Ensemble Connect 2020-23 bids a melodious farewell at Carnegie Hall

United StatesUnited States Various: Ensemble Connect. Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York, 18.4.2023. (RP)

Ensemble Connect 2020-2023 © Fadi Kheir

Valerie Coleman – Rubispheres
Dvořák – Terzetto, Op.4
Johann Strauss Jr. – Kaiser Walz, Op.437 (arr. Schoenberg)
Ernst von Dohnányi – Sextet in C major, Op.38

Ensemble Connect Class of 2020-23 offered a stream of wonderful melodies in its final concert. Since covid restrictions eased, the young performers’ high level of musicianship, exciting programming and personalities have made their concerts some of the most joyous and rewarding musical experiences in New York.

Concerts are only one aspect of their activities. The two-year fellowship program, extended for this class due to the pandemic, prepares young professional classical musicians for careers that combine musical excellence with teaching, community engagement, advocacy, entrepreneurship and leadership. An important component of the program is the opportunity for the musicians to partner with a New York City public school.

At this concert, as with the previous ones, one of the musicians provided an introduction into each work. These were not a recapitulation of the printed program notes, but insights into how the piece resonated with the person and, often, a roadmap of sorts into what the audience should expect through the eyes of the performers. Their enthusiasm and winning delivery hooked the audience into a piece before a note was played.

The first work on the program was Valerie Coleman’s Rubispheres, which she composed in 2015 for flute, clarinet and bassoon. The three-movement work depicts urban life and landscapes, specifically the Lower East Side of Manhattan and Washington Heights, which the composer came to know when she was a student at the Mannes School of Music.

Flutist Amir Farsi, clarinetist Yasmina Spiegelberg and bassoonist Nik Hooks gave an exuberant performance of Rubispheres. Farsi’s edgy, jagged flute riffs contrasted with the lyricism of Coleman’s writing for the clarinet and bassoon. The eloquent spaciousness of the second movement contrasted with what sounded like the raucous mayhem of a New York traffic jam in the final one.

Dvořák completed the Terzetto in the matter of a week in January 1887. Originally composed for him to play with two friends, its complexity and virtuosity exceeded the proficiency of one of the violinists for whom it was intended. In introducing the Terzetto, violinist Rubén Rengel said that it was an intimate work of great sensitivity, but one which pushed the levels of grandeur that three instruments can achieve.

Melodies streamed in a seamless flow from Rengel’s violin in the Terzetto. He is an elegant player, whose singing tone and passion enlivened every measure. The same can be said for guest violinist Stephanie Zyzak and violist Halam Kim. Regardless of the mood or texture, all three played with a clarity of sound and an ease that belied the technical difficulties of the piece.

Pianist Joanne Kang admitted that she had never expected to see the name Arnold Schoenberg used in conjunction with that of the ‘Waltz King’, Johann Strauss Jr. Schoenberg arranged the Kaiser Waltz for chamber ensemble in 1925, years after he had charted new musical waters. The seven players spun out the familiar, beautiful melodies with a richness of sound that belied their number. It was as gorgeous as Kang said it would be.

The final number on the program was Ernst von Dohnányi’s Sextet for Clarinet, Horn, Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano in C major. Composed in 1935, the Sextet was Dohnányi’s last large-scale chamber work. Its unusual orchestration provides the grandeur of an orchestra with the intimacy and appeal of a chamber ensemble.

The strings, led by Rengel, were superb. Cort Roberts’s sonorous horn solos emerged subtly from the musical fabric while, as in the Strauss, clarinetist Yasmina Spiegelberg caressed every melody that came her way. Passion and excitement were the order of the day from cellist Laura Andrade and pianist Kang, as it always is.

These musicians first met via Zoom during the early days of Covid, uncertain, like the rest of us, of what the future would hold. When they were able to perform before a live audience, they displayed personalities that were as engaging as their playing. One can only wish them success wherever their careers may take them, while eagerly anticipating the next edition of Ensemble Connect.

Rick Perdian

Ensemble Connect
Rubén Rengel (violin)
Halam Kim (viola)
Laura Andrade (cello)
Amir Farsi (flute)
Yasmina Spiegelberg (clarinet)
Nik Hooks (bassoon)
Cort Roberts (horn)
Joanne Kang (piano)

Ensemble Connect Alums
Suliman Tekalli (violin)
Caeli Smith (viola)

Stephanie Zyzak (violin)

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