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Aston Magna Again


As Aston Magna Artistic Director for 32 years, I continue to enjoy discovering new repertoire and presenting it with old favorites in mixed thematic programs. This summer’s festival will offer Boston-area concerts at the Allen House in West Newton, on July 11th, 18th, 25th , and on August 1st – all Thursday evenings at 7pm. These programs will repeat in the Berkshires. We will also be offering lectures at 6:15 for ticketholders who want deeper background. Tickets HERE, or at the door.

On July 11th I will perform some of my favorite solo repertoire: the three Partitas by J.S. Bach for violin alone, with commentary. These masterpieces feature dances from all over baroque Europe, as well as (still surprisingly!) the New World. The Sarabande and the Chaconne are variants of dances imported from Central America, along with chili peppers, chocolate, and tomatoes.

The July 18th concert features keyboardist David Hyun-su Kim, who has graced our programs for several years in chamber music by Mozart, Schubert, both Schumanns and Brahms. He has named this program “Side-by-Side-by-Side,” since it will feature three pianos of varying size and range. His repertoire will be Schubert and Chopin [CPE and Beethoven?], performed in the way Clara Schumann presented these works. David is a wonderfully articulate advocate for early keyboards, and will speak as well as play.

Baroque violinist Julie Andrejeski leads an ensemble on July 25th of early baroque music, dubbed “Sonata, What Do You Want From Me?” This ironic, snarky title is a translation of the French quote “Sonate, que tu me veux?” — traced back to philosopher Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle (1657-1757), and made notorious by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his essay on the “Sonate” in his Encyclopédie. The polemical humor of the rhetorical query sheds light on the philosophical/musical question of whether music without a text can have any real meaning. The topic became popular and controversial as purely instrumental music evolved away from its earlier function solely as accompaniment to dance towards its independent, sophisticated state of absolute music. The controversy also reflected the tension between French practice of adorning purely instrumental music with descriptive titles (e.g. Les Baricades Mistérieuses; Les Nations; La Sonnerie, La Timide, L’Apothéose de Lully, etc.) – and the Italian and German habit of publishing sets of works instrumental works without picturesque titles (e.g. Corelli’s trio sonatas, Bach’s many sonatas and solo works, Vivaldi’s many concerti). This program constitutes a full-throated defense of the early sonata – of abstract music, and of art for art’s sake. The features composers Castello, Frescobaldi, Rosenmüller, Bertali, Buxtehude, Corelli, Rebel, Hacquart, and Purcell.

An Aston Magna contingent in 2022.

I will be leading the August 1st finale, “An English Extravaganza,” which delves into Henry Purcell, John Eccles, and John Avison. Purcell will be represented by a group of a capella catches, and by accompanied songs from “The Fairy Queen.” John Avison composed many sonatas for “concerted” harpsichord, i.e. harpsichord solo, accompanied by strings — the inverse of the usual ensemble sonata in which the harpsichord, playing “continuo,” is heard improvising in the background on the prevailing harmonies. We will do one of Avison’s colorful sonatas, featuring Peter Sykes. The operas and chamber music of John Eccles, a contemporary of Purcell, enjoyed great popularity in his days. We will semi-staget his chamber opera The Judgement of Paris. In Eccles version of the Greek myth, Mercury charges the rustic shepherd Paris with the difficult choice of awarding a golden apple (approbation) to one of three beautiful goddesses: Juno (promising him Empire) , Pallas (promising Military Glory), or Venus (promising Love). An instrumental ensemble of strings, harpsichord. and trumpet will support singers Kristen Watson, Sophie Michaux, Deborah Rentz Moore, Frank Kelley, and David Kravitz.

A Professor of the Practice on the faculty at Brandeis University, Mr. Stepner is also a member of Boston Museum Trio and artistic director of the Aston Magna Festival in the Berkshires.                                                                

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