Classical Music Made Simple

From left to right, violist Richard O’Neill, host Patrick Castillo, pianist Gloria Chien, violinist Kristen Lee, violinist Sean Lee, and cellist Mihai Marica

Before I attended a Late Night Rose Concert at the Chamber Music Society last week, it would be safe to say I had never seen classical music performed outside of an academic setting. Even after Music Hum, it’s hard to appreciate certain types of music without having had some experience attached to them, either through playing as a kid or attending concerts with your parents or grandparents. And I worried that, on finally seeing such a performance, the potent effect of the music would be lost on me, given my utter lack of music knowledge.

The set-up of the Late Night Rose series prevents that from being the case. Each of the pieces is helpfully introduced by a host, who provides some of the history behind that piece—the period in which it was written, its particular place in the musical portfolio of its composer, and what moments, be they exquisite in their simplicity or luxurious in their complexity, to seek out while listening.

Perhaps people with more musical knowledge than I have would find such contextualizing pedantic. But for me, and anyone else who wants to learn to appreciate classical music, it is an invaluable guide that makes the experience that much more rich and enjoyable.

The music itself is performed in an intimate setting: a low-lit room with round tables—each adorned with a candle—spread out before a raised circular stage. Guests are not assigned seats; rather, as the lady at the front desk told me, you “Choose the seat next to the first friendly face you see.” The gleaming black Steinway piano, seated austerely at the back of the stage, completes the effect of understated elegance and expected cordiality.

During the show I attended, the musicians performed Mozart’s Trio in E Major for Piano, Violin, and Cello, K. 542 followed by Korngold’s Quintet in E Major for Piano, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello, Op. 15. Host Patrick Castillo introduced the pieces by asking the musicians to play the beginnings of each of the movements—of which there are three in the Trio and three in the Quintet—before stopping them to talk about the pieces before they were played all the way through.

The Mozart Trio, he explained, is so melodically simple, it has an air of inevitability—it almost makes listeners ask why they didn’t think of the melody themselves. Of course, this is the beauty of Mozart: it feels obvious once you hear it, but only Mozart could imagine such music from the ground up. Castillo also pointed out that this Trio departed somewhat from the musical traditions of its time by creating a conversation between the three instruments, whereas most pieces would highlight one instrument and use the others for accompaniment.

The Korngold Quintet, Castillo said, is thematically comparable to the Mozart Trio in its inevitability, though Korngold is more sumptuous in sound.

Such a sound resonates with Korngold’s career as a Hollywood composer for film in the 1930s. The second movement of the Quintet, which was written out of longing for the Hollywood actress who would later become Korngold’s wife, particularly emphasizes this richness.

My favorite moments in the show occurred when the violinists, violist, and cellist all swept their bows up together in a single, magnificent motion.

Still, describing the music of a Late Night Rose concert hardly does it justice, especially given the energy of the musicians, whose expressions flitted from emotion to emotion with the movement of the music.

So I’ll just have to suggest you attend one instead.

-Laura Booth, CC ’15

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