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Sunday, March 21, 2010

“of melody yet unknown” This Saturday

Chameleon continues the 2009-2010 season this Saturday, March 27 at 8PM at the Goethe-Institut, 170 Beacon Street in Boston. The program entitled “of melody yet unknown” includes works by Beethoven, Brahms, Schoenberg, Webern, and Kirchner.

View full program details.

About the program:
Very rarely, an artist emerges who transforms an art form forever. On this program we have two such composers, born roughly a century apart, both central to the grand musical tradition of the city of Vienna, whose bold conceptions influenced everybody that followed – even if in opposition. Ludwig van Beethoven appropriated the classical forms of Haydn and Mozart’s generation for the new age of Romanticism, the time of the French Revolution. He was an artist no longer at the service of aristocratic patrons, daringly, even relentlessly, showing the world how the expression of the intensely personal can become the expression of the universal. A revolutionary thinker and iconoclast for sure, Arnold Schoenberg nevertheless considered himself a successor in the tradition of Beethoven and Brahms. He made the case in his famous 1947 essay “Brahms the Progressive” that looking to Brahms, Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart as progressive composers who wrote music for “adults…[who] think in complexes” would lead to a greater understanding of his own music. Strictly regular phrase lengths and repetitions of thematic material with only insignificant surface variation, such as one finds in any form of “popular” music, he characterizes as “senseless prolixity” essentially on the intellectual level of nursery rhyme. Brahms in particular, with his ability to spin large-scale forms and generate essentially every bit of musical material, from melody to transitional passages, from very simple melodic and harmonic cells, was clearly an inspiration for Schoenberg’s serial techniques. Schoenberg’s most rigorous student, Anton Webern, took the aesthetic of the concise to the extreme, creating works of transparent beauty in which every note, every gesture, is packed with import. Leon Kirchner, who passed away just this past fall after a long and distinguished career, was one of the last great composers with a direct link to Schoenberg, leaving a body of work that was every bit as meticulous as his teacher in the clarity of its internal logic and form.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Brahms and Carmen

I have been reading Jan Swafford‘s marvelous biography of Brahms (available at Amazon), and was delighted to learn that Brahms absolutely loved Bizet’s Carmen, seeing it no less than twenty times.

We love finding these connections, which often reveal themselves long after the concerts have been programmed. Hear Sarasate’s Concert Fantasies on Carmen and Brahms’ f minor Piano Quintet on this coming weekend’s concerts!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Listening Room – Volume 3 – programming “for that transforming touch”

For years, people have been asking how I choose works and how Chameleon’s programs come together. And so, I thought I would attempt to put into words some of the circumstances and processes surrounding “for that transforming touch” on February 6 and 7.

In truth, it’s still a fairly mysterious process to me as well. I only know that a program is complete and finished when it is. How it happens varies from concert to concert. I rely heavily on instinct (our Messiaen program this past October is a good example of this) but sometimes ideas for programs are borne out of bits of trivia, history, or program notes that I come across in my listening and research. Once I decide on the theme, I often construct the entire program in my head before committing it to paper. To be sure, narrowing choices down to the four or five works per Chameleon program is the most challenging part of the process. As always, each concert melds old and new repertoire, but more than that, I try to also present highly varied, though complimentary, textures, colors and instrumentations. Works frequently wait in the wings for years until my instinct tells me I have found just the “right fit.” Each year, I wade through boxes of notes and hundreds of recordings searching for countless hours for the next Chameleon-esque concept. I’m mostly interested in the “extra musical” or human aspects rather than any kind of formal analysis (details about composers’ lives, circumstances surrounding the composition, etc.). In doing so, patterns and themes emerge (ie. folk music, love, loss, duos, trios, musical makeovers, etc.) and so do Chameleon concerts.

This weekend’s program has been nearly a decade in the making as I searched for just the right way to frame Brahms’ amazing Piano Quintet in f minor, Op. 34. The Quintet has been a favorite work of mine for as long as I can remember. It has taken up permanent residence on my I Pod and goes with me everywhere. I listen to at least portions of it every week and no matter how many times I’ve heard it, it still makes me spin, makes me leap, makes me cry… Consequently, it was personally very difficult for me to find a program that I felt was special enough. I’m obviously too close to the piece to be objective, but luck and curiosity helped.

