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Eric Zivian and Kyle Stegall at VOM Music Festival Concert (J.Hefti Photo)
SCHUBERT'S THEMES OF YOUTH AND DEATH AT VOM MUSIC FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, July 23, 2016
The beautiful new Hanna Boys Center auditorium in Sonoma Valley was the setting for the July 23 concert of the Valley of the Moon (VOM) Music Festival, now in it’s second year. Directors Tanya Tomkins and Eric Zivian have created a Festival of Classical and Romantic repertoire played on period instruments or copies of same, all string instruments using gut rather than steel. This is now recognized as "historically informed " performance practice.
Great music and professional musicians would provide exciting concerts, but there is much more to this Festival. There is an apprentice program for young artists who are coached and then perform, not only in their own groups, but included with their teachers in all concerts. This new/old tradition breathes a wonderful vitality into VOM Festival.
Titled Death and the Maiden, the all-Schubert program began with some of the composer’s Lieder (he wrote over three hundred) from which tenor Kyle Stegall and fortepianist Eric Zivian chose seven. The songs all explored themes of death and youth. Death is inevitable and wicked; youth and beauty are fragile. Mr. Stegall sang with great intensity of emotion in all ranges, and the audience and singer seemed completely engaged in the drama and beauty of the music and words. Mr. Zivian accompanied with subtle touches and beautiful shadings of tone that are possible on the fortepiano. First on the program was Auf dem Strom which has a horn part as duet with the singer, one of only a handful of such compositions. Sadie Glass played the period horn with beautiful legato lines and exciting changes of color in this lyrical and dramatic piece. It was tender and moving. The balance of parts was exquisite. Mr. Stegall then continued with An Silvia (from Shakespeare) and then Verklarung (from Pope), ending with the line "Oh Death, where is thy sting?,“ and sung in anguished fortissimo following a dramatic recitative and an almost whispered "Beloved spirit, come and rest!".
The singer at times seemed transported to other worlds, expressing the texts with gestures of voice, face, eyes, hands and body. Knowing German was not necessary for understanding the emotional journeys in Der Jungling an der Quelle and Der Jungling und der Tod . An eery and unforgettable moment occurred at the end of the song Death and the Maiden, as Mr. Stegall very slowly raised his right hand out toward the audience and stared into the far distance.
After a short intermission the song Death and the Maiden returned as the beloved String Quartet in D minor, D. 810, in which the Lied is used in a theme and variations movement. Ms. Thomkins (cello) and violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock joined apprentices Holly Piccoli (violin) and violist Liana Berube and produced a fine performance. The period instrument stringing and the style of playing that suits the music allowed for different shadings of musical lines. Sometimes the lines were quite intimate and even muted, with clear blended unisons and sometimes foggy effects, and provided fresh insights.
In the Allegro Ms. Tomkins was magnificent leading and supporting the Beethoven-like themes of passionate striving. Sweetly melting harmonies and dying dotted rhythms were effective. The Andante theme and variations traversed musical landscapes from tragic sadness to a beauty overcoming all. The variation featuring cello pizzicato and complex lively inner rhythms was outstanding. The Scherzo movement was played with effective harshness of tone and wild syncopations, and then the galloping Presto movement was energetic and compelling.
After a reception featuring Beltane Ranch wines, there was a round table discussion led by KDFC FM radio’s Rick Malone. Musicians spoke of the search for new forms of articulation on these instruments and the shift from gesture and dance in the Baroque to the psychological journeys, long lines and stories of Schubert and Schumann. Ms. Tomkins was eloquent in her description of her own journey to this area of historical performance and in describing the excitement of the apprentice program.