For Kalamazoo Gazette, 08-29-10
Playing for impact
Ensemble to perform 4 ‘powerful works’
Andrew Koehler promises the audience “a visceral experience” at the Arcato Chamber Ensemble’s Sept. 18 concert at Dalton Theatre, only the second performance in the group’s existence.
Arcato is a professional chamber orchestra made up of some two dozen Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra and Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra players. The word Arcato means “bow” in Italian, explains Koehler, Arcato’s conductor as well as Kalamazoo College assistant professor of music and music director of Kalamazoo Philharmonia and the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra.
The concert, titled “Elegy,” will consist of “Metamorphosen” by Richard Strauss, Arvo Pärt’s “Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten,” Anton Arensky’s “Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky” and Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Chamber Symphony” based on his “String Quartet Number 8 in C Minor.”
All these works “were written in mourning, for another composer or in the aftermath of war,” Koehler says. “These are among the most powerful chamber works ever written. They can have an intense impact on the audience.
“These pieces represent grief and loss — a feeling string instruments have the ability to communicate.”
In the case of “Metamorphosen,” Strauss composed the poignant work in early 1945, for the Zurich orchestra, to signify “the physical and cultural destruction of Germany,” Koehler adds.
“Strauss (who died in 1949) saw himself as one of the last voices in a line of Austro-Germanic composers” that stretched back to Beethoven — whose own “Third Symphony” is “quoted in full” in “Metamorphosen,” he notes.
A 23-piece string ensemble — as specified by Strauss for this particular work — “can fill a space between a quartet ensemble and a symphony orchestra. It can be adventurous (and can) present music that doesn’t always get heard,” Koehler suggests.
All but one of the four pieces selected by Koehler for Arcato’s Sept. 18 concert was written in the 20th century, and Arensky’s “Variations” was composed in 1894. Symphony orchestras traditionally perform earlier, better-known works.
Arcato’s only other concert was in 2008 and also was funded by a grant through the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.
“Elegy” will be performed by the Arcato Chamber Ensemble at 8 p.m., Sept. 18, at the Light Fine Arts Center, Dalton Theatre, Kalamazoo College, 1200 Academy St., 269-337-7070, www.kzoo.edu/music.