonata by Alexander Scriabin, but with violin added. Nevertheless, it is characteristic of his richly romantic, colorful, intense and individual voice. Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time is one of the signal works of the 20th century. Composed in a German prison camp for the only instruments available - piano, clarinet, cello and violin - it is a mystical and ethereal piece that transcends the trials and horrors of early World War II. Only the final, fifth movement (Louange a l'éternité de Jesus) of the quartet was played. It is scored for piano and cello. Although this powerful segment stands alone, it is even better when concluding - as intended - the entire work. Tchaikovsky's Trio in A Minor is a fine piece written in memory of his friend and advocate, Nicolai Rubinstein. It is considered one of the finest trios in Russian music. The second movement has been described as Tchaikovsky's Enigma Variations, with each variation relating to an aspect of Rubinstein's life. The trio is especially significant as a portent of such great things to come, as the last symphonies and the great ballets. It may even be described as a Tchaikovsky sampler. Gail says that she was drawn to Vernon in 1997 by her love for nature, tennis, golf and open space. The area also offers the pianist and her musical colleagues an opportunity to reach out into the schools and community to bring the same quality of music that people hear at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall. "Our visions to make great music affordable for families," said Gail. "People come not knowing what to expect, and they leave saying they aren't ever going to miss another concert." "We aren't a fixed group. The ensemble also includes other instrumentalists for particular concerts. We've included an oboist, a viola player, and a classical guitarist." The Niwas feel that the advent of so many other distractions has interfered with people's appreciation of live music. "It is hard for many people to sit still and listen: Live classical music just isn't the first thing people think of," said David. Their outreach into the schools is inspired by their desire to bring the joy of music to young children, typically third graders. They usually try to feature a musical theme that coordinates with other things the children are learning, such as comparisons (fast n slow and soft - loud). They've worked with a musical arrangement of Ferdinand the Bull, with Mexican folk songs, and with poetry and music. "Music is our heritage, our culture. You don't have to understand it to enjoy it. If we can touch even one child, we shall have succeeded," said David Niwa. Chicago natives, the Niwas have a strong musical heritage. Their father, Raymond, played violin for the Chicago Symphony, and their mother is an accomplished pianist and teacher. Gail Niwa made her orchestral debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 8, and went on to earn her bachelor and master at the Juilliard School in New York City. David Niwa began his career as a violinist at age five, and holds degrees from the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and the Juilliard School. Moye is the principal cellist of the American Symphony Orchestra, the Opera Orchestra of New York, and the Westchester Philharmonic Orchestra. He also has worked with popular musicians, including Ricky Martin, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Tony Bennet, Garth Brooks and Kiss on both live performances and videos. "Music like this is a community event, often played by local musicians who shop in the same stores, cut their lawns like anybody else, and share the same community concerns. But fund-raising for these events is always a challenge. We're grateful to the Sussex County Arts Council and to other local donors for their help," Gail concluded. "We come here and we play our hearts out just to communicate the beauty of the music to the people," said David.