The contributions of English composers to the classical repertoire have long been overshadowed by those of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and other old masters of the Continent. Gustav Holst is, arguably, the most lasting British figure in classical music, thanks to his monumental early 20th-century suite The Planets. But not far behind him are Edward Elgar (1857-1934) and Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), whose works will be explored during this season's Maverick Concerts series. While Britten is the main focus of the 2013 series, Elgar will also get an airing when his 1919 Quintet for Piano and Strings in A Minor, Op. 84, is performed by the incomparable Miró String Quartet with guest pianist Melvin Chen at Maverick on June 30.
"There's definitely something distinctly 'English' about Elgar's music," says Chen, who will share the stage with the Miró quartet beneath the rustic eaves of the Maverick's hand-hewn 1916 concert shed in an evening titled "England and Romanticism." "On the surface, it has this strong sense of reserve; that 'stiff upper lip' identified with English society. But, at the same time, inside there's this real emotion and passion." In addition to the Elgar piece, the program features works by Romantic-era German composers Ludwig van Beethoven and Robert Schumann.
One of America's leading chamber groups, the Texas-based Miró String Quartet was formed in 1995 at Oberlin Conservatory and is comprised of violinists Daniel Ching and William Fedkenheuer, violist John Largess, and cellist Joshua Gindele. Besides winning numerous international competitions, releasing award-winning recordings, and playing the world's top festivals and halls, the quartet has performed with such artists as Leif Ove Andsnes, Joshua Bell, and Eliot Fisk, and was featured in PBS's "American Masters" profile of Isaac Stern.
Chen, who served on the piano faculty of Bard College until taking his current position as associate professor of piano and deputy dean at the Yale School of Music, was raised in Tennessee and studied at Julliard. As a soloist and chamber player he has performed at such major US venues as Carnegie and Alice Tully Halls. His many acclaimed solo releases include his versions of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, Shostakovich's piano sonatas, and Ricky Ian Gordon's 2005 song cycle, Orpheus and Euridice.
Elgar will be forever known for the regal Pomp and Circumstance Marches, whose trio section is played as the processional tune at virtually all high school and college graduation ceremonies in the U.S. Britten has strong local ties in that he spent the summer of 1939 in the Woodstock area with his friend Aaron Copland. One of the Modern era's leading operatic composers, he's perhaps best known for Peter Grimes and The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, the latter being one of the most popular scores used in children's music education.
The Miró String Quartet with Melvin Chen will perform at Maverick Concerts in Woodstock on June 30 at 4pm. Tickets are $40 and $25 ($5 for students with ID). (845) 679-8217; Maverickconcerts.org.