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The Commons
The Arts

Digging deep into a composer's repertoire

Wistaria Chamber Music Society brings its annual 'Schubertiad' to Centre Congregational Church

Tickets for Schubertiad 2013 are $15 at the door. For more information, contact David Perkins at 413-634-5716 or davidsperkins@gmail.com.

Originally published in The Commons issue #228 (Wednesday, November 6, 2013). This story appeared on page B1.



BRATTLEBORO—On Sunday, Nov. 10, at 4 p.m., the Wistaria Chamber Music Society brings its annual Schubertiad to Centre Congregational Church on Main Street.

For nine years, Wistaria has performed a different Schubertiad in Massachusetts; this is the first time the ensemble is bringing a Schubertiad to Brattleboro.

David Perkins, Wistaria’s artistic director, explains that a Schubertiad was the name given by Franz Schubert and his friends to their lively gatherings in 19th century Vienna salons, “where wine, laughter, and dancing combined with Schubert’s playing of new works with the ink barely dry.”

“Schubert wrote over 1,000 pieces of music, so we have only scratched the surface of new works we are able to perform,” Perkins adds. “We are in little danger of repeating ourselves.”

Schubertiad 2013 includes little-known early works, among them Schubert’s vocal tribute to his teacher Antonio Salieri for two tenors and bass, and the “Fantasy” in G minor, one of his first pieces for piano, four hands.

Mature works that show him at the height of his powers include the great “Piano Trio” in B-flat major and the “Impromptu” in B-flat major.

Performers include pianists Monica Jakuc Leverett and Deborah Gilwood; tenors Peter W. Shea and James Mead; soprano Diana Brewer; baritone David Perkins; violinist Sarah Briggs; and cellist Rebecca Hartka.

A society of professional and semi-professional musicians based in Western Massachusetts, Wistaria regularly performs programs at several venues: Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, Mass., the Arts Block in Greenfield, Mass., the Longy School in Cambridge, Mass., as well as the Centre Church in Brattleboro. The ensemble also tours throughout New England.

Wistaria Chamber Music Society was launched in 2005 as a performing ensemble with two or three annual performances at Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke.

Wistariahurst is the former home of two generations of the prominent Skinner family, manufacturers of nationally renowned silks and satins. Their grand estate and gardens have been a focal point in the Holyoke landscape since 1874.

Now separately incorporated, Wistaria has a roster of 20 professional, semi-professional, and skilled amateur musicians, most of whom reside in Western Massachusetts and give six to eight concerts a year.

“In an odd way, our group began because of the music room in Wistariahurst,” Perkins told The Commons in 2012. “As I looked around that glorious room, I said to myself this would be a perfect place to recreate the concerts of Schubert’s and Beethoven’s era. From that concept, Wistaria Chamber Music Society was formed.”

From its inception, performances by Wistaria have included a series of Schubertiads, salon-style concerts of Franz Schubert’s music. Performers often appear in period costume.

Also in the style of Schubertiads, the ensemble has fashioned concerts around seasonal visits to the circle of Clara and Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms, and tributes to the French impressionists (painters and composers) and the avant-garde Paris salon of the Princesse Ghislaine de Polignac.

“The Schubertiad originated when Schubert was still in school,” says Perkins. “A lot of his friends got together to play his music. It was in the beginning very casual. He may have been as young as 18. The name was a funny allusion to the Olympiad. These gatherings continued every year, and it was only later that they became a rather chic thing for Viennese society to attend.

“Although he is now one of the most celebrated of all classical composers, you must remember that Schubert was rather obscure during his life. And life was quite short: he died in his early thirties, just as young as Mozart was when he died.

“Schubert did become relatively more famous after he made friends with a prominent Austrian baritone Johann Michael Vogel, who made it his mission to champion Schubert’s music. For him, Schubert began writing some of his greatest songs, including his song cycles. The two must have made quite a pair. Schubert was quite short, and Vogel very tall. They were the odd couple of early 19th century Vienna.

“Because Vogel was so well known, society became fascinated with Schubert, whom few knew about. Schubert had written several operas but all were complete failures. This was the day when Europe was in the craze for Rossini’s operas, and Schubert’s early romantic works were not what the public was looking for. The Schubertiads were a way to teach the public the nature of Schubert’s new art.”

Schubertiad 2013 is the first of several concerts to be given this year by Wistaria in Centre Church. Wisteria follows the successful series of three “Music at Centre Church” concerts produced last August by Perkins and the Rev. Carra McFadden, pastor of Centre Church.

“We’re all about conveying that chamber music is not — or shouldn’t be — dour in its presentation,” Perkins said. “We always have fun and there is a lot of fun music on this program. And I think the sublime mature works will be even more moving to listeners because we’ve had some laughs earlier on.”

“We are very excited to be returning to Brattleboro,” Perkins said, “and to have the opportunity to perform Schubert in Centre Church with its beautiful sanctuary, fine acoustics, and the very fine Steinway piano on loan to the church from the Brattleboro Music Center. Our very fine pianists are eager to explore Schubert on it.”

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