ACMF2019: The Concerts

Concert 1: Ashburton Arts Centre, Sat 20 July, 7.30pm

Handel-Halvorsen: Passacaglia for violin and cello
Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita No. 2 in D minor, for solo violin
Heitor Villa Lobos: Jet Whistle, for flute and cello
Lansing D. McLoskey: Processione di Lacrime for saxophone and string trio
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Flute Quartet in C Major

We start with an irresistibly virtuosic display by Johann Halvorsen based on a theme of Handel which has the violin and cello trying to out-do one another as the piece gets increasingly out of hand. Next, what many consider Bach’s greatest and most profound work, the D Minor Partita for solo violin that includes the famous “Chaconne”. Then some steamy music from Brazilian composer Villa Lobos for flute and cello, the aptly named “Jet Whistle” and then a contemporary work for string trio and saxophone featuring Andy Williamson on the sax. The concert ends with Mozart’s infectiously joyful quartet for flute and strings in C Major.

Concert 2: Broadhempston Church, Thursday 25 July, 7.30pm

Dmitri Shostakovich: String quartet No. 6
Gaspar Cassado: Suite for Solo Cello
Antonin Dvorak: String Quartet in F Major, Opus 96 “American”

The festival’s second concert opens with Shostakovich’s sixth quartet written while he was on honeymoon: a surprisingly playful, even sweet, work from a composer more often associated with biting irony or painfully dark music. Cassado’s solo suite for cello comes next and is the Spanish composer’s interpretation of how Bach would have written for the cello if he had been born 1,500 miles to the South. Dvorak’s “American” quartet closes the concert. Written during a sojourn in Iowa, USA, the piece is both an homage to American sound and energy even as it is unmistakably Eastern European and possibly the finest quartet by the Czech master.

Concert 3: St Andrew’s Church, Saturday 27 July, 7.30pm

Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita for solo flute in A Minor, BWV 1013
Arthur Foote: “A Night Piece” for flute and string quartet
Tom Vignieri: “Walk With Me”
Commission/World Premiere for string quartet and tenor saxophone
Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 4

Continuing a theme of some of Bach’s greatest works, this concert begins with his soulful and stunning Partita for solo flute. The early 20th Century composer Arthur Foote’s dark “Night Music” for flute and string quartet follows. We then have a world premiere by Devon’s own transplanted American Tom Vignieri for string quartet and improvised saxophone and written exclusively for this concert. The festival concludes with Bartok’s irrepressible fourth string quartet, a masterpiece of the 20th Century which turns on a dime between angry and angular to mysterious alien night music; silly plucked waltzes to manic scurrying scherzos; and a last movement that is like a troupe of local gypsies crashing in your door and dancing uproariously on one’s carefully set dining room table.

This concert features a brand new work, specially composed by Tom Vignieri for this festival.

“Walk With Me”

Tom writes: “An ensemble featuring string quartet and saxophone had never occurred to me as an obvious combination. Nevertheless that is what David Yang and Andy Williamson proposed when they asked if I’d write a piece for this summer’s inaugural Ashburton Chamber Music Festival. I began to think of ways I might approach this instrumentation but there was one idea that kept coming up.

“In 2017, Hurricane Harvey struck the Gulf Coast of the U.S. In particular Houston, Texas. The flooding was so catastrophic that Harvey earned the dubious distinction of being tied with Hurricane Katrina as the costliest tropical cyclone on record, inflicting some $125 billion in damages. Of course, a disproportionate number of those affected were poor. The New York Times produced a short video documentary called “Into the Deluge” which begins with aerial images of the devastation accompanied by a woman plaintively singing the Gospel tune “Walk with Me.”

Walk with me Lord, Lord walk with me;
Walk with me Lord, Lord walk with me;
While I’m on this tedious journey,
I want Jesus to walk with me.

“We soon learn that the woman singing the hymn lost her parents when their vehicle was swept away by the flooding. It was a powerful moment and it struck me that I might one day work that music into a piece for chorus or orchestra. However, presented with an opportunity to write for one of the most soulful of instruments, the tenor saxophone, this seemed the perfect opportunity.

“Meanwhile the music of Maurice Ravel has been in my ears of late, too. Not one of his more impressionistic works but rather the more austere Sonata for Violin and Cello. In some respects it even occupies a similar harmonic space. As Ravel himself remarked, “The music is stripped to the bone, harmonic charm is renounced and there is a return…to melody.” Borrowing from the spirit of that music, the string quartet slowly creates a sound world into which the saxophone enters.

“So in a way Gospel meets Ravel, giving the gifted Andy Williamson an opportunity to put his considerable talents on display in the process.”