‘Musical friends’ bring chamber music to Spa theater

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s summer series at the Spa Little Theatre opens on Sunda
Escher Quartet is will be at the chamber festival on Sunday, Aug. 16 and Tuesday, Aug. 18. (SOPHIE ZHAI PHOTO)
Escher Quartet is will be at the chamber festival on Sunday, Aug. 16 and Tuesday, Aug. 18. (SOPHIE ZHAI PHOTO)

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s summer series at the Spa Little Theatre opens on Sunday offering great music performed by musical friends, who often play together in the New York City series.

“I’ve been doing the Lincoln Center series for seven years,” said Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen, who will also open CMS’ first New York City summer festival before he arrives locally.

He is working with several wind players in two of Sunday’s pieces: Mozart’s Piano Quintet and Hummel’s Piano Septet, Op. 74.

“The Mozart is a wonderful piece that is almost perfect,” he said. “The proportions are great and the clarinet ideas are well developed. It’s real chamber music.”

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at SPAC

WHEN: Sunday, 3 p.m.; Tuesday, 8 p.m.; Aug. 16, 3 p.m.; Aug. 18, 8 p.m.; Aug. 23, 3 p.m.; Aug. 25, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Spa Little Theatre, Saratoga Spa State Park

HOW MUCH: $45, $40

MORE INFO: 584-9330, www.spac.org

The Hummel was a surprise.

“I didn’t even know there was a septet and then I found out there were two,” he said laughing. “It’s like a piano concerto with winds and entertaining. But the sounds are tricky with lots of scales and innovative harmonies that are like Chopin. It’s very forward-thinking.”

On Tuesday, Pohjonen shares the stage with artistic director/pianist Wu Han in a Mozart Sonata. He’ll also perform in a Brahms piano trio with strings.

“Wu Han is a great pianist and nice to work with,” Pohjonen said. “My own teacher was Taiwanese, so I know the mindset of culture. For the Mozart, I’ll play the bass and she’ll be the treble — she’s the boss.”

Brahms’ Trio, Op. 87, has an unusually optimistic mood and an extensive piano part. Pohjonen said he knows the cellist Nicholas Canellakis, but the violinist Chad Hoopes is new. But not to worry, he said, as they’ll get three rehearsals to work everything out.

The Escher Quartet is the featured ensemble on Sunday, Aug. 16 and Tuesday, Aug. 18. They, too, have worked on the Lincoln Center series for seven years, an honor that violinist Aaron Boyd said also has become a learning experience.

On the 16th, the Escher will work with guitarist Jason Vieaux in works by Boccherini, Mendelssohn, Wolf, and Kernis.

“[Vieaux] is a dear friend and one of the greatest living guitarists,” Boyd said. “The Boccherini is sheer delight with an exhilarating Fandango that always brings down the house. The Kernis is a 21st century extension with us vocalizing, screaming. We’ll have an hilarious time.

The Schedule:

Sunday: Ligeti, Barber, Mozart, Hummel

Tuesday: Mozart, Brahms, Dvorak

Aug. 16: Boccherini, Mendelssohn, Albeniz, Tarrega, Bustamante, Wolf, Kernis

Aug. 18: Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Arensky, Taneyev

Aug. 23: Beethoven, Penderecki, Schumann

Aug. 25: Strauss, Schoenberg, Mendelssohn

“Mendelssohn was at his peak of craft and inspiration and this work is dark yet songful. The Wolf has humor and grace with real virtuosic writing. It’s like a postcard from Italy.”

Tuesday the 18th will include an early work by Rachmaninoff; Arensky’s quartet, which has an ending “so grand it is like bells pealing,” and Taneyev’s Piano Quintet, which is a “masterwork, a mammoth edifice,” Boyd said.

Cellist Paul Watkins, who took over for CMS co-artistic director David Finckel when he left the Emerson String Quartet, will play on Aug. 23 and 25. On the 23rd, Watkins will play Penderecki’s string trio, a piece he’s never performed before.

On the 28th, it will be Strauss’ Sextet, (“very daring yet intimate”) and Schoenberg’s “Verklarte Nacht,” which, he said, “is an amazing piece that pushes the boundaries of harmony and has a glorious end. It was his last piece in romantic style and contains chords that were considered impossible because they didn’t exist in the current harmony.” Mendelssohn’s Octet is a piece “all strings revel to play.”

Chamber chats are held 45 minutes prior to each concert.

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