Central United Methodist Church
1875 North Central Avenue
Phoenix AZ 85004
Featuring 10-year-old Jessica Zhang playing a concerto that Mozart wrote at the same age as the soloist, and a double header of nonets (pieces scored for nine players, like a baseball team), one by George Onslow (1848) and one by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1894), a work that inspired Sir Edward Elgar to declare him the “best of the young ones.” Read the complete program notes for Youthful Variations
There is an interesting subset of the repertoire that is neither chamber music nor truly orchestral music. It is music for between 7 and 13 players, that can be done without a conductor, but also could benefit from an outside source keeping things together. Within this repertoire certain pieces seem to be traditionally done with conductor, others not; Stravinsky’s Histoire de Soldat, for seven players, is usually done with a conductor, whereas Louis Spohr’s Nonet (Op. 31, 1813) is usually done without one. Works such as the Mozart C minor Wind Serenade (eight players) split the difference, being done about half the time with and half without a conductor. The truth is that with sufficient rehearsal, even much bigger scores can be done without a conductor, but as listening to any live performance of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra – who famously work without a conductor – playing repertoire they have not done many times before will confirm, there are risks involved in going that route.
The net effect is that much of this small-ensemble repertoire is neglected, although there is wonderful music there. The three pieces I mentioned above probably account for a good portion of the public’s exposure to music in this category. Add to that a few things that lean to the chamber music side because of the nature of the music, such as the Beethoven and Saint-sas septets and the Mendelssohn octet, and you probably have most of it.
The nonet by George Onslow (1784-1853) in our program is, in my opinion, a finer work than the ubiqutous one by Spohr, and yet it is virtually never played. The piece by Sierra Leonean-English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), best known for Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, was unpublished until a few years ago, and I believe this will be only the second American performance of it. It too is a wonderful piece, admired by Coleridge-Taylor’s teacher at the Royal College of Music, Charles Villiers Stanford, and by Sir Edward Elgar, who saw the promise of greatness in this work of a teenaged composer.
To that we add another work by a young composer, one who became well enough known in later life: it’s the Second Piano Concerto of Mozart, written when he was ten years old. Admittedly, this is largely an arrangement of music by several older composers, but the orchestration is his, and the choice of material is as well. For this we have ten-year-old pianist as well: Jessica Zhang, winner of the inaugural Avanti Future Stars Competition (Junior Division). Her sparkling playing is the a perfect match for the delightful lightness and brilliance of this wonderful work.