Reviewed by Lee Shepherd
Suppose you invited four of the finest chamber musicians in the Finger Lakes into your living room to play a private house concert just for you. That’s what a few dozen people enjoyed last Thursday (Sept.23) in WSKG’s Vestal studio, when the Finger Lakes Chamber Ensemble taped its upcoming appearance on the stations’s Expressions show.
In recent years, WSKG has opened these tapings to the public, free of charge, and it’s a cultural opportunity that no music lover should miss!
Last week, it was Michael Salmirs, pianist; Roberta Crawford, violist; Stefan Reuss, cellist, and Shannon Nance, violinist. The latter two are principals with the Rochester Philharmonic; the first two are on the faculty of Binghamton University and well known as performing chamber musicians throughout the Finger Lakes region.
As an audience member, you’re first treated to chocolates and other delectable treats, plus wine, in the lobby, then ushered into the studio and given a few simple instructions. Don’t clap between movements; don’t rustle papers — obvious stuff like that. Some folks are seated in front of the cameras, at tables, cabaret style; others are seated in rows of chairs behind the cameras.
Although you’re closer to the action up front, it’s more interesting to sit behind the camera operators and watch their artistry, as they zoom in and out, feint and parry, and capture the scene from every imaginable viewpoint. Simultaneously, a genius engineer in a highly sophisticated mixing room a few doors away, using a bank of screens and a bevy of computers, blends these scenes into a beautiful, seamless panorama of performers at work.
We were treated to Diego Viega’s quartet, commissioned by the Finger Lakes Ensemble to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The Colombian composer wrote for them a rhythmic, energetic work, filled with contemplative solos, Latin beats and a surprise ending.
But the real treat was the ensemble’s performance of Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor. Symphonic in scope, it’s chock-full of heartfelt melodies, passionate flourishes of pure joy, hymn-like chorales, dramatic moment, and a gypsy rondo so fast and furious that the players might have gone up in smoke.
The ensemble has earned its reputation as the finest chamber ensemble in the Finger Lakes – and perhaps well beyond. They communicate with minimal glances and very little body movement. Their smiles reveal obvious joy in what they’re doing, and it’s contagious. Obviously fine musicians as individuals, they’ve subdued their egos and merged into a single fine organism. In contrast to many national and international chamber groups today, which play up the histrionics and dramatically throw their bodies around, distracting from the music, this group is a breath of fresh air.
Attend their concerts in their usual venue, the Lodi Historical Society, or catch them on Oct. 13, as you enjoy a house concert of your very own while watching WSKG’s Expressions.
To attend tapings, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s free, but seats are limited. Future tapings: Oct. 6, lute song duo Mignarda; on Oct. 13, saxophone soloist James Noyes; Oct. 18, the Empire Saxophone Quartet (reception, 7:30 p.m.; taping, 8 p.m.).
Expressions airs at 8 p.m. Thursdays: The classical series will feature the Finger Lakes Chamber Ensemble on Oct. 13; Mignarda on Oct. 20; James Noyes on Oct. 27; pianist Michael Cannon on Nov. 3, and 12-year piano prodigy Anastasia Rizikov on Nov. 10. From a previous folk/jazz/pop series, you can hear the Makepeace Brothers this week (Sept. 29); Dave Eggar on Oct. 6 and jazz singer Jane Monheit on Nov. 17.