Cultural Voyage to the East: “Thus Spake German Romanticism”

Photograph of Jennifer Rivera

Songs about lotus flowers and pagodas, chamber music by German Romanticist par excellence Richard Strauss, and the Berkshire debut of opera star Jennifer Rivera highlight the Close Encounters With Music March 12 concert “Thus Spake German Romanticism” 6 PM at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, MA. “Radiant…ravishing mezzo soprano bloom from top to bottom” is how Opera News recently described Rivera’s opulent voice.

Also scheduled is the world premiere of this season’s Composer-in Residence Jorge Martin’s Four Noble Truths, a brilliant addition to the chamber music repertoire inspired by Buddhist wisdom and following in the footsteps of late nineteenth century German Romantics. According to artistic director Yehuda Hanani “Mr. Martin comes out of this tradition, and his musical language, sonorities and spiritual affinities are a continuation of this grand saffron-scented Silk Road that so influenced the 19th century arts. That’s why this 2008 work is programmed alongside Strauss, Hugo Wolf, Mendelssohn.”

In the nineteenth century, Europe, and especially Germany, discovered in Indian civilization an entire ancient system of religious thought, mythology, and poetry that was still breathing with life (against which Greco-Roman classicism seemed a pale shadow of a dead past that championed reason over imagination). Convinced that the roots of spirituality and answers to the West’s malaise lay in the Far East, German poets and musicians, from Goethe and Heine to Hermann Hesse and Richard Strauss, made a cultural voyage to the Far East and found inspiration in Oriental philosophy, poetry and art. Not only silks and spices, but ideas as well, influenced 19th century German culture. India, in particular, represented an age of innocence, the childhood of humanity, and religious sentiment closely allied with nature. Hesse, one of the few who, in 1916, actually traveled to India, envisioned a homecoming and renewal from the spirit of the East.

Richard Strauss, who was inspired by Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, is represented on the program by his youthful Sonata for Cello and Piano. In musical settings by Mendelssohn, Schubert, Strauss and Wolf the poets Heine and Goethe transport us to the banks of the Ganges to be intoxicated by the perfume of exotic flora. Award-winning composer Jorge Martin, continuing in the German Romantic tradition, leads his listeners through four stages, from suffering and strife, to enlightenment and nirvana, in the new Four Noble Truths, which receives its world premiere on March 12.


Jennifer Rivera is a superb lyric mezzo soprano who was invited to join the roster of the New York City Opera while still a student at Juilliard. She recently debuted as Sesto in La Clemenza di Tito with the Teatro Regio di Torino and will make her debut this season with the Berlin Staatsoper as Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. She has been praised repeatedly by the New York Times for her “radiant mezzo soprano,” her “warm dark tone,” and “fresh ready singing.” Ms. Rivera created the starring role of Sharon Falconer in the critically acclaimed 2007 Nashville Opera world premiere of Robert Aldridge’s Elmer Gantry and sings this season with the Portland Opera as well as the Innsbruck Early Music Festival. She has recorded for Harmonia Mundi. Internationally acclaimed pianist Walter Ponce has been heard in every major city of North and South America, as well as concert halls in Europe, Japan, Korea, and Africa. Born in Bolivia, his musical beginnings were in Buenos Aires, where he attended the National Conservatory and came under the influence of Alberto Ginastera before arriving in the United States on a Fulbright grant. Mr. Ponce has made guest appearances with Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society and given the world premieres for more than two hundred works, including those by Hugo Weisgall, George Rochberg, Karel Husa, William Bolcom, Morton Gould and Ezra Laderman. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from the Mannes College of Music, and Master of Science and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees from Juilliard where was one of three students chosen to play and study with Vladimir Horowitz.


Close Encounters With Music stands at the intersection of music, art and the vast richness of Western culture. Entertaining, erudite and lively commentary from founder and Artistic Director Yehuda Hanani puts the composers and their times in perspective to enrich the concert experience. Since the inception of its Commissioning Project in 2001, CEWM has worked with the most distinguished composers of our time—Paul Schoenfield, Osvaldo Golijov, Lera Auerbach, Kenji Bunch, John Musto, among others—to create important new works that have already taken their place in the chamber music canon and on CD. A core of brilliant performers includes pianists James Tocco, Adam Neiman, Walter Ponce and William Wolfram; violinists Shmuel Ashkenasi, Yehonatan Berick, Vadim Gluzman and Toby Appel; harpsichordist Lionel Party; clarinetists Alexander Fiterstein, Charles Neidich; vocalists Dawn Upshaw, Amy Burton, Jennifer Aylmer, Robert White, Lucille Beer and William Sharp; the Vermeer, Amernet, Muir, Manhattan, Avalon, Hugo Wolf quartets, and Cuarteto Latinoamericano; and guitarist Eliot Fisk. Choreographer David Parsons and actors Richard Chamberlain, Jane Alexander and Sigourney Weaver have also appeared as guests, weaving narration and dance into the fabric of the programs.


Tickets, $40 (orchestra and mezzanine) and $30 (balcony), are available at The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center box office, 413.528.0100, or through Close Encounters With Music at 800-843-0778 or by emailing [email protected]. Subscriptions are $175 ($150 for seniors) for a series of 6 concerts. Visit our website at

Note: Tickets for June 4th concert at Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall can be purchased through CEWM only.

2010-11 CALENDAR

Chamber Orchestra Kremlin, Saturday, October 16, 6PM
Baroque Pantheon: A Holiday Concert Saturday, December 4, 6PM
Thus Spake German Romanticism Saturday, March 12, 6PM
Viola Quintets: Dvorak and Mendelssohn Saturday, April 16, 6PM
The Avalon Quartet: Steve Reich, Osvaldo Golijov and Schubert Saturday, May 7, 6PM

These five performances at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA. A reception with light refreshments follows each concert.

Tickets for Conversations with…. events on Sundays, November 21 and May 15, Hudson Opera House, Hudson NY, are $15 per person which includes refreshments.

Fiesta! A Latin Splash of Music and Dance takes place Saturday, June 4, 6PM, at Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, Lenox, MA. Tickets: $50 Orchestra and Loges; $40 Balconies.

For information and tickets for the inaugural season of Close Encounters with Music at the Frick Museum in NYC call 212.547.0696 or

“A chamber music series on a par with anything heard at the height of the season. For this, we year-rounders are blessed.” —Rogovoy Report

“There’s a palpable mystique about these Close Encounters concerts.” —Berkshire Eagle

“STUNNER CLOSES SEASON! Though Hanani, Prutsman and Upshaw all performed with that rare combination of mutual understanding and technical finesse which makes for the most satisfying chamber music, Hanani deserves special recognition for his astute program choices.”

—Albany Times Union

“An all-star lineup…CEWM’s usual high caliber.” —Metroland