The Lively Arts (redux)

Art and Music in Denver and Beyond


January 2020

Miró String Quartet celebrates 25 years in Denver

Photo credit Richard Replin

Miró String Quartet, winner of the 2005 Avery Fisher Career Grant, celebrated their 25th season in Denver with their third appearance with Friends of Chamber Music. They first appeared with pianist Shai Wosner in 2009 and again in 2012.  The Texas based quartet, formed in 1995, has been in residence at UT Austin’s Butler School of Music since 2003.  Violinist Daniel Ching is a founding member as is cellist Joshua Gindele. Violist John Largess joined two years later. In 2011 violinist William Fedkenheuer replaced Sandy Yamamoto, Daniel Ching’s wife and current professor at Butler.  Fedkenheuer was a Canadian national fiddle champion before studying at Rice and Indiana Universities.

In 1998 The Miró won first prize at the Banff International String Quartet Competition and in 2005 they were awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant, the first for an ensemble.  They reflected on their longevity with the Archive Project that celebrates the lineage of revered string quartets like their mentors, The Juilliard String Quartet.  In November they released a new recording of all of the Beethoven string quartets.  While the Friends of Chamber Music program was conservative, audiences at the 2019 Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival heard Home, a new quartet written by Kevin Puts for the quartet’s anniversary.  When I spoke with Joshua he said he could be content to just play Schubert.  His favorite quartet by Schubert is Quartet #15 in G Major. Although it isn’t performed often, he referred to it as an explosive work.  

Despite an unfortunate occurrence with John Largess’s viola and the heel of someone’s shoe before another performance, the group credited their ability to simply get along for their longevity.  When asked if they ever took retreats together to reignite their energy, Joshua confessed that they had met with a psychologist and he felt it really helped their connection. Now they have plans in the middle of February to perform and stay at a Wellness Retreat in Baja California, Mexico at Rancho La Puerta for chamber music.  A difficult assignment!

The Denver audience was swept to their feet at the end of the first half by Beethoven’s String Quartet #10 in E Flat Major, Opus 74, known as the ‘Harp’ quartet for the composer’s use of plucking in the second movement.  This resounding performance was preceded by Mozart’s Quartet #17 in B flat major, K. 458, “The Hunt,”  that was elegant and eloquent as expected from a quartet dedicated to Haydn. 

The members of the Miró were as a married couple celebrating their 25th anniversary in  Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet #14 in D Minor,  finishing one another’s sentences as they anticipated the others’ breath and bowing.  The second movement of the Schubert was both persuasive and tender. The Maiden vehemently defies Death, protesting her secret understanding of Death’s tender touch.  The tension propelled the push and pull that was unleashed in the final movement. Daniel’s violin led the Presto movement with fervor. It was a march that unleashed Schubert’s conflicting emotions about Death and exhibited the finest quartet playing Denver audiences have heard this season.  

Q & A with Dazzle’s Matthew Rathkey

When did you start piano lessons?

While Matthew isn’t clear he knew he was quite young. Sometime in his teenage years, he became “irrevocably obsessed with music.”  He credits great teachers including his piano professor, Kenneth Huber at Carleton College and saxophonist Kenyon Brenner at the University of Northern Colorado for helping him focus on technique and musicianship.

Why switch from classical piano to a sax?  And why switch from sax to booking agent?

In 4th grade, Matthew had the chance to play a band instrument. “I can’t remember why I chose the saxophone, but I know at least that I wanted to play an instrument that would allow me to perform in both the symphonic and jazz bands.” He admitted to not practicing the sax as often as the piano despite his love of jazz band.  After graduating from Carleton Matthew found work as an actuary in Chicago but “missed music too much to continue working in that field. After slogging away at a job you don’t want for 15 months, what you do want can suddenly become crystal clear.” Without a piano in his studio apartment saxophone became his outlet and jazz became his genre. Trained as a classical musician he took on the challenge and was accepted into UNC’s graduate school as a jazz saxophonist. He performs with various groups in Colorado.  After Dazzle hired him as a booking assistant and to update the website, the owner “tapped me to be in charge of booking classical shows and creating this new series.” 

Why a weekly classical music series in a jazz club?

“I believe the demand is there. We’ve got loads of great classical musicians in Denver,” but not many chamber concerts allow diverse programming for “curious first-time listeners.” At Dazzle’s supper club one can sit at a  table with friends “against the stage” instead of being distanced from performers in a concert hall. He strives “to create a cozy, relaxed vibe.” Matthew insists that “art is communication — nothing more, nothing less” and should be savored like “a fireside chat with an old friend.”  “We’re very invested in forging a sense of community and shared experiences through this series, which is why we’re actively booking excellent local and student performers alongside national names. We want the Dazzle stage to be a symbol of community — a watering hole of sorts where musicians and music-lovers from all walks of life can come together and comfortably and enthusiastically share in the inborn joy of human expression.”

–Where can I hear you play?

“I lead my own New Orleans-style brass band, No Hands Brass Band, and we’ll be playing Mardi Gras (February 25th) at Dazzle.”  The band will also perform on February 22nd at the Tilt Pinball in Louisville.

What is on the lineup for 2020?

  • January 20th: Students and alumni from Lamont will present a tribute to black classical composers. A string quartet will perform pieces by  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Florence Price, and George Walker who according to Matthew are “criminally underrated composers!”
  • January 27th: CSO concertmaster, Yumi Hwang-Williams and pianist Hsing-ay Hsu will perform Beethoven.
  • February 10th: MAS Eclectic Concert Series will host a tribute to composer, conductor and performer David Amram, who is nearly 90. The evening of Chamber Music Duos featuring CSO Concertmaster Yumi Hwang-Williams, pianist Sara Parkinson, Principal, flutist Brook Ferguson, flutist Lausa Schulkind, and saxophonist Ken Radnovsky and pianist Yoshiko Kline.
  • February 17th: Duo970 with UNC Flute Professor James Hall and Susie Maddocks on piano.  Hall debuted at Carnegie Hall in 2004. He’s performed with legendary saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and violinist Jennifer Koh.

