If you love chamber music, you’re bound to be aware of the fact that it thrives here due to Omaha Chamber Music Society, offering such repertoire since 2001. New things have been happening there, even as new music emerges in its concerts this month in the Summer Concert Series or in recent fascinating and colorful Eko Nova events at Kaneko. Now a different venue, Omaha Conservatory of Music, becomes the place in which to listen.
OCMS is under new leadership, with two Omaha Symphony artists directing. They are General Manager/trombonist Jay Wise and Board President/double-bassist Danielle Meier. Although they’ve been in charge for nearly one year, both stress the significance of continuity in goals and presentations, even as the broad range of music from all periods represents another kind of continuity.
“We want to follow what has been so well done before,” Wise says. He cites the opening concert of this year’s four-part series which features Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, part of “the bedrock repertoire.”
Last year’s season opening performance featured Brandenburg No. 5. “That concert was really popular; we’d like to follow that up every summer,” Meier adds. Nine artists performed. Quite a substantial number. This time there are eleven. “One of the biggest ensembles of community musicians we could effectively fit together.”
There’s further continuity. Last year, along with the Bach score, audiences delighted in Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires.” This time there’s a highly popular work by Argentinian compatriot Osvaldo Golijov, dedicated to Piazzolla, “Last Round” from 1996. Golijov “arouses extraordinary enthusiasm in audiences,” wrote The New Yorker’s Alex Ross. Such music “revives elemental powers…rhythms that rock the body…and melodies that linger in the mind.”
Moreover, in the same concert on the 4th , Aaron Copland’s “Nonet for Strings” expresses kinship with Bach as well as with Stravinsky’s neo-classic pieces, according to program annotator Benjamin Divis. Another imaginative link.
The repertoire for the opening event was deliberately chosen by Jay Wise to take advantage of the large array of talent, similar to plans for all of the events, with music that works best with the number of performers present and their instruments. “We want to make sure, that in each of our concerts, artists participate in as many of the works as possible,” continually creating fresh ensembles.
The other three events also match past programming concepts, featuring a brass ensemble, then a string quartet, followed by violin and piano sonatas.
And as always, Omaha area musicians take the stage. About three fourths of them are from the Symphony, consistent with the OCMS mission: “sharing the value of chamber music…(featuring) the talent and expertise of professional Omaha-area musicians, supplemented, occasionally, by guest artists.”
One of the musicians is Offutt Air Force Base-based trumpet player Technical Sergeant Carl Eitzen in the specially assembled sextet of the June 11th “Brass Summit.” He helped organize the group and had a hand in choosing the repertoire. It features music from film composers Anthony DiLorenzo and Michael Kamen, written in 2004 and 2002, respectively, along with Uruguay-born Enrique Crespo’s 1998 exploration of African-American spirituals. Plus, another affinity, more Bach. Eitzen, by the way, directs the United States Air Force Heartland of America Band. “He really knows what works for audiences,” Wise commented.
The connections continue. On June 18th “American Strings” features Dvořák’s “American” Quartet and Charles Ives’s First. Certainly the beloved Czech composer delighted audiences all over the globe with his “New World” Symphony and this iconic Quartet, considered one of his greatest. As is well-known, he spent time in neighboring Iowa, in Spillville, a small Czech community, during a time when he worked on expressing his admiration for what he considered indigenous music, including spirituals (a Crespo precedent) folk tunes and Native American traditions.
The String Quartet No. 12 was written in 1893. Just five years later, Ives wrote his quartet, inspired by Dvořák, among others. Ives always wanted to express our national identity. Here he samples several revival hymns, clearly called forth by the subtitle “From the Salvation Army.”
French music is the focus on June 25th when violinist and Symphony concertmaster Susanna Perry Gilmore and visiting piano virtuoso Victor Santiago Asunción perform compositions by Saint-Saëns, Ravel and Messiaen. Expect echoes of America here as well. Ravel was inspired by jazz in his Sonata No. 2, written in the mid-1920s. As for Saint-Saëns’s Violin Sonata No. 1, it may sound stubbornly “frantic and ominous” writes annotator Divis, although ending “on a positive note.”
Regarding the Messiaen work, “Theme and Variations,” (1932), it seems to express his joyful love for his wife Claire, with passion, intensity and euphoria, Divis observes.
In addition to Ms. Gilmore, other violinists performing this season are Mary Perkinson, Juliet Yoshida, Anne Nagosky and Scott Shoemaker. The violists: Judy Divis, Thomas Kluge, Tyler Sieh and Brian Sherwood. Some of them alternate between the two instruments, depending on the piece. Playing cello are Paul Ledwon, Tim Strang, Tom Maples and Gregory Clinton. Ms. Meier is the double-bassist. Brass players, in addition to Carl Eitzen, are Scott Quackenbush, trumpet; Ross Snyder, horn; Jason Stromquist and Jay Wise, trombones, plus tubist Alex Seratowski. At keyboards are Mr. Asunción playing piano and Christi Zuniga, harpsichord. Twenty-two artists in all.
The choice of a new venue, the Conservatory, was initiated by outgoing Executive Director Stacie Haneline. Wise said that she and Assistant Executive Director Lynn Lawson, who together directed OCMS for 10 years, wanted an actual concert hall, to create what they and Wise define as “a true concert experience.” Many performances had been held in First Central Congregational Church, a location certainly “historically justified,” Wise notes.
“I’m looking forward to our audiences hearing how the Conservatory’s Concert Hall sounds. It’s perfectly engineered for live classical music,” Meier enthuses. The seating capacity is large, 500 seats, more than either those at First Central Congregational Church or at the Jewish Community Center, site of other OCMS performances.
Regarding Ms. Haneline and Ms. Lawson, they decided last year that they wanted to move on to other aspects of their lives and asked the Board of Directors to find new people to take over the responsibilities. Wise, Meier and the other Board members had been very pleased and impressed with what their predecessors had been doing and astounded by how much work that entailed. It’s very challenging to maintain such excellence, Wise observes. “Every time I think I’m looking into something new and original, I find that they’d already thought of it before.”
“We want people to be attracted to what we present that’s familiar and to also experience revelations, because no one else in Omaha is doing anything on the same scale, especially in the summer,” Meier points out. “Now our biggest goal is to reach new people who don’t yet know who we are and what we do.”
“I want us to continue to think of ourselves as a traditional chamber music series; our audiences want to hear traditional repertory,” Wise continues. “Yet this June’s is one of the most varied and diverse series we’ve ever presented. There’s something for everybody. I’m proud of it and of the music we’re putting out there. That music is the most important thing.”
The Omaha Chamber Music Society Summer Concert Series runs June 4-25, Omaha Conservatory of Music, 7023 Cass St. Sundays. 3 p.m. Tickets: $5 (students) or $20. www.omahachambermusic.org