When Rico McNeela took over as executive director of the Saint Joseph Symphony, he wanted to bring new ways to present music to the public.
One of his plans was incorporating a chamber concert series into the season, with smaller groups of principal players performing in intimate settings.
“It was something that I had done throughout my musical life. I wanted to see if the audiences here would enjoy them. As it turned out, they’ve been very, very popular,” McNeela said.
Entering into his final season with the symphony, McNeela will continue the popular series with its first performance of the season at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3, at Ashland United Methodist Church, 2711 Ashland Ave.
Titled “Chamber Concert I: String Quartet,” the performance will feature Keith Stanfield and Catherine Root on violin, Monty Carter on viola and Sascha Groschang on cello. As is tradition, the four perform as a way to show off their talents and grow deeper as musicians and members of the symphony.
“It’s some of the top players in the symphony and it’s a way of giving them a chance to just work a little more closely together and play some really beautiful music,” McNeela said.
Starting off the concert, the quartet will celebrate a special anniversary for Ludwig van Beethoven with a piece from him, “String Quartet in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3.”
“It’s going to be the 250th (anniversary) of his birth and I wanted them to start with his very first string quartet. It’s number three in the list (of his compositions), but it was actually the first that he wrote,” McNeela said.
The performance will continue Austrian composer Hugo Wolf’s energetic “Italian Serenade.”
“It’s just a lively, effervescent work for a string quartet. It just really shows off all four really well,” McNeela said.
The concert will conclude with Edvard Grieg’s “String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 27,” a work with four movements
“(Greig) is famous mostly for his small piano pieces, his “Peer Gynt Suite” ... This is his only mature string quartet. It’s a wonderful work. It had a great influence on other composers of his time, including Brahms,” McNeela said.
In his 11 years as director, McNeela said this season of chamber performances will continue giving audiences masterful music from symphony players, with a different feel from its usual concerts.
“There’s no conductor, so it’s all about communication — when to enter, how loudly to play, how to coordinate your part with other parts. It’s all done through their own gestures and sort of non-verbal communication. It’s just a wonderful way to sharpen your musical skills,” he said.
Introducing the audience to some lively chamber music they may not have heard is the best way to do it, McNeela said.
“I think a lot of people will not have heard of some of the pieces on the program. The Beethoven is going to be the most familiar. But it’s wonderful music that’s going to be excellently played. It’s a great way to start our chamber season,” he said.
Tickets are $12.50 to $25. McNeela asks that people remember to set their clocks back an hour on Sunday to ensure they’re on time for the concert.
— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live