Now weekly in Denver: Classical music in a Jazz club

On Monday night January 6th, Matthew Rathkey inaugurated Classical Mondays at Dazzle on Curtis.  The Chandelier Stage welcomed the talents of Jason Shafer, Principal Clarinetist of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Joshua Sawicki, who recently performed with cellist Silver Ainomäe at Englewood Arts and Lamont adjunct faculty member Ian Wisekal.  

The Trio invited the January wine and dinner crowd at Dazzle to leap into spring with a pastoral program with settings by Schubert, Saint Saëns, Klugardt, and contemporary composer Loren Loiacono. Schubert’s song, Shepherd on the Rock, was originally written for soprano and clarinet. Ian’s transcription of the vocal line for the oboe blended with Jason’s clarinet and the piano like an English garden filling with the scents of lilac and roses. The program took a more serious tone as Jason and Joshua performed Saint Saëns’ Clarinet Sonata in E flat Major, Opus 167. The Sonata was composed in 1921, the last year of his life, for the virtuoso Auguste Périer. It is reflective but not morose.  The theme recurs as an echo throughout the four movements. Even in the third Lento movement when the piano and clarinet descend to their lowest registers, the composer seems to see the grassy slope of his life as sundrenched. The dense contrast with the last movement’s lighter tone lent a meditative quality to the final hushed notes.

Ian returned to the stage for the 21st-century composer Loren Loiacono’s setting of three Edna St. Vincent Millay poems, “Some Figs from Thisles” that he and Jason commissioned her to write. The first, My candle burns at both ends… , was jazzy with a drumming rhythm from the percussive piano.  Despite being mostly restricted to a single note Josh built tension throughout the short piece.  When asked later how he managed, he explained that he used his index and middle fingers to control the volume and the consistency of his touch.   

The Trio took the audience to the banks of the Danube with Klughardt’s 1872 composition, Schilflieder – 5 Fantasy Pieces for viola, oboe and piano. Without a viola in the Trio,  Ian transposed the viola part for Jason’s clarinet. Each piece was based on a poem written by a tragic Austrian poet. The first of the five, Langsam, träumerisch sounded like spun cotton candy, both melodious and sweet but not cloying or sentimental.  Ian’s oboe expressed tender longing. The demands on the clarinet were met deftly by Jason’s fine playing. Klughardt’s meeting with Lizst around the time when the piece was composed may have contributed to the texture of the five pieces that were an assortment of after-dinner dark chocolate truffles.  

Watch these youtube videos featuring members of the Sawicki-Shafer-Wisekal Trio. 

Jason Shafer:

Ian Wisekal:

Josh Sawicki:

Englewood Arts: Silver for the Holidaze 12/14/19

Sharon Park – violin, Andrew Giordano – violin, Josh Sawicki      – piano Silver Ainomäe – cello and Leah Kovach     – viola

Silver Ainomäe, the former principal cellist with the Colorado Symphony, came back to Denver for some snow and a concert with friends. The Artistic Director of Englewood Arts and associate principal cellist with the Minnesota Orchestra was absolutely celebrated by a sold-out audience. The afternoon performance featured some of the finest musicians in Denver.  Sharon Park is Executive Director of the Denver Chamber Music Festival that launched last June and returns in 2020.  Andrew Giordano plays in the Altius String Quartet and Leah Kovach is a violist with the CSO.  Josh Sawicki performs with the CSO, the Greeley Philharmonic and other regional orchestras. 

Silver’s first gift was Prokofiev’s C Major Sonata for Cello, Opus 119 which was composed in 1949  for a young Mstislav Rostropovich. The first movement, Andante Grave, began with a melancholy question that yearned for an answer.  The movement continued with broad dissonant gestures as the melody tenderly veered away from C Major.  The C Major of Prokofiev is not the C Major of Mozart or Beethoven. Never have I heard C Major yield to such lyrical resolution. Silver matched Prokofiev’s required athleticism while Josh’s keyboard skills kept the music grounded with undulating chords. The second movement opened with staccato notes from the piano and pizzicato from the cello.  Josh’s understanding of 20th century Russian music was especially intelligent when the instruments blended in unison. After a standing ovation, the pair offered an encore of the Fauré’s dreamlike Apres un Reve.  It was a sigh like the quiet of a winter morning.

Violinists Sharon Park and Andrew Giordano and violist Leah Kovach joined Josh and Silver for César Franck’s infrequently performed Piano Quintet in F Minor. Throughout the three movements,  Franck explored his central motif of a single note, then a half step up, a return to the original note, a whole step up and another return. The Quintet began with strident chords that dissipated into off-kilter arpeggios. When the movement concluded with somber tones the audience was prepared for the meditative notes that introduced the Lento con molto sentimento.  The piano’s lower register lent a rhythmic repetition beneath Silver’s long up bows and the other strings in a waltz perfect for ice skating.  In the final movement, the violins’ and viola’s short bows fluttered with tension that culminated in the final chords. The immediate rupture of applause praised the performers and Silver’s commitment to showcasing fine musicians on the Englewood Arts stage.  He will return for a Leap Year concert on February 29th that will include a Boccherini String Trio, a Beethoven String Trio and Dvorak’s Terzetto in C Op. 74.  Based on how packed the room was with standing room only I’d secure those tickets now.

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