On Monday night, listeners leaped to their feet to accord the new piece a lengthy standing ovation, at the conclusion of the five-movement work representing the five Great Lakes (Michigan, Superior, Huron, Erie and Ontario). The composer, Jeremy Turner, is already well known to festivalgoers as a cellist; he also was the Juilliard roommate of festival director/violinist James Ehnes.
Scored for an unusual duo, violinist Ehnes and mandolinist Chris Thile, “The Inland Seas” is a study in subtle pointillist textures and brilliant effects attainable only by virtuoso players. In music they recreate the sounds of rain and waves, wild windstorms, seagulls, even the howl of a wolf. Thile is particularly amazing to watch and to hear, strumming and tapping and scratching his mandolin, then exploding into impossibly fast fingerwork as challenging as any violin concerto. The two players achieved an almost uncanny level of ensemble, even in the most fleet-fingered passages.
The new work, placed just before intermission, sent the excited audience out into the lobby afterward on a buzz of discussion. But there was considerably more to the concert than the premiere (which was underwritten by the Society’s Commissioning Club).
The program opened with a nicely detailed, rather decorous performance of Haydn’s String Quartet No. 24 in A Major, with violinists Karen Gomyo and Jun Iwasaki, violist Che-Yen Chen, and cellist Clive Greensmith. One of the festival’s long-running regulars, Cynthia Phelps (principal violist of the New York Philharmonic), returned to play the lovely “Märchenbilder” of Schumann — equally impressive for her speedy fingers and for the golden warmth of her tone, especially in the bottom octave of her instrument’s compass. She was admirably partnered by pianist Alessio Bax.
The program’s finale was Beethoven’s familiar “Ghost” Trio (Op. 70, No. 1), with violinist Amy Schwarz Moretti and cellist Efe Baltacigil (principal cello of the Seattle Symphony) joined by pianist Inon Barnatan. It was a performance remarkable for both high drama and beautiful details. The lengthy middle “ghostlike” movement emerged with careful finesse, and the finale was an explosion of energy.
The next three programs offer some remarkable pianists in free admission preconcert recitals, starting at 7 p.m.: Alessio Bax (playing Scriabin and Rachmaninoff) on July 13, Inon Barnatan (Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme of Handel”) on July 15, and on July 18, George Li — silver medalist of last year’s International Tchaikovsky Competition — in works of Rachmaninoff and Liszt. What a keyboard bonanza!