What is the function of music, and why do audiences attend concerts? Is it in hopes of seeing a reflection of our times’ ugly darkness and wild ecstasy, or experiencing an exploration of personal expression? A chance to find emotional escape, or purely entertainment?
Associate Professor of Music Matthew Michelic, viola, hinted at these questions while introducing Milhaud’s First Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 240 (1944). Milhaud wrote the piece while living in California as a Jewish refugee from France during World War II. The work, based on unedited 18 century themes, was full of sparkling, short and seemingly happy vignettes expressed through the classical idioms of canonical imitation and motivic development. Michelic himself asked the audience to consider this odd juxtaposition of such light music written in a time of duress.
The word ‘light’ seemed to be a theme of this recital, as it explored many emotional themes of joy, happiness and tenderness. The highlight of the program was a commissioned work for oboe, viola and piano from composer Elaine Fine. In 2017, the “Talia Trio for Oboe, Viola, and Piano” was written for a grandchild named Talia born in the fall of that year. The piece explored the themes of play, lullaby and the overwhelming happiness of becoming a grandparent.
The piece opened with an unusual texture as arpeggios from the viola served as an accompaniment for an almost schmaltzily tender piano line that transitioned later into echoing viola and oboe lines. Each instrument was tastefully balanced with fine expressive performances from oboist Leslie Michelic and Associate Professor of Music Anthony Padilla on the piano. The second movement transitioned into a pastoral mood that seemed to conjure the idyllic feeling of teatime in a Renoir painting. A few of the audience members murmured amongst themselves about how much they enjoyed and related to the piece, being grandparents themselves.
Closing the performance, the Michelics were joined by Associate Professor of Music Nora Lewis, oboe, to perform Beethoven’s “Trio for Two Oboes and English Horn in C Major, Op. 87” with Matthew Michelic performing the English horn part on viola. The piece was very characteristic of early Beethoven with a sunny, almost Mozartian lightness permeating through the entire piece. It was also fascinating to see the use of the viola, because while it often served in the role of accompaniment, the piece showcased the viola’s versatility with some striking shifts in texture from support to solo. This piece seemed to be a favorite among the performers, who smiled and communicated warmly with each other on stage as they played.
The entire program was short and dense, with only about an hour of music (and an added fifteen minutes for spoken introductions). This is unusual for classical recitals, which are known to stretch on for at least 90 minutes of music, but it helped create the charming effect of a light, joyous atmosphere.