The Phoenix Reporter and Item (http://www.phoenixvillenews.com)

Elysian Camerata makes a second home in Ambler


By Joe Barron, jbarron@21st-centurymedia.com

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

True music lovers will brave any obstacle to hear a favorite piece — except, perhaps, the Schuylkill River.

The Elysian Camerata, the suburban chamber music group now its 13th season, found a congenial venue at the Church of St. Asaph in Bala Cynwyd, but noticed few listeners from the upper reaches of Montgomery County were crossing the great concrete barrier of I-76 to hear them. Then, on St. Patrick’s Day, the group played a concert at the First Presbyterian Church of Ambler, to “test the waters,” in the words of cellist Talia Schiff.

The waters, they discovered, were just fine.

“We got a really wonderful turnout, and we decided it was worth building a series,” Schiff said in a telephone interview Oct. 6. “We’ve been so fortunate to have the complete support of the church in this.”

The Camerata will present its first regular-season concert at First Presbyterian Oct. 27, and it has scheduled two more for February and May. By expanding geographically, Schiff said, the players hope to draw listeners from a new set of neighborhoods, as well as generate a few new friendships.

“The sanctuary is not only beautiful, but acoustically it’s quite wonderful,” she said. “This space also lends itself to having a post-concert reception ... People get to know each other and meet with people who share their interests.”

In what is becoming the Camerata’s signature approach, the Oct. 27 program will mine both the 18th- and 19th-century repertoire as well as a less-familiar vein of the 20th. The evening will begin with the G minor Piano Trio of Clara Schumann, one of the great pianists of her age, whose ambitions as a composer were cut short by the mental breakdown and early death of her husband, Robert. She wrote her Trio in 1847, at 26, years before tragedy struck her family.

“Women were not even allowed to contemplate being a composer,” Schiff said. “That was a man’s job. Clara Schumann questioned her right to even consider herself a composer.”

She might have questioned her rights, but her handful of works show remarkable self-assurance. The Trio, in particular, is both beautiful and well-written, Schiff said.

“It’s very much in the style of Mendelssohn,” she added. “It’s very lyrical and very melodic — very singable. The scherzo is absolutely a delight, and the slow movement will tear your heart.”

Mozart’s compositional career did not last much longer than Schumann’s, and yet in his brief life, he invented or perfected many of the forms and procedures later composers would spend their lives exploiting. One such form was the piano quartet, which added the viola, an instrument Mozart is said to have loved, to the standard trio of violin, cello and keyboard. His two works in the genre — in E-flat and in G minor — are among the first ever written, and they inspired and intimidated composers for more than a century.

The Elysian Camerata will perform the E-flat quartet, the more extroverted of the pair.

“It has an effervescence to it that I absolutely love,” Schiff said. “The opening to me sounds like a percolator.”

Between Schumann and Mozart, the Camerata will present Zoltan Kodaly’s brief but intriguing Intermezzo for String Trio. Kodaly, a friend and less celebrated contemporary of Bartok, spent the early years of the 20th century cataloging the folk music of his native Hungary, and its flavors can often be tasted in his own compositions. In the central section of the Intermezzo, for example, he employs a drone that requires each player to bow two strings at once, turning three voices into six.

“It’s a very powerful effect,” Schiff said. “Kodaly was a master in utilizing the abilities of these instruments.”