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Enjoy music, and learn something

‘Mostly Music’ will open ears to how it works.

The series may be Mostly Music, but the spoken bits hold the key.

Music series coordinator James Quitslund opens the first of four presentations, “How Music Speaks,” with brief but lucid remarks that define the series and illuminate the evening’s performance of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 570 (1789) and Aram Ilyich Khachaturian’s 1932 Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano.

“The goal of this discussion is to talk about (musical) patterns that become familiar and then are run through transformations,” Quitslund said, “from single, overall units to part of a larger – sometimes, much larger – musical landscape,”

Once listeners can identify patterns in well-known classical pieces, they can bring that knowledge to the less-familiar 20th century repertoire, Quitslund believes.

The brief comments interspersed with performance – “not a lecture” Quitslund emphasizes – embody the BPA mission to support arts education as an intrinsic element of the performing arts.

Quitslund opens by playing a recording of an aria many will recognize, “Deh vieni, non tardar,” from Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro.” Working a close analysis of several musical phrases, he uses an overhead projector to share Italian text and musical notation.

The analysis of the short work is then applied to Mozart’s longer sonata form, illustrating how larger movements and works are also constructed with melody, harmony and texture.

“As Mozart runs through sequences of keys he uses subtle harmonic and rhythmic shifts within a very concise framework,” Quitslund said, “whereas in the sonata, he writes whole sections within each key.”

Classical pieces move through a sequence of “harmonic centers,” Quitslund says, beginning with the first note of the scale and moving through the fourth and fifth degrees of the scale before finally “resolving.”

It is a progression audiences may recognize, if not analyze – one that Quitslund calls “an active principle” of classical music from the late 17th century until Beethoven’s late string quartets in the 19th.

But the notion of a tapestry of pattern, if not precisely the classical pattern, can also be applied to the program’s second piece, Khachaturian’s folk-music-based composition.

While Khachaturian bases his harmonic language on music that may sound Middle Eastern to Western ears, he uses pattern in contrasting keys with a very similar intent (to a classical composer like Mozart), Quitslund believes.

“In artistic and philosophical terms, the Trio, full of references to the folk idioms of Armenia and the Caucasus, is closer to the world of Mozart than we might at first suspect,” Quitslund writes in program notes.

There are other similarities, he points out; in the middle movement of the sonata, Mozart introduces a rapid pulse he carries through the movement, a “motor element” Quitslund likens to a teen’s tapping foot.

The 20th century trio also features rhythm – although, Quitslund points out, the Khachaturian work permits more interpretation of those patterns, more “rhythmic flexibility.”

By noting the commonalities in works separated by two centuries, Quitslund hopes to bring audiences closer to recognizing the same threads running through other 20th century works.

“Our listening is changed by a higher degree of awareness of the interrelationship of harmony, of melody and rhythm,” he said. “It isn’t just to enhance these two pieces. We can carry our familiarity with classical music into the appreciation of 20th century style.”

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Listen hear

“How Music Speaks” will be presented at 4 p.m. Nov. 21 at the Playhouse, to open Bainbridge Performing Arts’ 2004-05 Mostly Music series, sponsored by Virginia Mason Winslow Clinic.

Bainbridge Performing Arts Classical Music Program coordinator James Quitslund moderates a series of dialogues with great composers, with the audience and with the instruments for music-lovers of all ages and levels of knowledge.

The opening performance features Justine Jeanotte, violin, and Gregg Miller, clarinet, with pianist Quitslund in Aram Ilyich Khachaturian’s Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano (1932). Quitslund plays Mozart’s Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 570 (1789).

Tickets are $12, available at the Playhouse or charge by phone at 842-8569.

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