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January 28th, 2010 by Terry Miller
Paul Stein, the director of the Classical Kaleidoscope concert series at the Arcadia Public Library, explained to the full house in the Cay Mortensen Auditorium, that the music to be performed by the quintet would be Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet for Piano and Strings in G-minor. He explained that the music would be dissonant, but only gently so, when compared to the 12-tone music composed and advocated by Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Charles Ives, and others.
“Gentle Dissonance” was the title Stein gave the library concert program. It did not prepare the audience for the deeply intense war-time composition the Shostakovich wrote in 1940—only months from the Nazi siege on Leningrad. That said, the audience remained attentive and immersed throughout the hour-long, five-movement composition, a point more striking when most of the crowd had, frankly, come to see TV actor, now writer and producer, Henry Winkler, promote his new children’s book in a brief appearance at the conclusion of the music program.
Shostakovich’s music is dramatic and deeply moving. It is also taunting in its cavalier and angry manner such as the introduction of children’s songs in the second movement against the gray and depressing war and its looming miseries. Stein’s willingness to bring such a serious piece to this concert series and have it accepted so easily by the crowd is a testimony to his brilliant programming. Stein, a Los Angeles Philharmonic violinist, performed with the group which included violinist Lorenz Gamma, violist Aaron Oltman, cellist Maksim Velichkin and pianist Ming Tsu.
These musicians are topflight—Stein has soloed at the Hollywood Bowl; Oltman and Velichkin perform in our regional orchestras and add their talents to studio recordings; Gamma and Tsu are heard on two Grammy winning recordings by Southwest Chamber Music and both teach at local universities. The Shostakovich quintet work is said to be among the most difficult in the modern repertoire. In fact, at the premiere of the piece, the piano portion was relegated to the composer, Shostakovich. Ming Tsu has a special affinity for modern works and that showed here, although, the city library and the sponsoring Arcadia Public Library Foundation, will need to provide a better piano than the baby grand—and have it tuned before a performance, if it intends to continue to offer artists of this caliber to the enthusiastic audiences these concerts are drawing.
Violinists Lorenz Gamma and Paul Stein catch a phrase in Shostakovich’s complicated Piano Quintet. The two performed as part of a quintet at the Classical Kaleidoscope music series at the Arcadia Public Library.
After a smidgen of ragged playing at the start, the quintet settled down to extraordinary work. It was in the third movement, with its bright but mocking melodies, that offered the most unified playing. The audience demonstrated their pleasure with the performance with sustained applause.
Following the concert portion, Henry Winkler spoke, charming the audience with his self-deprecating humor. Winkler related stories of his childhood and memories of certain educational challenges. Winkler obviously overcame his perceived difficulties as he attended Clark University in Missouri, Emerson College in Boston, Mass., and graduated from the Yale School of Drama. He now writes books designed to encourage reading by youngsters. His books sold well and we understand proceeds were shared with the Arcadia Public Library Foundation.
Winkler is a popular personality. He was immediately surrounded by members of the audience. He mingled with the crowd, and signed copies of his book for purchasers, but many from the audience stayed around to have the chance to speak with the musicians to tell them how much they enjoyed the performance.
Actor Henry Winkler who played the the Fonz in the wildly popular “Happy Days” told a story of how he once commented to character Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard), that he thought it was cool that you could get a library card for free and get all the books you want. Although the Fonz was best known for having all the girls he wanted, that comment on national TV started a huge surge in membership in public libraries across the country.
Winkler’s children’s books were available for purchase, with 20 percent of the proceeds donated to the Arcadia Library Foundation. Winkler was gracious and signed everyone’s copies and posed for photos with fans of all ages
The next Classical Kaleidoscope is Wednesday, April 28 when Paul Stein is joined by Carrie Dennis, viola, Maksim Velichkin, cello, and Kevin Fitz-Gerald, piano, in a program that will include the music of Robert and Clara Schumann, and Johannes Brahms. Dennis is a new member of the L A Philharmonic and comes from the Berlin Philharmonic where she was solo violist. Fitz-Gerald is Professor of Keyboard Collaborative Arts and Keyboard Studies at USC’s Thornton School of Music.
Classical Kaleidoscope concert series is funded by the Arcadia Public Library Foundation and concerts are presented free of charge.
Concert Photo by Bill Peters, Henry Winkler by Terry Miller