Brightmusic Chamber Ensemble launches its 12th season with no strings attached

click to enlarge Brightmusic Chamber Ensemble launches its 12th season with no strings attached
Christian Steiner
Randall Scarlata

Brightmusic Chamber Ensemble heralds the beginning of its 12th season with a little help from world-renowned baritone Randall Scarlata for a program titled “Poetic Portraits.”

The group will give two performances of each concert: Monday night in northwest Oklahoma City at All Souls’ Episcopal Church and Tuesday night downtown at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral.

In keeping with the concert’s theme, four of the pieces being performed feature poetic texts from major literary figures. Scarlata will join six talented musicians from the Brightmusic ensemble: Gregory Lee and Katrin Stamatis on violin, Mark Neumann on viola, Jonathan Ruck on cello, Chad Burrow on clarinet and Amy I-Lin Cheng on piano.

Brightmusic Artistic Director Chad Burrow said Sergei Prokofiev’s “Overture on Hebrew Themes,” the only non- vocal piece in the lineup, will serve as a gateway to the riches that follow.

“The idea of incorporating the voice with instruments is a long love affair for composers,” Burrow said. “Some of the finest works ever written combine the voice with various combinations of instruments.”

Burrow and Scarlata perform and teach together every summer at Austria’s Alpenkammermusik festival. They first discussed the idea of Scarlata performing in Oklahoma City two years ago.

“I had heard him sing the Schumann cycle and ‘Dover Beach,’ and I was anxious to have a performer of his artistry in the city to present some of the gems of the vocal chamber music repertoire,” Burrow said.

Burrow said that while reviews of performers can be misleading, the critics’ praise of Scarlata has a clarion ring, extolling him as an eminent performer with an inexplicable ability to communicate to an audience.

The diverse musical selection of “Poetic Portraits” is a musical greatest hits of sorts, including works like Franz Schubert’s “Selected Lieder,” Thea Musgrave’s “Four Portraits” and Samuel Barber’s “Dover Beach.”

The concert will climax with a performance of Robert Schumann’s “Dichterliebe.” Translated as “A Poet’s Love,” Burrow described it as one of the most famous and beautiful song cycles ever penned.

“The depth of feeling and emotional conviction required for the Schumann is extensive and very challenging,” he said.

The second concert of Brightmusic’s season, “Austrian and German Masterworks for Winds,” will take place November 17-18 and feature works by Bach, Hindemith, Karg-Elert, Zemlinsky and Beethoven.

On January 12-13, Brightmusic will be joined by guest violinist Cyrus Beroukhim, concertmaster of the American Ballet Theatre orchestra, for “World Traveling Violin.” The performance will include trios by Mozart and Khachaturian as well as works by Sheng, Ravel and Schoenfield.

“Music of War and Remembrance” on March 16-17 will feature pieces by Stravinsky, Elgar and Schoenfield. “The Piano Quartet” will close the regular season on April 20-21 with works of Mozart, Turina and Brahms, followed in June by the Spring Festival, “America, the Beautiful,” a celebration of American composers.

Burros said that with any Brightmusic concert, he wants audiences to have a transcendent moment in which the music speaks directly to their souls in a way that words never could.

“I want our audience to be moved to find a deeper love of great music,” he said.