Classical Music & Dance

All Czech program starts off Summerfest series with pride and energy

With familiar faces, a new format and creative repertoire, Summerfest returned to the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s White Hall on Saturday for its 27th summer series.

Though still offering high quality, interesting chamber music, the dispensed intermission allowed for a solid, succinct amount of music, while onstage remarks before each piece (while the seating was adjusted for the ensemble) supplemented the program notes, creating a pleasant, easy flow to the concert.

The series’ first program featured a trio of Czech composers, each a generation apart, each celebrating and reaffirming their heritage against the cultural weight of dominant foreign powers.

Jiří Jaroch, living in Cold War-era Prague, wrote the nonet “Detska Suita” (Children’s Suite). Flickers from flute (Michael Gordon) burst across pulsing strings in a lively, whirling conversation between the instruments. Off beats kept a somber middle section from settling, then jumped back into the buoyant opening material of “Tanacek” (Little Dance). “Ukolebavka” (Lullaby) was gentle, but lacked cohesion from moment to moment. The perpetual motion of “Hra na honěnou” (Blind Man’s Bluff) captured the playfulness of the work and demonstrated excellent timbral combinations.

Switching then to a smaller ensemble, they presented Pavel Haas’ Wind Quintet, op. 10. Haas’ modernistic style matched the creativity and angst of 1920s Europe (tragically, he was killed at Auschwitz during World War II).

Motoric texture supported a long melody line beautifully presented by clarinet (Jane Carl) first, with other instruments in variant statements, marked by stuttery interruptions. A dark tone defined the second movement, in cadenza-like lines from flute, clarinet and oboe, with dramatic, demanding statements from horn (David Sullivan). In “Ballo Eccentrico,” pointed ostinato from bassoon (Joshua Hood) formed the basis for complex layers from the individual voices, with the enthusiastic delivery of the swooping, drooping line causing the audience to chuckle, while the flute soared above the final movement’s steady, broad statement, which was grand, but forced.

Bedřich Smetana, the father of Czech music, authored his String Quartet No. 1 “From My Life” after he had become completely deaf. This autobiographical work was an intimate journey, from the tense undercurrent and first impassioned statement from the viola (Jessica Nance). The work conveyed the image of a man proud and deeply emotional, with a hopeful twist in the harmonies even as the intensity of emotions increased.

The wry, wily rhythms of the second movement à la Polka brought to mind the present day context of bohemian, the introduction an unruly call to the floor for a high energy dance. Cello (Alexander East) injected a breathe, a pause for a more polite, more civilized exchange, reining in the galloping pace to little avail (delightfully representing Smetana’s youthful love of dancing). The hymn-like melody of the third movement was solemn and dense, though phrasing through out was unconvincing as a unit. The high energy Vivace, despite some tuning, was delivered well, especially the sudden silence, the piercing note of tragedy from violin (Anne-Marie Brown) with trembling viola. Returning motivic snippets, Smetana’s memories, faded to a final despairing resolution as his deafness descended, ending the concert with a poignant moment.

Additional performance 3 p.m. July 9. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. Ticket information www.summerfestkc.org .

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