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PREVIEW: Juilliard’s 65th St. Ensemble comes to The Foundry April 20

The group is determined to update a few antiquated concepts of concert etiquette, even as they perform the works of composers who helped promulgate them.

West Stockbridge — The Juilliard School is where people go to learn how to be snooty about classical music. Right?

Perhaps not. Because members of the 65th St. Ensemble studied at Juilliard, and the group is determined to update a few antiquated concepts of concert etiquette (the snooty parts) as they perform the works of composers who helped promulgate them. At The Foundry, on April 20, you can see how the group actually accomplishes this.

The program for April 20 comprises Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A Major (“Trout”), an audience favorite, and Alyssa Weinberg’s “Enfumée,” a piece composed in 2023 on commission from the Lake George Music Festival.

The instrumentation (violin, viola, cello, double bass, piano) on Schubert’s “Trout” quintet is perhaps its most distinctive characteristic. Those instruments were stipulated by the commissioning patron, and Schubert accepted the terms. But that is not the only thing the patron stipulated. The most important requirement was that Schubert’s song “Die Forelle” (“The Trout”) had to be incorporated into the piece in the form of a variation movement. And that is why he named the quintet after a fish—a capricious fish, as it turns out. The underlying poem begins, “In a bright stream, the capricious trout darted along like an arrow.”

Also, Schubert understood that the piece needed to be suitable for home chamber-music performance. Or, as Melvin Berger in “Guide to Chamber Music” puts it, the piece was to be “suffused with the warmth of HAUS MUSICK, rather than the extroverted brilliance of a piece intended for concert hall performance.” As it turns out, quite a few people have felt the piece is a perfect example of … extroverted brilliance. But it certainly isn’t lacking in warmth. Schubert obliged without complaint, composing a musician- and audience-friendly quintet that included his trout song almost verbatim.

Alyssa Weinberg’s “Enfumée” had two primary inspirations: Georgia O’Keeffe’s abstract painting “Blue II,” from 1916, and works by the late composer Kaija Saariaho.

Weinberg explains how “imagery of the swirls of smoke, the flow of the air patterns, the gradually shifting colors of haze” of Canada’s summer forest fires informed her composition process:

While browsing a featured exhibit of her work at MoMA, I was immediately struck by the deep saturation and subtle shading of the color in this particular painting, the powerful movement portrayed in the crumpled yet expansive swirl of blue – like someone making a fist of smoke.

This image resonated particularly strongly at the time, as we were in the midst of New York’s first encounter with the hazardous smoke from the Canadian wildfires which was engulfing the city and surrounding regions of the country.

In that moment I decided not to write a work that was necessarily in direct response to O’Keeffe’s painting, but rather to allow my connection and inspiration in that moment to refocus the piece as an outlet for my experience with that recent and present change in our environment.

How can 65th St. Ensemble perform a piano quintet at The Foundry, which doesn’t own a grand piano? It’s simple: For events like this one, The Foundry rents a baby grand from Flynn Pianos, whose tunings are always sweet.

Hear the 65th St. Ensemble on April 20 at The Foundry, 2 Harris Street, West Stockbridge. Tickets, $25, are available at The Foundry’s website. Seating/bar: 7 p.m.; show: 7:30 p.m. For more information, call (413) 232-5222.

Parking is limited at the venue, so please use one of the three public parking lots in town, one across from the Post Office, one behind Berkshire Bank, and one just off Main Street. Whatever you do, don’t park at Trúc Orient Express Restaurant or the Post Office, unless you want to get a parking ticket.

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