Chamber music

Nine classical string musicians from the U.S. and Canada convene this week at the Antelope Trails Ranch north of town for Jackson Hole Chamber Music, three evenings of works by Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Haydn.

Unfettered and freed from COVID-19 health safety protocols, it’s almost as if musicians just can’t get enough of playing with each other.

So they migrate to Jackson around this time of year for Jackson Hole Chamber Music, three evening recitals that this year focuses on small ensembles — duos, trios, quarters, a quintet and a sextet — and, mostly, repertoire from core classical composers.

This year’s series is the fourth for JH Chamber Music — it would have been its fifth if not for the coronavirus pandemic — and organizers seem bent on hosting concerts as close to normal as possible. While that means mandatory vaccines for all musicians and audience members as well as masking, the three evening programs are set for the spacious guest house at Antelope Trails Ranch north of Jackson.

“We’re deeply hopeful that those who come, who are vaccinated and OK to masking up, will come and experience it the way it’s supposed to be experienced,” said violinist Jennifer Ross, a founder and board member of the nonprofit series. “We’ve limited seats to around 50 instead of 80, and our protocols include opening up the space to ventilate to the outdoors.

“The reality is we’re in a bad place right now,” she said, “and people will have to make that call for themselves.”

For those who don’t feel comfortable joining so many others in an indoor setting, the series will for the first time livestream all three performances for free, though donations are encouraged.

Those who decide to mask up can come to any or all of three concerts set for Tuesday, Sept. 14, Friday, Sept. 17 and Sunday, Sept. 19. All programs start at 7 p.m.

“We’ve got a slightly smaller group,” Ross said, just nine string players as opposed to the dozen to 15 string, brass, wind and piano players invited out for the 2017, ’18 and ’19 events.

That should help musicians maintain a little breathing space.

“I was tallying how many works each person would play,” Ross said. “I’m playing in five or six pieces. Everyone is going to be working very hard, and I think — I know — as a musician, when you get the opportunity to play with people you just want to immerse yourself in it. Especially now, it is so the right thing, making music … more right than it ever has been.”

The first program Tuesday starts with Beethoven’s Quartet in B-flat Major and ends with Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 3 in D. Major. In between a string quartet will perform Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla’s six-movement “Tango Ballet.”

On Sept. 17 the lineup is Mozart’s String Quartet No. 17, nicknamed “The Hunt,” and Brahms’ String Quintet No. 2, with “Entr’acte” for string quartet by American composer Caroline Shaw, the youngest recipient to ever win a Pulitzer Prize for music, in the middle.

And next Sunday’s program will begin with Haydn’s Opus 76, No. 4 quartet, called “Sunrise,” and wraps up with Schoenberg’s dramatic “Verklarte Nacht,” or “Transfigured Night” for string sextet, with a work by another American, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “Five Fantasiestucke,” in the middle.

“That’s a really interesting piece,” Ross said of the Coleridge-Taylor (Aug. 15, 1875-Sept. 1, 1912) who in his day was known as the “African Mahler” but whose music was largely forgotten after his death. His prolific output is enjoying a resurgence these days, and for obvious reasons.

“It’s a very surprising piece,” Ross said. “It’s classical but it has got some sort of edge to it. … They are beautiful pieces and very fun, very cinematic … each piece is very different and very richly written. I’m glad we found it, and I can’t wait to play it.”

“Entr’acte,” by Caroline Shaw, the 39-year-old vocalist, violinist, composer and producer, also offers delights and surprises, though they are markedly different from those of Coleridge-Taylor’s music.

“It is not richly written,” Ross said. “It’s very lean with lots of empty spaces, lots of quiet, lots of silence, and that makes it very difficult when you have to come in with one pizzicato together, counting a slow 4, waiting for that to come.”

Piazzolla’s “Tango Ballet” is spicy and rhythmic, while Schoenberg’s “Verklarte Nacht” is stricken, anguished, and represents a crucial moment in the composer’s career and in the history of music as the Austrian-born composer stretches the conventions of the romantic era and presages the serial, 12-tone compositional methods he would pioneer.

“What I’ve learned about programming over the years, and I’ve followed this line of thinking and I think it works universally, is to follow three focal points: entertain, educate and affirm,” said Ross, who with Richard Scerbo assembled the programs this year.

Each program includes “something everyone is going to know and love,” whether it’s Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms, something that’s a bit out of the box that most people likely haven’t heard before, and something that maybe they will listen to with new ears.

“I think, I know, that audiences feel the need to hear and be part of something live,” Ross said. “Speaking as a player, there’s nothing more important than making music with people, without a screen — that’s not a real way to make music. I’m ready to play, ready to make music with these people, ready to immerse myself in that feeling, that mentality, that experience. It’s so precious and we’ve been hit so hard.”

For details about the series, and to purchase tickets or find out how to join the livestream, go to JHChamberMusic.org. 

Contact Richard Anderson at 732-7078 or rich@jhnewsandguide.com.

Since moving to Jackson Hole in 1992, Richard has covered everything from local government and criminal justice to sports and features. He currently concentrates on arts and entertainment, heading up the Scene section.

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