FORT WORTH Artistic Director Curt Thompson made brief remarks Tuesday night as he officially opened the 2013 Mimir Chamber Music Festival, and the loyal audience was happy to see him.
As the festival director, and a former violin professor at TCU, Thompson is the face of Mimir and the energy behind it.
However, in a surprising move, several months ago he accepted appointment as head of the strings department at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music/Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne, Australia, and he promptly moved.
Although there were spoken assurances that he would remain with Mimir, Australia is a long commute, and many were relieved to actually see him on stage at PepsiCo Recital Hall Tuesday evening.
There was also some relief in seeing the return of the usual distinguished lineup of guest artists, such as violinist Frank Huang, concertmaster of the Houston Symphony; the superb violist Kirsten Docter; and cellist Brant Taylor of the Chicago Symphony. Since this group assembles only in the summers for Mimir, it is surprising to hear the same precision and single-mindedness about the music that is usually found only in string quartets that play together all the time. The “summer camp” environment brings an added sense of serendipity and the excitement of discovery that is often missing from professional quartets.
This was evident from right from the opening notes of Beethoven’s String Quartet in C minor. Although minor intonation problems plagued Huang all evening, the quartet delivered a highly sensitive reading of one of the composer’s best known compositions for the string combination. The second movement was the essence of elegance, and the quartet brought an earthier quality to the syncopated third movement. The last movement’s “gypsy” feeling naturally led to the second piece on the program — Hungarian Folk Songs, a set of eight original but gypsy-influenced pieces by contemporary American composer Dana Wilson.
Wilson uses an array of effects to capture the Hungarian musical mood that is so popular in rhapsodies by composers such as Liszt and Brahms. Wilson, however, strives for – and achieves – more authenticity by using quarter tones and droning, and calling on the musician to strum the viola like a mandolin or hit the cello strings with a pencil to recreate the sound of a zither.
The program came to an impassioned end with Smetana’s Piano Trio in G minor. Huang and Taylor were joined by pianist John Novacek, who is a terrific chamber musician as well as a soloist. Although it sounded like it needed another rehearsal, Smetana’s heartfelt music, written upon the death of his two daughters, overflowed with the passion and ardent romanticism that this piece requires.