Whitehall-Coplay Press

Tuesday, November 20, 2018
CONTRIBUTED PHOTODecoda, 3 p.m. Nov. 4, “Chamber On Stage,” Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown. CONTRIBUTED PHOTODecoda, 3 p.m. Nov. 4, “Chamber On Stage,” Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.

‘Chamber On Stage’ turns musicians, audience around

Thursday, November 1, 2018 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Focus

The Allentown Symphony Association is turning the Miller Symphony Hall stage around for its new chamber music series.

For the 3 p.m. Nov. 4 concert that opens the hall’s “Chamber On Stage” series, the New York City group Decoda will play on the main stage, but with the performers’ backs to the orchestra seats in which the audience usually sits.

And audience members will be seated toward the back of the stage facing the performers.

Diane Wittry, music director and conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, says the set-up will create the feeling of an intimate space, while still taking full advantage of the acoustics and grandeur of Symphony Hall.

“It’s a more relaxed concept and a great way to start this eclectic new series,” Wittry says.

The chamber series was launched this year at the request of sponsor The NB Center for American Automotive Heritage of Allentown. Wittry says the NB Center was very interested in developing a high-quality chamber series.

She says her goal in inviting performers was to give audiences a lot of variety. The series features a string quartet, piano soloist, saxophone quintet, and Decoda, which calls itself a “modular chamber ensemble.”

Members of Decoda switch out to play whatever parts are required for the pieces they perform. On the Nov. 4 program, for example, there is a viola solo, a string duet and a piano trio and quartet.

Wittry says what is particularly interesting about the Nov. 4 program is that the first half of the concert is all pieces by female composers.

“They go from the very earliest woman composer to a very current composer, who will actually be at the concert,” Wittry says.

Pennsylvania composer Anna Weesner, who will be in attendance, composed “Sudden, Unbidden” for violin and cello.

The program includes a work for solo viola by Hildegard of Bingen, who wrote music for the church in the 12th century and is one of the first known female composers.

Clara Schumann’s “Piano Trio in G Minor, Op. 17” also will be performed. Clara, who was married to the great 19th-century German composer Robert Schumann, was better known as a pianist, but she also composed music.

The second half of the program is “Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25” by Johannes Brahms, who was a protégé of Robert Schumann and became close to Clara after Robert’s death.

In January, pianist Stefano Greco returns for the second concert in the “Chamber On Stage” series.

Wittry says Greco played with Allentown Symphony Orchestra members in the 2017-2018 season for a concert in the “Arts at St John’s” series at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Allentown.

Greco’s 3 p.m. Jan. 27 concert on the symphony stage will feature music by Mozart, Beethoven and Liszt.

“You can’t go wrong with that,” says Wittry.

The Dover Quartet will perform an all-Beethoven program at its concert, 3 p.m. March 3 in the “Chamber On Stage” series.

The Philadelphia string quartet catapulted to international stardom following a sweep of the 2013 Banff Competition and has become one of the most in-demand ensembles in the world.

All four quartet members are accomplished solo artists: first violinist Joel Link took first prize at the Menuhin Competition; violinist Bryan Lee and violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt have appeared as soloists with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Tokyo Philharmonic, and cellist Camden Shaw released a solo album debut on the Unipheye Music label.

Wittry says she heard them perform Beethoven in New York and felt it would be perfect for the series, especially in light of the upcoming 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

“Beethoven is like the grandfather who laid the foundation for string quartets,” she says.

The program includes “Quartet in F major, Op. 18, No. 1,” “Quartet in D major, Op. 18, No. 3” and “Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4.”

The final ensemble of the “Chamber On Stage” series is the Donald Sinta Saxophone Quartet, 3 p.m. May 19 in its program, “Around the World in 80 Minutes.”

Wittry says since the development of saxophone quartets is newer, most of the music that as been written is of more recent vintage and the program demonstrates pieces from all over.

She says the choice of a group the specializes in saxophone ties in with the symphony’s community saxophone event in February, at which saxophone players of all levels will play together and some hand-picked performers will get to play with celebrated saxophone player Paul Cohen.

She says she hopes musicians involved in the community event will return to see the Sinta Quartet, which is the first-prize winner of the Concert Artists Guild Competition.

The Sinta Quartet, based in Michigan, performs entirely from memory, and is named for its mentor, legendary University of Michigan Saxophone Professor Donald Sinta. The quartet also runs the National Saxophone Quartet Composition Competition.

The group’s repertoire includes commissions by emerging composers, standards from the saxophone quartet literature and transcriptions by master composers such as Dvořák, Schubert and Shostakovich.

Seating for the chamber series is general admission. On stage tickets are $23. Also available will be tickets for seats in the orchestra section for $10. However, the performers will have their backs to those in the section.

Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715