A concert for the untrained ear

Pianist Jim Quitslund guides young listeners through the classical music trail at the next Mostly Music concert Feb. 26. - JIM BRYANT photo
Pianist Jim Quitslund guides young listeners through the classical music trail at the next Mostly Music concert Feb. 26.
— image credit: JIM BRYANT photo

Mostly Music offers insight into the composer’s art of resolution.

If classical music seems inaccessible to some, Jim Quitslund believes that’s only because the ear hasn’t learned to recognize the signposts in the road.

The ear should anticipate what it will hear next, as those familiar with Hollywood love stories know the couple will eventually live happily ever after.

“The ear looks for something familiar,” Quitslund said. “The listener with the trained ear is composing along with the composer.”

Violinist Thomas Monk, cellist Barbara Deppe and pianist and host Quitslund will present a special Mostly Music chamber music concert at 4 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Playhouse. The program is designed to familiarize young listeners with the lay of the classical music land.

Admission is $12, but free to those 18 and under accompanied by an adult.

The performance is also partly a token of appreciation from Bainbridge Performing Arts to the Island School, which donated two portable classrooms now being installed behind the Playhouse to help the space shortage there.

The program begins with Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” better known as the opening music to movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

That piece will be followed by a comparison of recordings by soprano legends Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas singing the same aria from Vincenzo Bellini’s “I Puritani” and a live performance of Beethoven’s Piano Trio Opus 1, No. 3.

Quitslund will discuss musical interpretation, such as how Sutherland focuses on singing “as a singer,” with beautiful tone, accurate rhythm and perfect pitches.

By contrast, Maria Callas singing the same aria is “completely dramatic and personal, but by being very aware of melody, harmony and rhythm,” Quitslund said.

“She takes artistic license with all three.”

But at the heart of the program, these three pieces will help illustrate basic music theory and the form that many classical pieces follow: a main theme stated in a main key and perhaps introducing motifs – short, distinct musical fragments – followed by a development section in a related key and concluding with a return to the main theme and key.

“I hope to have the audience more conscious of what they listen to,” Quitslund said.

In Beethoven’s trio, scales and arpeggios reappear frequently – notes of the scale cascade like water.

“They help him get tremendous energy in music that isn’t moving very fast,” Quitslund said.

The contrast in one portion of the trio of a weighty bass line juxtaposed with flighty higher notes creates a tension and power to the music.

In the development, the composer may seem to go off on a tangent – playing with the theme or motifs in a related key – but the schooled listener knows the work will return to the original key and theme in what is called the “cadence.”

Quitslund compares the process to a Hollywood movie.

He recently saw “Pride and Prejudice” for the first time, and as Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy wandered estranged off into the fog, he felt “terrified” they would never get together again.

“In music, it’s the same,” he said. “You get signs of difficulty and departure from the safe road. You find you’re on a tangent and it doesn’t seem you’ll get to a conclusion.”

But the good composer always leave signposts to reassure you that all will be right in the end. Themes from earlier in the piece reappear in slightly different form as variations or played by different voices.

By analogy, the educated ear will listen for repetition of themes and motifs and expect a resolution. Often when he is playing a piece, in the middle of the development section, Quitslund says he will wonder how the piece will resolve.

“I hope this composer is a genius,” he said, “because I can’t figure out how to do it myself.”

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