Classical Music: Musical memorial
Chamber series is back -- and with a Bach rarity!

By Anthony Sclafani

Posted 9/23/10

The troubled economy has hurt many arts organizations but not Sundays at Three. When this popular, Columbia-based chamber music series opens its 14th season Sept. 26, it will do so from a position of power.

The series' strength comes from keeping things small and manageable says its longtime artistic director, Ronald Mutchnik.

"We're holding our own. We're actually doing reasonably well, because as a chamber music series, it's not as expensive to run as a large choir or an orchestra."

The fact that the series draws from accomplished musicians in this region also keeps the series' costs manageable.

"It's nowhere near as expensive as depending on internationally renowned artists with big fees and managers and other things that have to be taken into account," the Ellicott City resident notes. "So we're lucky in that way."

Over the past decade or so, Mutchnik has emerged as an important figure in the region's classical music scene. He won the 2010 Howard County Arts Council "Artist of the Year" award, not only for running the Sundays at Three series but also for founding the Orchestra of St. John's, Howard County's first all-professional chamber orchestra.

When not busy planning the programs for those, this University of Maryland and New England Conservatory graduate serves as concertmaster for the Columbia Pro Cantare. He also teaches at Towson University.

The 2010-11 Sundays at Three season will feature eight concerts showcasing a wide variety of musicians from throughout the region. One notable featured talent, for instance, is Jonathan Carney, concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

For Sunday's opening concert, Mutchnik, also a violinist, will take the stage with pianist Daniel Wyneken of the New England Conservatory of Music. The duo's unique repertoire typifies what the Sundays at Three series is all about, Mutchnik believes.

"We look for pieces of music by famous composers that haven't gotten their fair due, or important pieces by lesser-known composers that need a chance to be heard," he says. "And sometimes you get to hear a familiar piece in a new light."

The four works that make up Sunday's program all fit the criteria. They include J.S. Bach's "Chaconne with Chorales," Igor Stravinsky's "Suite Italienne," Gerald Finzi's "Romance" and Gabriel Fauré's "Sonata No. 1."

Mutchnik claims to be especially excited about the Bach piece, which features some cleverly concealed musical sections unearthed by a music scholar in the 1990s. The work is a chaconne, which is a classical composition from the baroque era that contains variations based on short harmonic progressions. Bach hid some of his famous chorale music within the piece.

"Bach wrote this piece, we believe, as a memoriam to his wife," Mutchnik says. "And he included chorales as part of it.

"It's fascinating, because when you hear the chorales together with the chaconne at the same time, you realize how they fit together and you realize he was basically putting in a kind of epitaph for his wife.

"This was discovered back in 1994, and it made a splash briefly but no one has played it in this area, that I know of. So this is a Howard County first and we thought that this was great way to put a new light on a familiar thing."

Sentimental 'Suite'

The Stravinsky composition holds sentimental value for Mutchnik, since it was the first piece of music played at the very first Sundays at Three concert.

Says Mutchnik: "I've always loved this piece and thought it was the perfect way of fixing baroque music in a new light -- the way Stravinsky himself would change and reinterpret music in a more modern guise."

There's a more idiosyncratic reason Mutchnik chose to include Fauré's "Sonata No. 1" in the program: "It's a staple of the French repertoire," says the artistic director. "I'm partial to French music, so I always try to include a French piece on my programs."

In coming months, the Sundays at Three concerts will spotlight the return of the Monument Piano Trio (Nov. 7) and Columbia pianist Eun Joo Chung (Dec. 5).

Come the new year, the aforementioned Jonathan Carney will perform with pianist Lura Johnson (Jan. 9); Baltimore Symphony musicians will play with pianist Andrea Sokol (Feb. 13); BSO violinist Peter Minkler will also play with Lura Johnson (March 13); and the New Pacific Trio will perform with Clarksville's Ann Miller (April 10).

The season will close on May 15 with a performance by the all-female Gliss Trio, which will be joined by violinist Christian Tremblay.

While many programs feature only a few musicians, this saves the organization money and may enable a bigger season next fall.

"Because we have been frugal, we've planned the season after this to have a few large ensembles again," notes Mutchnik. "We may finally get to do the Schubert 'Octet in F Major,' which is something I always have in the back of my mind to do."

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