Letter To Editor / Our Chamber Music Society Dies to be Reborn

By Rick Boettger

Maestro Tim Peterson’s Southernmost held its last ever concert at St Paul’s last Thursday. They do not have enough highly trained musicians to continue, Tim says. So why bother to review them now? Because they will continue to use their remarkable talents in smaller, more specific presentations in the future. Putting together concerts with the quality and breadth of this one just became too much. I’m reviewing their passing in order to make sure we not only support, as their audience, whatever we can coax out of their talents in the future, but to encourage all among us to contribute whatever special talents we may have to such culture in the future. It takes a village, doing both sides.

As good as our immensely popular Impromptu Concerts are, I find the kind of concert the S-most Chamber Music Society provides to be at the next level of challenge and entertainment. With Impromptu, you get a single presenter or group for the whole show. SCMS was an enchanting breadth. It started with twinned harpsichords, followed by piano, organ/violin, piano/flute, a German lieder, piano solo, a baritone with flute, and ending with a wild four-hands piano duet.

It is a not rare but unique treat to have TWO harpsichords together, and two people in our small town who can master them. It is an unforgiving instrument, no pedals to sustain notes, every pluck naked to the ear. When the pianos follow, it is clear why they took over. Variable dynamic. Sostenuto with the pedals. Simply a richer tone. And what luxury to the ear, the sister instruments’ juxtaposition in 10 minutes.

This richness turned out to be the warm-up for the star event of the evening, violinist Irie Monte with featured Guest Artist Chaz Bowers on the great St Paul’s organ. Chaz’s compositions in print strive to be rich, lush, and accessible. As is his playing of the organ. A feature of live music is usually that you can hear the tiny normal live human errors that make you know this is real in front of your very ears. Chaz’ playing was so impeccably perfect it might have been an edited recording. And “accessible” it was, despite its being a PastoraleGigue, and Abendlied by Rheinberger.

By contrast, Irie’s virtuoso violin raged all over its spectrum. The excitement of her flying notes above the calm surface of Chaz’ organ was a tart sweet ‘n sour combo, and I felt privileged to hear it. She was first violinist in a unique Valentine’s Day string quartet at the Tennessee Williams Cabaret. Since they played popular love songs, I knew the melody lead she played, and I blocked her out to concentrate on the 2nd violin, viola and cello, to be able to appreciate the harmonies. But then they played an original piece, and I really heard her. It was the highlight of the concert. Don’t miss next year’s Valentines Day quartet, and hope it does indeed happen.

The next flute and tenor pieces had a tough act to follow, with the organ and violin notes reverberating through my ears, but the wise variety of Peterson’s concert-view was itself rhapsodic. My favorite tenor, Jordan Sommer, who is making quite a name for himself all around the town, showed me he was human with a single scoop to a high note. But then on the next piece, his piano solo had the kind of perfect caesuras making you yearn so many times for the next note, sorry, but it reminded me of the first time I heard Horowitz 50 years ago, and appreciated exquisite timing for the first time.

From tenor-piano to piano solo to, thank you Tim, baritone-flute, with Donna Deforest this time backing Dean Warden in a perfectly balanced Billy Budd duet. Dean is mature enough that when he speaks his introduction, he enunciates as well as he does when singing. Many singers who carve their consonants well enough you can understand every word of the lieder often do their speaking intros as if chatting over a beer, no spaces between the words, slurred consonants, so you can’t understand a sentence. And Dean has a baritone that makes me sure I’d never get a solo if I was in his chorale. The show-off held the last note of his arch “I’m Glad I’m not a Tenor” a glorious 16 seconds, by my count.

Tim celebrated his final chamber concert by giving himself and our maestra pianist Ann McFarland a scrumptious four-hands duet of two Hungarian Dances. They took turns with the melody and chords, and because the pieces are so well known, when Ann took the melody, I noticed a couple of the sustained notes were NOT sustained. Since I was sitting in the second row, I leaned over to see their feet. Well, the secret’s out—while all four hands have equal access to the keys, only one person’s foot is on the pedal. And I think it is not natural to pedal for the other person while you are playing with both hands yourself. Well, Ann did not have the pedal, as Tim got there first.

Sigh. While I’m so glad I got a personal email to attend this concert, it only showed me what I’d been missing the last seven years. We must all make sure not to miss whatever Tim can arrange for us, with the generous community support of St Paul’s and their Very Reverend Padre Donna Mote.

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