Clockwise from left: Curt Thompson, Brant Taylor, Joan DerHovsepian, Stephen Rose, Jun Iwasaki, John Novacek
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Review: Mimir Chamber Music Festival 2019 | Mimir Chamber Music Festival | PepsiCo Recital Hall

Mimir 2019: Concert 2

The Mimir Chamber Music Festival continued with a revealing concert at TCU on Friday.

published Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Photo: Courtesy the artists
Clockwise from left: Curt Thompson, Brant Taylor, Joan DerHovsepian, Stephen Rose, Jun Iwasaki, John Novacek


Fort Worth — You can always count on Fort Worth’s Mimir Chamber Music Festival to deliver some magnificent performances of carefully programed masterpieces. Mimir brings in a distinguished cast of artists to play chamber music, most are principal players from major orchestras and/or professors at conservatories around the country. All this talent was on display in Texas Christian University’s PepsiCo Hall on July 5, playing a fascinating program of lesser-known works by very well known composers.

The artists brought together for the Mimir festival are a combination of Mimir veterans and some newcomers.

Violinist Curt Thompson is the energy behind the festival. When it all started out, he was on the violin faculty at TCU and started the festival as an outreach of the university. In 2012, many of us feared for the future of Mimir when Thompson set sail to Australia to join the faculty of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music/Victorian College of the Arts in 2012. Our anxiety was needless. Nothing stops Thompson. He merely expanded the festival 9,000 miles to encompass Melbourne as a second venue.

A youthful effort by Gustav Mahler opened the concert, his Piano Quartet in A minor. Written when the composer was in his teens, it was intended to be the first movement of a much longer work but, other than a sketch of a scherzo, this is all we have of his planed monumental composition. We only have this because of the efforts of Mahler’s widow, Alma, who rediscovered the manuscript.

It was given a rich and sonorous performance by violinist Stephen Rose, Principal Second Violin of Cleveland Orchestra; violist Joan DerHovsepian, Associate Principle Viola of the Houston Symphony Orchestra; cellist Brent Taylor; and international concert pianist John Novacek.

Mahler’s youthful impetus nature was exposed by a series of solo, flashy candenzi. One, for the piano in Lisztian double octaves, received an exciting performance by Novacek; the other is given to the violinist near the end of the work, which Rose dispatched with aplomb.

The performance was a harbinger of the glories yet to come so, rather than repeat myself for the remainder of the review, I will discuss these noteworthy musical proficiencies here.

The ensemble and intonation displayed by a touring chamber ensemble are always superior than a similar group assembled for the occasion. Not so here. Everyone on the stage appeared to have some mysterious connection. Not only were the ensemble and intonation precise, but also the generous amount of rubato lavished on these compositions by the composers was completely in lockstep. Balance was also striking, with each voice rising out of, and returning to, the musical texture. This also extended to Novacek, whose balance between his hands was exemplary.

Thompson joined the ensemble to play Sergei Prokofiev’s String Quartet No. 2 in F- Major, Op. 92. This was written in 1941 when the composer, along with many other Soviet artists, were evacuated to the Caucasus, 900 miles from Moscow, ahead of the Nazi aggression. He based this work on the folk themes and rhythms of the Kabardino-Balkar culture.

The ensemble’s performance was excellent and raised quite a ruckus, but somehow lacked the barbarous overtones of Prokofiev’s language.

The first movement is based on a dance rhythm and a folk song popular in the area. The players did a fine job recreating Prokofiev’s musical imitation of an accordion.

Taylor delivered one of the outstanding moments of the concert at the beginning of the second movement with his rendition of a folk song played in his upper register. They also recreated the sound of the Shikhepishina, a variety of spike fiddle that Prokofiev recreated in the middle section.

The third movement is based on another folk dance, known as Getegezhev Ogurbi, and was given an impassioned performance by the artists.

After intermission, we heard Edward Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84, which was written at the end of his career. His delayed discovery was because of his late romantic voice, which was considered to be “dated” an old-fashioned — a musical hoop skirt as it were. Once discovered, it was almost too late. His best days and works were behind him, such as the Enigma Variations, which catapulted him to celebrity station. But once he started to compose again, these late works were marvelous. Think of the cello concerto and first symphony as well as his most famous work, Pomp and Circumstance, which has accompanied many a scholar on their way to pick up a diploma ever since.

For the performance, two other artists joined. One was Jun Iwasaki, the concertmaster of the Nashville Symphony, and the other was cellist Clancy Newman, first prizewinner of the prestigious Naumburg International Competition and also a respected composer.  He joined Rose, DerHovsepian and Novacek for a performance that was on fire from the start.

The legend of the piece is that it was inspired by a ghostly collection of trees that were supposedly errant Spanish monks that were transformed by God for their sinful deeds.

The ghostly first movement starts with a slow-moving melody in the piano, accompanied by short rhythmic patterns in the other players. Novacek’s static realization of melody offered a stark formwork for the other players to dance around in a taunting manor. Soon the Elgar we all love took over with an expansive tune, all the more welcome after the vacant opening. The players built the movement to a thrilling climax from which they all retreated as if they got carried away and arrived at the big moment way too soon.

The second movement is one of great sensitivity and beauty. Violist DerHovsepian was first up and her playing of the opening melody hushed the audience and set us into a reverie of our own. Each had a turn with it and the players brought the movement to an emotional high point before retreating. Before that, we heard some tinges of both Brahms and Wagner, as well as Elgar’s own “Nimrod” borrowed from his Enigma Variations.

The last movement changes the mood to a happier state of affairs. The artists made the most of Elgar’s tempo marking Allegro, which means cheerful in English. They used the movements syncopated second theme to further liven the spirit of the music bringing it to a most satisfying conclusion.

While some of this performance was overly romanticized and other sections were overplayed, the overall effect was pure magic. At the end, Mimir’s efforts turned those of us only vaguely familiar with Elgar’s quintet, or not familiar at all, into devotees.


The Mimir Chamber Music Festival continues with: 



7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 9

PepsiCo Recital Hall, TCU

String Quartet No. 1 “From the Salvation Army” - Charles Ives (1874-1954)
Curt Thompson and Jesse Mills, violins
Wenhong Luo, viola
Raman Ramakrishnan, cello

Trio in F-sharp minor - Arno Babajanian (1921-1983)
Horszowski Trio
Jesse Mills, violin
Raman Ramakrishnan, cello
Rieko Aizawa, piano

Trio in D minor, Op. 63 - Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Horszowski Trio
Jesse Mills, violin
Raman Ramakrishnan, cello
Rieko Aizawa, piano


Mimir Emerging Artists Concert Two

7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 11

PepsiCo Recital Hall, TCU



7:30 p.m. Friday, July 12

PepsiCo Recital Hall, TCU

Piano Trio in G Major, Hob. XV, No. 25 “Gypsy” - Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Horszowski Trio
Jesse Mills, violin
Raman Ramakrishnan, cello
Rieko Aizawa, piano

Piano Trio in E minor, Op. 67 - Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Horszowski Trio
Jesse Mills, violin
Raman Ramakrishnan, cello
Rieko Aizawa, piano

Quintet in F minor, Op. 34 - Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Jesse Mills and Curt Thompson, violins
Wenhong Luo, viola
Raman Ramakrishnan, cello
Rieko Aizawa, piano

 Thanks For Reading

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Mimir 2019: Concert 2
The Mimir Chamber Music Festival continued with a revealing concert at TCU on Friday.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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