Scotia Festival 2013 in review- Schnittke String Trio with Ensemble Epomeo

A review from Stephen Pedersen of the opening concert of the 2013 Scotia Festival, featuring Ensemble Epomeo. Read the original here.


CONCERT REVIEW: Gifted chamber players echo spring’s diversity

May 28, 2013 – 5:48pm BY STEPHEN PEDERSEN

Philippe Djokic opened Monday night’s Scotia Fest concert in the Dunn with a Bach marathon. (ERIC WYNNE / Staff)

Philippe Djokic opened Monday night’s Scotia Fest concert in the Dunn with a Bach marathon. (ERIC WYNNE / Staff
Contemporary music can hardly avoid being influenced by the entire catalogue of classical and new art music. But degrees of acceptance are sometimes slow to catch up.

Monday night, in the Sir James Dunn Theatre, the Scotia Festival of Music launched its 34th annual rite of spring chamber music concert series with the help of Bach, Alfred Schnittke and Franz Schubert.

Violinist Philippe Djokic took the stage alone to recreate the incredible world of Johann Sebastian Bach’s solo violin marathon, the Chaconne in D minor from the 2nd Violin Partita.

It was a solid and a thorough performance, articulated throughout with the kinds of musical weights and measures — drawn out phrases, defining articulations — that bring a vivid sense of musical presence to one of the richest scores in the violin repertoire, and take years to develop.

Djokic has lived long with this work, nourished his understanding of it in both his practice and teaching studio. He now plays it with the kind of easy creative absorption that has long gone beyond the need for conscious thought.

Now, it is more a question of gathering its elements gently in and pacing his way through it so that it both speaks and sings with elegant eloquence as it shapes itself in both his mind and ours.

Quietly, thoroughly, Djokic’s Bach music unfolded like a flower, opening itself to our imaginations.

After this calm and light-filled opening, the Ensemble Epomeo — Caroline Chin, violin, David Yang, viola, and Kenneth Woods, cello — gave us a completely different, more angst-ridden kind of eloquence in their performance of Schnittke’s Trio for Violin,Viola and Cello.

At one time, Schnittke’s score would have been slighted as “eclectic” for his use of allusions to other composers’ styles. But critics, after a decade or two of aesthetic collage in all the arts, found a more positive, and more useful term in calling it “polytonalism,” and let it go at that.

Schnittke’s uses these references like a musical James Joyce, fitting them in with sometimes shocking effect, only to calm us down in a measure or two as the logic of their creative energy reveals itself to us.

Violent attacks and harshly, dissonant harmonies provided clues of the musical imagery of mid-20th-century European anguish, as populations coped with boom and bust amid the ideological struggle between Russia and the West. Hints of all this percolated through the sudden shifts of Schnittke’s music from outrage to childlike sentimentality.

Throughout, the excellent Ensemble Epomeo three instruments merged into a rare kind of musical experience. Spacious and uncannily unified, it was wholly successful in towing the audience along as though they were floating in a huge balloon of music and harmony.

You can’t really write about such experiences. But as an audience you know that for a moment or two, for a measure, for a note of harmony, for a tone colour, you were vividly held together in the same aesthetic space.

After the intermission, three Scotia Festival veterans, pianist John Novacek, violinist Mark Fewer and cellist Denise Djokic, took on Schubert’s Trio in E-flat major, D. 929 in a lively performance.

Each of its four movements, but especially the first and the fourth, acutely expressed Schubert’s rhythmic energy, led by Novacek at the grand piano, making it live up to its name.

The delicacy of the repeated note, mandolin-like triplets in the treble of the piano, executed by Novacek with breath-holding evenness and crispness of touch in the fourth movement, contrasted with the warm lyricism of the cello lines, especially in the second movement.

When played as this trio played, Schubert’s sweetness and his intuitive gift for simple but enchanting melodies made for a happy, chatty audience as it exited the theatre.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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