Santa Cruz Symphony Musicians — An Evening of Chamber Music at Samper Hall

Cellist Jonah Kim

On Sunday March 4 at Cabrillo College’s Samper Hall we were treated to an evening of intimate chamber music featuring Santa Cruz Symphony’s principal cellist Jonah Kim joining with other principal players and the Symphony’s Conductor Daniel Stewart. It is a given fact a Symphony Orchestra is as good as its musicians and this is the very reason the Santa Cruz Symphony’s Music Director Maestro Daniel Stewart has searched and found some of the very finest young talent available anywhere. This is precisely the main reason the Symphony performs works by Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler and Strauss, to name but a few, with such perfection and emotion. First cellist extraordinaire Jonah Kim, concertmaster extraordinaire, Nigel Armstrong, Maestro extraordinaire Stewart and guest collaborating pianist Elizabeth Dorman performed four works that will keep the sold out audience buzzing for weeks to come! To be sure, Ms. Dorman’s performance was equally extraordinaire! These are very deep musical talents with enormous artistic abilities brought forth in this concert.

The charismatic Kim presented a brief, chat about his background and the Brahms and Schumann to be performed. The Brahms Cello Sonata No. 2 In F Major, Op. 99 (1886), opened with a lush, warm tone. Perhaps “impossible” for Brahms to compose any composition without alluding to an orchestra’s full sound, as was the case here. His piano sonatas serve as prime examples. After a quick dynamic adjustment, the overall balance was spot on. From the opening first movement, asymmetrical phrases and typical Brahms rhythmic complexity kept the audience in suspense and slightly off balance. The work evolved and took shape with beautiful pizzicati and delicate keyboard passages through the more intensely concentrated motivic development section. The third movement designated Allegro passionato was exactly that — very passionate! Kim was pleasantly animated throughout the work and especially in this movement, which demonstrated how much he enjoyed making beautiful music. There were moments in which Kim appeared to be dancing with his beautiful instrument as he rocked back and forth. The final movement displayed a wonderfully precise counter point between cello and piano.

Robert Schumann’s Drei Fantasiestücke (Three Fantasy Pieces), Op. 73 (1849) was approached with tender expression, in which the chordal textures were noticeably different from those of Brahms. Here both cello and piano performed with musical ardour, full-toned commitment and generous expressiveness.

Among the three works for cello and piano we heard in this concert, the Brahms Cello Sonata No.1 in E Minor, Op. 38 (1862-65) was the most refined and artistically commanding. Prior to his performance Jonah Kim mentioned his affection for this work, for he performed this sonata in his early years and many times since. He commented on the many memories it brings back of past experiences, joys, breakups and the desire to perform it whenever possible.

The main theme of the first movement is based on Contrapunctus 3 and 4 of “The Art of the Fugue” and has been referred to as “an homage to J.S. Bach”. The sonata has an autumnal atmosphere, liquid and a delight to the senses. Kim made full use of the deep somber possibilities of his cello, especially inherent in its lower range. There were moments in which Kim projected a marvelous sound, the essence of which was that of both viola and cello. The resulting Gestalts were both amazing and emotional.

The forces gathered for the closing Piano Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 47 (1842) by Robert Schumann: Jonah Kim, cello (with a second cello employed for one note in the final moments); Elizabeth Dorman, Piano; Nigel Armstrong, Violin and Maestro Danny Stewart, Viola. There is nothing quite like the sound of the string quartet and when coupled with piano, a full-range orchestral dimension enters and creates a unique sound. It is simply amazing that Schumann completed this fantastic work within one month! Perhaps this is because Schumann appeared to be more comfortable with the intimate orchestration of chamber music than with the full orchestra. The ensemble put everything musically imaginable together in this work: superb overall balance, intonation, dynamics, musicianship and to be sure virtuosity! The surprise came when Kim switched to the second cello and produced a breathtaking sustained drone in the bottom register. He then switched back to his performance cello to finish the work.

Also amazing was that such youthful musicians sounded so mature as if they have been performing together for years. This was fine music making!  

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Archived in these categories: Cello, Piano, Piano trio, Violin.
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