John Frayne: Jupiters, soloist face composer's challenges in first barn piece
The opening of the Allerton Barn Music Festival will be on Thursday, Sept. 19, about three weeks after its usual dates on the Labor Day weekend. This move was an effort to get cooler temperatures in the ventilated, but not air-conditioned, barn at Allerton Park, southwest of Monticello.
The opening concert will feature a work new to local audiences. Bernhardt Scully, professor of horn at the University of Illinois, will join the Jupiter String Quartet in Gunther Schuller's 2009 "Quintet for Horn and String Quartet."
Schuller has been for many decades a major figure in American music, as composer, performer, writer and lecturer. His work has been notable for his ability to absorb jazz and other styles and movements into his compositions.
I recently talked to Daniel McDonough, cellist of the Jupiter Quartet, about the group's preparation of this Schuller work — new to the quartet but previously performed by Scully.
Schuller, I was told, was inspired by the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart "Quintet for Horn and Strings," but his instrumental lineup is slightly different from Mozart's, employing a string quartet (Mozart used two violas). This 20-minute work, in three movements, McDonough describes as rhythmically driving but lyrical at times. I was told that there is a quotation from Mozart in the Schuller work, but it is not easy to hear.
The Jupiter Quartet is understandably excited about the prospect of rehearsing the piece in collaboration with such an eminent composer. Schuller, himself once a horn player in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, has created impressive technical challenges for his soloist Scully, who was once first horn in the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
The quintet is being recorded for the first time by these musicians in the week before the concert. On Sept. 18, Schuller will appear with Scully in a presentation at the Spurlock Museum, 600 S. Gregory St., U. And there will also be a pre-concert talk by Schuller at the Allerton Barn at 6:30 the night of the concert.
The other work on the Sept. 19 program is Cesar Franck's famous "Piano Quintet" in which pianist Wuna Meng will join the Jupiters. Meng was the 2012 winner of the Krannert Center Debut Artist Award, and she is also the first winner of the Jupiter Quartet Guest Artist Award (this appearance is the result of winning that prize).
On Sept. 20, Chip McNeill will lead the UI Concert Jazz Band in a concert keyed to the 75th anniversary of the Benny Goodman Jazz Band's appearance at New York's Carnegie Hall. Joining the band will be clarinetist Ken Peplowski, who played tenor saxophone with the Goodman band.
On Sept. 21, UI piano Professor William Heiles will offer a program that opens with Johann Sebastian Bach's "English Suite No. 1 in A Major." The balance of the program will be devoted to two of the most famous piano suites of the Romantic Movement: Robert Schumann's "Kinderscenen" ("Scenes from Childhood"), of which No. 7 is Schumann's most famous short piece, "Traumerei" ("Dreaming"). And then Heiles will play Schumann's "Carnaval," a series of 20 short pieces with musical sketches of Schumann's beloved Clara, as well as a gentle parody of Frederick Chopin.
After the great success of last year's Gilbert and Sullivan operetta at the Allerton festival, this year the organizers decided to close on Sept. 22 with George Gershwin's "Of Thee I Sing," a satirical look at American politics that won the first Pulitzer Prize for music given for a musical comedy. There will be two performances: at 2 and at 7 p.m.
John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the University of Illinois. He can be reached at email@example.com.