By Scott Scholz
April 11, 2018
A musical celebration of legendary composer Philip Glass will fill the Lied Center for the Performing Arts this coming Tuesday, April 17, featuring performances by UNL faculty and students. The program is highlighted by the world premiere of Glass’ new Piano Quintet No. 1 “Annunciation,” celebrating the almost 25-year friendship and collaboration between Glass and University of Nebraska–Lincoln Professor of Music and world-renowned pianist Paul Barnes. Glass himself will be traveling to Lincoln to attend this premiere performance by Barnes and Hixson-Lied Artists-in-Residence the Chiara String Quartet. Based on the Greek Orthodox Byzantine hymn for the Annunciation, Portland’s Cappella Romana will also perform the traditional Byzantine chant that inspired this new Glass piano quintet.
Also featured is Glass’ Piano Concerto No. 2 “After Lewis and Clark,” which was originally commissioned for the Nebraska Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission and premiered at the Lied Center in 2004. This performance will feature Barnes, the UNL Symphony Orchestra and University Singers, and guest Native American flutist Ron Warren. Additionally, Chiara String Quartet violinist Hyeyung Yoon and Barnes will perform Glass’ “Pendulum,” a 2005 piece written in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the American Civil Liberties Union.
While this is sure to be an incredibly memorable concert, it’s also a bittersweet moment, as it will mark the end of the Chiara String Quartet’s tenure as artists-in-residence at UNL, a position they’ve held since 2004. Founded in 2000, the quartet will cease working together full time at the end of their concert season in September. During their tenure in Lincoln, Chiara has educated and inspired a generation of music students at UNL, and they have also contributed to the community at large in less formal settings, including shows at local music clubs like the Chatterbox in 2006, a concert series at the Matt Talbot Kitchen in 2011-12, and recent concerts at the Nebraska State Penitentiary on April 2.
I caught up with Chiara String Quartet violist Jonah Sirota for a preview of the new Glass piece “Annunciation,” as well as a glimpse into the future plans of Chiara members:
KZUM: Was Chiara involved early in the planning for “Annunciation” as the quartet of choice to work with Barnes/Glass?
Jonah Sirota, viola, Chiara Quartet: The Chiara Quartet has been working with Paul Barnes from the beginning of the planning for this piece. He brought the idea to us and we were immediately interested. Philip Glass is one of the most influential living composers, and the chance to work with him was too great to pass up!
KZUM: I’m intrigued by the description of “Annunciation” in the press release, particularly the idea of chromatic motion in the first movement. Do we get to hear a bit of a different side of Glass in this work?
JS: I think that while fans of Philip Glass’ music will certainly not be disappointed by this work, there is a somewhat unique contribution here because of the Greek Orthodox chants that form some of the seed material for the piece. The chromatic motion is also a fascinating architectural element, one that shifts one’s awareness within the room of the piece gradually over time — like walls that seemed straight suddenly appear to be tilted. At the same time, it’s a work of great beauty.
KZUM: Any unique challenges for Chiara with “Annunciation?”
JS: We always find that minimalism provides a completely different set of challenges for string players. Repeated figures require a rhythmic precision and even physical stamina to perform, so we have to prepare well for them, and make sure that our head is in the game!
KZUM: Looking back on your time with the Glenn Korff School of Music and Lincoln more generally, any thoughts on Chiara’s relationship to Lincoln/Nebraska and the community here?
JS: We have literally come of age as musicians here in Lincoln, and we feel that we owe the audiences, the university, and the whole city a huge debt of gratitude. What we’ve been able to accomplish over the past 13 years, as far as building up a chamber music program at UNL, building a loyal audience of chamber music lovers, and spreading the word about great music to communities throughout the state and the region, would not have been possible if we hadn’t been so warmly embraced by this amazing community.
KZUM: Chiara has been a big asset to the Lincoln music community during your tenure here. Are some members planning to stick around the Lincoln area? Are there any future plans you can announce yet?
JS: It’s very kind of you to say so! As far as what comes next, our plans are still settling, but we each have unique and creative ventures on the horizon. Rebecca Fischer will continue to perform, both on her own and as a part of the performance art collective The Afield with her husband, artist Anthony Hawley. Hyeyung Yoon will be exploring ways to bring the folk music of her background in Korea into the world of classical music in America.
Gregory Beaver is looking to build on his reputation as a cello pedagogue of international stature, as well as expanding his creative output to include composition. And for my part, I am expanding my own voice as a performer-composer, writing music for film and media, performing with many different kinds of ensembles, and right now I’m most excited about my upcoming solo debut album STRONG SAD, featuring eight compositions all newly written by an incredible group of composers. It will be out on National Sawdust Tracks in June, with an album release tour to follow. Look out for a Lincoln show announcement in the next week or so!
We are all so thankful for our time here in Lincoln, and although some of us may move on (it’s too early to say yet), we will always stay connected here. We won’t be strangers!
A Celebration of Philip Glass
Featuring Paul Barnes, the Chiara String Quartet, Cappella Romana, Ron Warren and the UNL Symphony Orchestra
Tuesday, April 17, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.
Lied Center for the Performing Arts
301 N. 12th Street | Lincoln, NE
Tickets ($15-$30) available online at www.liedcenter.org, by phone at 402-472-4747, or in person at the box office
Chiara Quartet: www.chiaraquartet.net
Paul Barnes: www.paulbarnes.net
Philip Glass: www.philipglass.com
Scott Scholz writes about experimental and contemporary music from around the world, and is a former co-host of KZUM’s Other Music show, which airs Sundays from 10 p.m. to midnight.