One Artful Evening
One Art Ensemble turns one year old this month, giving it reason to celebrate. The ensemble — soprano Ann Moss, pianist Hillary Nordwell, and violist Alexa Beattie — has everything going for it: talent, youth, musicality, and the ensemble chops it has developed in various configurations together since 2004. The players’ captivating sound and commitment to developing new works for this unique instrumentation is beginning to earn them the recognition they deserve. In their debut at Old First Concerts, they will present a richly varied program of works ranging from the Romantic to the newly composed.
There comes that terrifying moment when a musician has to step from the hallowed halls of the conservatory and out onto the world’s stage. The members of One Art Ensemble have managed this with grace, Beattie just in the past year; Moss and Nordwell are a bit more seasoned, having steadily carved out their places in the Bay Area music scene since graduating from the San Francisco Conservatory, where they met. All three are involved in CMASH, a new-music group that fosters an ongoing communion between composers and performers, meanwhile promising to consider the audience’s enjoyment in the mix.
As individual musicians, the women are esteemed players of note. We know Moss from her luminous tone and powerfully expressive operatic roles with the Berkeley Opera, yet also as a champion of contemporary vocal music. She’s collaborated with composers such as Jake Heggie, John Harbison, Aaron Jay Kernis, Eric Sawyer, and Wayne Peterson, and is a favorite guest of many Bay Area contemporary ensembles. Scottish violist Beattie shares Moss’ passion for the new, even teaming up with Canada’s slam-poetry champion, Shane Koyczan; Beattie is also a core member of sfSoundGroup and the sfSoundSeries, a concert series featuring contemporary and experimental music since 1999. As for Nordwell, she performs chamber music both locally and internationally; as a member of the Eusebius Duo, she and partner Monika Gruber won first prize at the CMFONE International Chamber Music Competition, and consequently a debut performance at Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall.
Listen to the Music
Leaves by Vartan Aghababian
At Old First Church, One Art Ensemble will serve up a program titled “Nature, Love, and Fantasy: Three Centuries of Story and Song,” with works by Heggie, Robert Schumann, John Duke (an American art song composer), Felix Mendelssohn, and Paul Hindemith. Says Beattie, “We like to create concert programs that feature art song and that span centuries, drawing references to tradition but including present-day texts or sounds. It’s a wonderful opportunity to ask composers to set 20th- and 21st-century poetry to music. We include solo works, sonatas, and lieder in our programs, as well as commissions for the trio.”
New works on the bill include the group’s first commission from Boston composer Vartan Aghababian, with whom they became acquainted through CMASH. The work, Two songs on poems by Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), comprises the ensemble’s namesake, “One Art,” a tango; and a second piece, “In Need of Music,” which is more lyrical and reflective. The other new work is by Liam Wade, whom Moss met at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge. Moss approached him with the idea of composing music to a set of poems by CMASH poet Lisa DeSiro titled Drei Träume (Three dreams). Beattie says, “These pieces of poetry are actual dreams that DeSiro had about her piano teacher, and are (as dreams can be) bizarre and very amusing. Wade’s music is influenced by many different styles, from Haydn to Frank Zappa to flamenco. He has drawn on all of these styles to set these poems.” (See video clips of both these new works here.)
Next up for One Art Ensemble this summer are learning the Bright Sheng Trio, which is in Mandarin, and working up a new commission by San Francisco–based Miriam Miller, which will be in Yiddish. A trio from Scottish composer Oliver Searle on texts by Robert Burns is in the works, too. It’s apparent that it’s all one world for One Art.