Just three months after kicking off the Masterworks series with a tribute to the French Modern aesthetic, QCSO will again take on the works of Debussy and Ravel in an intimate performance in the lobby of the Figge Art Museum on Saturday, January 5 at 7:30 p.m.
The evening features QCSO concertmaster Naha Greenholtz; QCSO principal cellist Hannah Holman; and University of Iowa professor Dr. Réne Lecuona on piano.
Beauty, Grace, and Simplicity
Both Ravel and Debussy are composers known for invoking the full scale of human emotion within their work. The sentiment is present again in the program’s first piece, Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Minor.
Completed in 1915, the piece begins passionately on piano and is quickly joined by the cello. It serves as a truly captivating opening to the night’s program.
“Both Debussy and Ravel are masterful at how they do so much with so little,” Holman said. Holman is currently performing the piece in France along with Lecuona. They both hope the experience will add further authenticity to their January performance in the Quad Cities.
“The simplicity of their [Ravel and Debussy] work is just so beautiful,” Holman said. “It allows one to hear new colors. Their use of harmony and ‘new’ techniques were so modern at the time that it still sounds fresh today.”
The Importance of Perspective in French Modernism
Many of the artists featured in the Figge’s exhibit are considered impressionists. The style gained traction in the 1860s and focused on how light and color influence the visual impression of movement. One could argue that the music of the time also focuses on a sense of movement, stressing the importance of perspective.
“The music is so vivid and evocative that it reaches you where you are,” said QCSO Music Director and Conductor Mark Russell Smith. “The idea of impressionism is a scene can look different based off perspective. The experience is legit because you are who you are, and it’s your unique experience.”
Following Debussy is Ravel’s Sonata, a piece pairing violin and cello together. Completed in 1922, Ravel dedicated the piece to Debussy who had died just four years earlier.
“The Ravel Duo is one of the most technically demanding pieces written for cello,” Holman said. “It begins with the cello in its high register very delicately. Without a piano providing much of the harmony, rhythm, and back bone, the two string instruments alone exchange melody and accompaniment in a real conversation.”
Lecuona echoes Holman’s admiration for the piece and its composer. “I admire Ravel for the refinement of his pianistic writing and for his sensuous melodies,” she said.
Lecuona is a brilliant pianist, having performed all throughout Europe and Latin America. “Ravel was a meticulous self-critic, and what is left on the page are his absolute best thoughts.”
The program then flows into Lili Boulanger’s D’un Soir Triste. Lili Boulanger, the sister of famed composition teather Nadia Boulanger, was the first woman to win the prestigious Prix De Rome in 1913 at the age of 19, and tragicly died in 1918 at the age of 24. Written in 1917, the piece explores Boulanger’s acknowledgment of her own impending death through soft and slow violin movements. While a sense of doom is strong, moments of hope do shine through.
The last piece of the program is Debussy’s Piano Trio in A Minor, M. 67. Written in 1914, the piece is a perfect sonata for three players, composed around three rich but classical movements that will leave listeners in awe.
The Art in Music
The Figge’s French Moderns exhibit features some of the era’s most well-known artists, and Signature Series I Concert attendees can view the exhibit before the performance beginning at 6:00 p.m. As their paintings reflect the authenticity of differing human perspectives, so does the music of the time. Next month’s performance by QCSO companions the exhibit well, but more importantly serves as the perfect ending to a wonderful, timeless exhibit.
Purchase Tickets | $25 Adults | $10 Students
Naha Greenholtz, violin
Hannah Holman, cello
Réne Lecuona, piano