IN: Reviews

New Direction of Boston Chamber Music Society Well Received with Schubert, Harbison, Brahms


The first concert of the 27th season of the Boston Chamber Music Society at Sanders Theatre was attended by a large, warm, and attentive audience who braved the unseasonable snowstorm to enjoy the winds of change at Sanders on Sunday, October 18. As Marcus Thompson, the new Artistic Director, and Wen Huang, the new Managing Director, came on stage at the beginning of the evening, the applause continued until it was clear that this was a special, personal greeting from an audience eager to experience the renewed direction promised by Thompson, the long-time and much-loved member of the Society, who is now at its helm.

The audience not disappointed. From the opening of the Schubert String Trio in B-flat Major, the strings played with an elegance and unanimity of conception that spoke of careful preparation and thoughtful consideration. Ida Levin’s silky sound opened the piece and the warm voices of violist Marcus Thompson and cellist Andrew Mark, the Haim and Joan Eliachar guest artist for this concert, joined with crystalline intonation —that even the amount of vibrato was perfectly matched. And more, there was a sense that these three musicians were enjoying the music as they made it and entered into that enjoyment with the audience. This Schubert is not the deeply stormy music that we hear in his great symphonies, chamber music, or song cycles. It sounds as though he wrote it for himself to play with friends (he was, of course, a violist), and has the warmth of those familiar conversations. The intimacy of the composition wrapped the audience and the players together at the outset of this season of chamber music.

The Boston premiere of John Harbison’s Piano Trio #2 (2003) followed the Schubert, and presented music of both striking contrast and similarity. Of course, Harbison’s musical language is totally different – spare, linear, without the conventional forms Schubert knew. But the music is immediately recognizable as emotional human interactions: each player relates constantly to the others, weaving expressive intervals back and forth in beautiful patterns of sound. Ida Levin and Andrew Mark were joined by guest pianist David Deveau, Artistic Director of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, an equally sensitive musical partner. Their eloquence revealed the expressive gestures in the music, allowing this first-time listener to engage emotionally with the piece. A pleased Harbison joined the players onstage for the warm and sustained applause, and one hopes this work will be played again soon in other concerts in Boston.

Finally, the Brahms Piano Quartet in A Major, opus 26, provided a rich hot fudge sundae to follow the spare sushi. It was played with warm camaraderie among the players, sharing their enjoyment with the audience. This performance revealed often-hidden inner voices in a performance of both nuance and boisterous energy. The applause and cheers were well-earned, and players and audience were fortified to return to the world of snow and wind, refreshed and recharged for a year of exploration, discovery and enjoyment.

Gillian Rogell is  a violist,  chamber musician and coach who is the chair of the Chamber Music Department of New England Conservatory’s School of Continuing Education.  She is the creator of the DVD, “At the Heart of Chamber Music”, aired on WGBH. (

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