A Spring Afternoon of Classical Music

I didn’t get a chance to write about this on the day it actually happened, so I’m doing it now, working from program notes. On Sunday, April 18, my aunt, a friend of ours, and I went to George Mason University’s Center for the Arts to see a performance of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Not getting the chance very often to see a classical concert, we had been looking forward to this for a while. We had wonderful sunny weather, and there was a slight breeze. GMU is so built up now! I hadn’t been there in a long time, and it was difficult to find the place at first.

Ever since I’ve listened to 90.9 Classical WETA FM, each program host, particularly John Chester on the overnight shift, plays a lot of material from the group. A favorite piece is “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” but they’ve done so much more. Lilly gave me CDs of their recordings of Vivaldi concertos, as well as Ralph Vaughan Williams compositions (Christmas and birthday gifts from a couple of years ago). When I first heard the group name, I thought it sounded very pretty, and I felt at peace. They are named for the first place they ever performed in–The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields church–in 1959. Sir Neville Marriner founded the chamber group. My aunt was actually hoping he would be at the performance. Alas, no such luck!

My aunt makes jokes when their work comes on the radio (e.g., “There’s that devil Neville again!” or “Oh, those poor people! They must be so tired after being out there in the field for all that time!”), which always makes me chuckle, if not laugh outright. She actually really likes them now. “They grew on me,” she says, following it up with, “You know, Classical WETA would have nothing to play if it weren’t for the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.” But she also knows that I also keep an ear out for Joshua Bell, Anne Sophie Mutter, and others.

Anyway, once we got there, the concert hall was lovely! The first event was a brief pre-concert discussion on the third floor with one of the Academy members (a violinist) and Nicole LaCroix, an evening host on Classical WETA FM. The room had colorful portraits of jazz musicians and great views of the outdoors through the large glass windows. I was surprised that the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields members have to fight for audience share in Great Britain, but are very well known over here. The violinist, whose name escapes me at the moment, talked a lot about his musical background. There was a lot of discussion about what we would be hearing, and some people asked questions. I tried to think of something to ask, but I was not as well versed as the other audience members. I knew from past research that on this tour the players (first and second violins, violas, cellos and double basses) played the same program in all locations. Directing the show (and first violinist) was Julian Rachlin, an artist new to me.

The actual show, at 4:00 p.m., was held in the concert hall. Our seats were fairly close to the front, with excellent views of the stage. The stage was rather plain, with no background color or decorations. All the musicians were dressed formally, in black. First on the program was the “Holberg Suite, Op. 40,” which Edvard Grieg composed in 1884. The piece honors Ludvig Holberg, Norwegian playwright, philosopher and scholar. I didn’t think I knew the piece, but there’s this one section that is very cheerful and always makes me smile every time it is played on the radio. I recognized it right away. Next came Beethoven’s Sonata for Violin & Piano No. 9 in A major “Kreutzer” Op. 47. Franz Schubert’s Arpeggio Sonata, D. 821 was arranged for viola and strings. Finally, Astor Piazolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires rounded out the program. Written between 1965 and 1970, they are a great complement to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.

Classical music still is somewhat serious. But no one minded when a few people decided to clap before it was actually time.

I discovered earlier that the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields produced a book on its history, marking the 50th anniversary in 2009. When times are much better, that book is first on my reading list. I have to order directly from England, and it is going to be frightfully expensive. Another something to look forward to.

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