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Somber tone to chamber festival

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Cellist Keith Robinson humorously borrowed a cliche phrase to describe the three works he’s performing in paired concerts at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.

“It’s a dark and stormy program,” said Robinson, a member of the Miami String Quartet.

“All three of the pieces, especially the Mendelssohn, are high energy and super romantic. At the same time they’re some of the darker works by those composers.”

The works are Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Ernst von Dohnányi’s Piano Quintet No. 2 in E-flat minor and Erwin Schulhoff’s Sextet for Two Violins, Two Violas and Two Cellos.

They’re on a program to be performed Wednesday, July 24 at Albuquerque Academy’s Simms Auditorium and Thursday, July 25 at St. Francis Auditorium in Santa Fe.

Robinson said he’s played the Schulhoff sextet three times and it’s quickly become one of his favorite.

“It’s a masterpiece and difficult to put together. Every time I read it I find new challenges,” he said.

“None of the movements is light-hearted. Some sections descend into the depths of hell, not in a demonic way but a complete loss of hope. … There’s not a lot of sunshine there.”

Schulhoff completed the sextet in 1924.

He composed many chamber works as well as an opera, symphonies and oratorios. Some of his music was influenced by the politics of Socialist Realism and by jazz.

For example, he wrote the “Hot Sonata” (1930) for alto saxophone and piano, a dance piece that has movements with such titles as “Ragtime,” “Tango,” “Shimmy und Jazz” and an oratorio titled “The Communist Manifesto.”

A Jew from Czechoslovakia, Schulhoff died of tuberculosis in a Nazi concentration camp in 1942.

For Robinson, Schulhoff has also grown to be one of his favorite composers and he thinks of him as the best of all the composers who produced compositions in concentration camps during World War II.

On the same program, the Miami String Quartet will play Mendelssohn’s quartet, nicknamed “The Storm.”

“There’s an energy, a clarity … that propels his music forward. I love that about Mendelssohn, and I appreciate his respect for Johann Sebastian Bach. I think he uses a lot of Bach’s harmonic ideas,” Robinson said.

“His writing is so clean. Nothing is ever soupy.”

The other members of the quartet, which has been in residence at Kent State University for many years, are violinists Benny Kim and Cathy Meng Robinson and violist Scott Lee.

The Miami String Quartet will be joined by pianist Soyeon Kate Lee in von Dohnányi’s piano quintet.

If von Dohnányi’s first piano quintet is heroic, the second is more intimate, more emotional and darker, Robinson said.

In performing piano quintets, the strings combine to keep up with the piano.

“You almost have two equal partners,” he said. “The piano is a big solo instrument and the quartet is already formed. It’s a meeting of almost two personalities, not five.”