Gary Jones recently published an article in the Peninsula Pulse which provides an apt description of a Midsummer’s experience. Read on for the full text!
Originally chamber music, relatively small ensembles as opposed to full symphonic orchestras, was performed in homes rather than concert halls, hence the term chamber music. Modern chamber groups generally center themselves on a stage in a performance hall, letting their audiences imagine the intimacy of the musical experience.
But not the musicians who are featured in the Midsummer’s Music Festival chamber music concerts under the direction of James Berkenstock. Their stages are often improvised spaces in people’s homes, in churches, in galleries, and in private schools. And each performance is followed by a reception, catered by volunteer hosts who are supporters of the series.
Before each piece on the program, Berkenstock speaks informally to the audience, explaining the music they are about to hear, augmenting the program notes he has written, setting the tone for the performance, sharing anecdotes and personal observations.
Those concertgoers who are accustomed to vast spaces separating them from the musicians, will enjoy the new experience of sometimes sitting hardly more than an arm’s length from a string player, the immediacy enhancing the musicianship of the performers.
The Midsummer’s Music ensemble consists of 15 classically trained musicians, not all of whom perform at any one concert, as repertoires may consist of trios, quartets, quintets, or sometimes larger groups. While many of the composers on the programs are well known, others times Berkenstock chooses those less often performed.
Door County’s Midsummer Festival extends from June 13 to July 15, and returns August 26 to September 1, consisting of eight programs, each performed at three or four different venues.
The June 15 concert at the Sister Bay Moravian Church was the final performance of the opening program, “French Ambiance,” featuring the works of the late 19th and early 20th century composers Philippe Gaubert, Theodore Dubois, and Ernest Chausson.
Berkenstock told his audience that the concert would demonstrate “what is special about French music,” and then explained the transition occurring at that time from traditional Teutonic toward impressionistic music, an interest more in color and the inexplicit rather than in form.
Gaubert’s piano trio Medailles antiques featured Jean Berkenstock on flute, David Perry on violin, and William Koehler on piano, with two movements, Nymphes a la fontaine andDanses, the sparkling piece evocative of the “color” of both sprinkling fountains and joyful dancing. (This writer studied flute with an instructor who referred to Gaubert as one of the “black French composers,” and then laughingly explained that the “blackness” came about from the density of the notes on each sheet of music.)
The Quintet in F Major by Dubois is atypical in that he scored his piece for an oboe rather than a second violin, again, as Berkenstock explained, for the “color” the instrument gave the composition. While less impressionistic than the work of Gaubert, the piece was still “uniquely French,” at times restlessly wistful, somberly singing, nostalgic, and agitated, with thematic elements recurring. The piece featured Perry and Koehler, along with Margaret Butler on oboe, Sally Chisholm on viola, and Walter Preucil on cello.
Chausson’s Quartet in A Major was the most traditional of the program, scored for violin, viola, cello, and piano. Berkenstock pointed out that the composer offered a good example of the French late 19th century use of unity, a cyclic technique of later movements in the quartet reverting back to themes in earlier movements. Featured in the quartet were Perry, Chisholm, Preucil, and Koehler.
The small but appreciative audience gave the musicians resounding applause.
Jean Berkenstock performs frequently throughout the Chicago area; both David Perry and Sally Chisholm are members of the Pro Arte Quartet; Walter Preucil, a member of the well-known Preucil musical family, performs with the Lyric Opera of Chicago; Margaret Butler is a member of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; William Koehler teaches piano at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
(Originally published in the June 27-July 3, 2014 issue of the Peninsula Pulse. See the original version here.)