Uncovering Boulez’s Derive I was what made all the difference. At the time, my husband was reading Alex Ross’ The Rest is Noise and we would regularly talk about the book. Ross’ take on Boulez was unflattering to say the least, and since at that point I wasn’t terribly familiar with his music, I promptly added him to my listening list. His chamber music catalogue is quite small and so I thought that after a quick listen, I would confirm that it was terrible, and my curiosity would be sated. Instead, I fell in love with his startling textures and whirls of color, from Derive I in particular. I was so taken that I simply dropped everything else and began to try and figure out a way to include it in a Chameleon program.

In the end Boulez’s title became the unifying theme – music that has been derived from other materials, recomposed or re-imagined. He described it as “one tree spawns many other trees” which was for me a beautiful image of the connectedness of old and new music – a core philosophy that is present in every Chameleon program.

I started collecting lists of “recomposed” pieces with Brahms’ Quintet – which existed first as a string quintet and then as a sonata for 2 pianos – at the top. As it turns out, there are an enormous number of works that fall under this very general category. The next step of narrowing down the choices is something I really cannot explain. Suffice it to say that I make certain that I truly love every work on every Chameleon program, and that I know the combination will give a fully satisfying evening of music.

In this case, I felt that Sarasate’s famous Carmen Fantasy was a natural complement following a long line of instrumental variations and arrangements of operas. In Libby Larsen’s heartbreaking setting of the last words of the wives of Henry VIII, she deftly weaves lute songs by John Dowland, Praetorius, and Thomas Campion throughout. Finally, Irving Fine’s Partita for wind quintet stretches this theme in a direction that unusually analytical for a Chameleon concert. He uses a mode of composition called thematic metamorphosis in which the musical material evolves out of two small melodic fragments and so the entire piece is recomposed at its very core. Which brings us full circle to Brahms, whose masterful spinning of large-scale works from the tiniest motives inspired the twelve-tone method of none other than Arnold Schoenberg, which brings us to the next program in March….

Thursday, November 5, 2009

“Wordless, Wondrous Things” This Saturday

Chameleon continues the 2009-2010 season this Saturday, November 7 at 8PM at the Goethe-Institut, 170 Beacon Street in Boston. The program entitled “wordless, wondrous things” includes works by Mendelssohn, Magi, Currier, Klughardt, and Schubert.

View full program details.

There are a few tickets still available, but they’re going fast! Order online at or call 617-427-8200.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Chameleon opens 2009-2010 season this weekend

We’re thrilled to be opening our 09-10 chamber music season at the Goethe-Institut this weekend.  The program entitled “music and all silence held” includes works by Mozart, Debussy, Takemitsu and Messiaen. Performances are on Saturday, October 3 at 8pm and Sunday, October 4 at 3pm at the Goethe-Institut, 170 Beacon Street in Boston. Tickets are still available.

Full program details are at

The concerts are also among the Classical Picks in today’s Boston Globe!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chameleons performs live on WGBH Radio

Catch a preview of our 09-10 opening program, music and all silence held, LIVE on WGBH Radio Wednesday, September 30 at 11am. Enjoy interviews with the artists and performances of works by Mozart, Debussy and Toru Takemitsu.

Stream the program at WGBH Radio or tune in to 89.7 FM

The show will also be rebroadcast at 6pm on All-Classical WGBH, on both 89.7-HD2 and the All-Classical internet stream.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Chameleon performs works by Dan Welcher, Hanns Eisler, Dominick Argento, and Franz Schubert THIS Saturday

This Saturday, join us for an invigorating program of music inspired by water and its sounds, including a rarely-heard seminal work by the brilliant German exile Hanns Eisler, one of the first victims of the Hollywood blacklist.

like woven sounds of streams
Saturday, March 28, 2009, 8 PM
Goethe-Institut, 170 Beacon Street, Boston

Dan Welcher, Mill Songs: Four Metamorphoses after Schubert for oboe & bassoon
Hanns Eisler, Fourteen Ways to Describe Rain for flute, clarinet, string trio & piano
Dominick Argento, To Be Sung Upon the Water for soprano, clarinet & piano
Franz Schubert, Quintet in A Major for piano & strings, Op. 114 “The Trout”

$38, $28, $18; $5 off for students and seniors

Tickets can be purchased in advance online or by phone (617-427-8200). There will be a limited number available at the door.

For more information about the program, visit

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