ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The 2014 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival stars the thunderous keyboard of Yefim Bronfman, all six of Bach’s “Brandenburg” concertos and a roundup of Beethoven’s final works.
The celebrity pianist, Bronfman, is 2014’s artist-in-residence. Known for his bristling technique and lyricism, the Uzbek-born musician is a friend of festival artistic director Marc Neikrug.
Bronfman will perform Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 6 and Neikrug’s “Passions, Reflected” at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe on Aug. 19.
“I’ve known him since he was in his 20s,” Neikrug said in a telephone interview from New York. “He’s certainly one of the most in-demand instrumentalists in the world.
“He’s an incredible technician,” Neikrug continued. “There is nothing I know of that he can’t play commandingly. He is a very big person and he makes the biggest sound I’ve ever heard on the piano. You sit there and it grabs you by the throat.”
Bronfman also will play the Brahms Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34 at the Lensic Aug. 17 and Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97 (“Archduke”) in Santa Fe on Aug. 21.
In designing his 17th season with the festival, Neikrug has combined new commissions by composers Brett Dean, Julian Anderson and Lowell Liebermann with the “Brandenburg” and Beethoven’s late works for every instrument, including the rarely performed Fugue for String Quintet in D Major, Op. 137.
Neikrug said he had never seen all of Beethoven’s final works scheduled in a single program.
The compositions emerged when the composer was going deaf, which led to his losing contact with others as he grew more morose and suspicious. The music flowed with a more meditative character, with the sublime intersecting with the grotesque.
Audiences at the time were bewildered by his quartets. But their forms and ideas inspired later composers such as Richard Wagner and Béla Bartók.
Beethoven scholar William Kinderman will give pre-concert talks before each performance during the Santa Fe Indian Market weekend from Aug. 20-22.
“Brandenburg” fans will have to wait until the festival’s final two Saturdays (Aug. 16 and 23) at the Lensic to hear what Neikrug is calling “Bach Plus.” Considered a benchmark of Baroque music, the “Brandenburg” displays a lighter side of the composer’s genius.
Pianist Benjamin Hochman will perform Bach’s Partita No. 2 in C Minor on July 26, followed by the Partita in D Major in the St. Francis Auditorium at the New Mexico Museum of Art.
Regular festival attendees may remember Hochman, who performed Bach’s Goldberg Variations last season.
“They are certainly a world to themselves,” Hochman said of the Partitas in a telephone interview from his New York home. “No matter how many times we play them, we discover something new.”
Based on a form originally rooted in European folk dances, the contrasting pieces evoke opposite emotions, he said.
“They have a very distinctive personality,” Hochman continued. “The C minor is very tragic and sad. The D Major is majestic and grand.”
Hochman will perform Luigi Dallapiccola’s “Quaderno Musicale di Annalibera” sandwiched between the two Bach pieces. The contemporary Italian composer wrote the work for his daughter.
“He’s using the letters of Bach’s name in each movement,” he said.
Hochman will play Beethoven’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 16 in both Santa Fe and at Albuquerque Academy’s Simms Auditorium on July 23 and 24. Originally written for piano and wind instruments, the piece was modeled on Mozart.
On July 31, the Simms will host the American premiere of contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean’s String Quartet No. 2, “And Once I Played Ophelia” (2014), with the Orion String Quartet. The text is by Matthew Jocelyn after William Shakespeare.
American composer Lowell Liebermann will give the New Mexico premiere of his Four Seasons, Op. 123 in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque Aug. 6 and 7, featuring mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke.
The performance will mark the Grammy Award-winning singer’s first Santa Fe appearance. Based near Houston, Cooke has sung with the San Francisco Opera, the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony.
“The text is poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay,” Cooke said in a telephone interview. “It’s not the kind of music where you have to go to school to understand it,” she added.
The long-note passages give singers little time to collect themselves.
“It’s a high-stamina piece,” she said. “In the end, it kind of feels like you’ve done a Strauss or a Wagner role because it’s so lyrical. It’s very full-throated, emotional and high.”
In other contemporary music, the London-born Julian Anderson will give the American premiere of his String Quartet No. 2 with the FLUX Quartet. Neikrug will offer his own “Passions, Reflected” performed by Bronfman. The piece reflects the composer’s personal admiration for the music of Schumann.
“He would write the long piece made up of small individual pieces that fit together in interesting ways,” Neikrug said. “I was always fascinated by that and wanted to write a piece like that.”
The music also reflects Schumann’s passion, as well as the passion of the performer, he added.
“The audience is a vessel for his passion, also,” Neikrug said.
“There are so many conduits for hearing music in the air,” the composer continued. “When the audience is sitting there and the performers are on the stage playing music by another person, all of that becomes actual with the sounds vibrating in the air. That’s the gift of live music, and then it’s gone.”