The Surf & Sound Series has become one of those Outer Banks traditions that make summer on this sandbar such a special time. Bringing world-class musicians in performance of classical music, the series makes four stops along the Outer Banks from Southern Shores to Buxton, insuring just about anyone who wishes to hear how magnificent these concerts are, will have a chance to do so.
The series is, in some ways, the tale of two recitals. The inaugural concert is at All Saints Episcopal Church in Southern Shores. Blessed with a concert grand piano, the musicians are able to perform music that they cannot do at an outdoor concert like the Duck Amphitheater, or in Buxton or at the Dare County Arts Council Gallery in Manteo, where there is no piano.
However, whether it is a piano quintet performance in Southern Shores or a string trio in Duck, the music is invariably captivating and beautiful.
The Tuesday evening performance at All Saints began with a work from Ernst von Dohnanyi, a Hungarian composer and pianist who was well-known and well-regarded during his lifetime but may not be a familiar name today.
After hearing the performance of his Piano Quintet No. 2 in Eb minor, that seems unfortunate.
The piece does not lend itself to an easy description. It is at times discordant, and seems to drift in and out of easily identified rhythms. The piano binds everything together in this composition, with the strings appearing to dance around the arrhythmic notes and chords of the piano.
For the most part there is no identifiable melody—but there are exceptions.
The Intermezzo begins with an exquisitely beautiful viola melody. The viola returns with the melody in the Moderato, the final movement of the piece. But the interplay in this final movement is much more complex, shifting between minor and major chords, the intensity building until the music seems angry and filled with passion.
First performed in 1914, perhaps this was von Dohnanyi’s foreshadowing of WWI, and his statement about the clouds of war that were gathering.
If von Dohnanyi’s Piano Quintet is complex and demands the attention of the audience, Dvorak’s Piano Trio No. 5 in E minor is like sunshine after a storm passes.
Performed with Amanda Halstead on piano, Katie Hyun on violin and Jacob Fowler on cello, the music is beautiful and lyrical with melody lines that are easily followed.
Dvorak envisioned his Piano Trio No. 5 as a dumky, a Slavic term for an epic ballad that would typically alternate between tragedy, sadness and joy, and the music reflects that.
Although the melody is easily identified in each of the six movements, the orchestration is complex with shifting rhythms and changes in key. Here the cello and violin come to the fore, carrying the melodies—each movement has a very distinct feeling and a melodic theme all its own.
Although the melodies have at times a dark, brooding feel, overall the piece does not feel sad, rather it gives the impression of a celebration of life.
Generally we try not to express favorites when it comes to the location of the concerts. There may be a mention of the concert grand at All Saints and how that allows a greater range of composition to be performed. Beyond that, however, there isn’t much to say. There is an exception to that, though.
Sitting outside at the Duck Amphitheater after a storm has dried the air with a breeze off Currituck Sound…that is something special.
The music that was selected seemed to perfectly complement the setting Beethoven’s Trio C minor Opus 9 No. 3 is an interesting piece. Composed fairly early in his career, many of the elements of his orchestration are apparent—the use of a recognizable theme that reappears throughout the composition and the constant movement of the music supporting the theme are two of the recognizable traits.
Elizabeth Coulter Vonderheide on violin, Luke Fleming on viola, and cellist Jacob Fowler have an opportunity to shine in this piece. And shine they do. The interplay among the instruments creates a sense of beauty and peace at times, and at other times a feeling of tension as though something just beyond the horizon awaits.
As is usually the case with Beethoven’s music, it is a complex and wonderful piece of music and it matched the setting perfectly. The second composition was an interesting choice. Composed in 1847, Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80 was created as an homage to his sister, Fanny, who had passed away unexpectedly earlier in the year.
Mendelssohn was very close to his sister and her death was traumatic to the composer, exhibiting, after her passing, what we would now describe as a severe depression. He became, according to his friends, listless and was unable to continue his work as the conductor of the Leipzig Orchestra. He died, at age 36 on November 4, 1847.
He titled the piece “Requiem for Fanny” so there is little doubt what his intent was, and there is a dark, brooding air to the music. It is beautiful and evocative and Mendelssohn’s pain seems to come to the fore at times, yet there are also elements of the music that suggest the joy of their relationship. It does not end on a dark and brooding theme. The finale—Allegro malto—is still in a minor key but the with the violins soaring over the cello and viola there is a feeling of lightness that seems to bring a resolution to the pain Mendelssohn was feeling.
This was the fourth year that music director and cellist Jacob Fowler, violinists Katy Hyun and Elizabeth Coulter Vohnderheide, Luke Fleming on viola and pianist Amanda Halstead have brought their world-class musicianship to the Outer Banks. It has been a treat and hopefully they will be back for a fifth year.
Next up for the Bryan Cultural Series will be La Traviata on September 15 at First Flight High School in Kill Devil Hills. With Manteo’s favorite son Tshombe Selby in the title role. A joint production with Elizabeth R and Company, admission is free. Tickets are available by calling Elizabeth R. and Co. at 252-473-1061 or by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org.