This year’s performance slate for the New Millennium Concert Series is a study of polar opposites.
On one end of the classical music spectrum is maverick and noted violinist Hilary Hahn, who performs on April 17. She has a deep interest in cross-genre collaborations, and she champions new works.
On the other end is the Washington, D.C.-based Smithsonian Chamber Players, a group that adheres to early-music performance practices and is keen on using instruments from the Baroque era to do so.
These different approaches to classical music are the highlights of this year’s New Millennium series, which will be presented at California State University, Sacramento. The Smithsonian Chamber ensemble opens the festival Friday. Other performances include the fresh-faced WindSync wind quintet (March 10) and the faculty gala concert (April 10).
As the New Millennium series enters its 15th year, director Andy Luchansky is showing no reservations about presenting the old with the new, booking a group that uses gut strings and the fortepiano to start the series and a violinist who offers a modern take on Johann Sebastian Bach’s music to close it.
His desire to offer audiences a centuries-old experience led him to the Smithsonian Chamber Players. That group, established in 1976, is a standard bearer for period-instrument performance and is fluent in works by Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, Antonio Vivaldi and Georg Philipp Telemann, among others.
While the ensemble is comfortable performing works from the 16th century, it also has undertaken works from the mid-20th century. As part of the Smithsonian, the players are an important part of the museum’s mission to explore and safeguard American music-making heritage. The ensemble is also charged with bringing the Smithsonian’s large collection of early-music instruments into concert halls.
“They were pathfinders by venturing into historically informed performances of music from the Classical and Romantic periods,” said Luchansky. “I’m a huge fan of their recordings, particularly of their Schubert and Mendelssohn.”
The leader of the ensemble, Kenneth Slowick, will perform on the fortepiano for the Smithsonian’s appearance in Sacramento, despite the fact that he’s an accomplished cellist, viola de gamba player and conductor. The ensemble will be joined by an early-music superstar, soprano Christine Brandes, as well as violinist Ian Swensen and cellist Elisabeth Reed.
The ensemble will perform two Haydn trios – the D minor and the G major – as well as other works by Haydn and a work by Schubert.
Slowick, 60, said his passion for period instruments began at age 8. He traces it back to a time when his father, a theater director, was preparing a production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s “The Rivals” and listening to a lot of early music.
“He was playing various things at home, and one of the recordings was a work by Telemann,” Slowick said. “I was immediately smitten.”
Slowick said he considers himself lucky to have come along at a time when interest in period instruments and early music was just beginning. He also relishes having all the museum’s instruments at his disposal.
“At the Smithsonian, we have one of the bigger collections of period instruments,” he said, adding that the museum owns 5,000 instruments of Western origin.
Hahn booking a coup
Without question, the big draw of the series will be Hahn. Getting her to perform in such an intimate venue was no small booking feat, said Luchansky.
When Hahn performs, it will be in the university’s 300-seat Music Hall. Given that Hahn has performed with the New York Philharmonic and other of the world’s most noted orchestras, her appearance is a deep validation of the status of the series, said Luchansky.
“I’m sure her management looked closely at our series before approaching Hahn and reported favorably about our reputation,” said Luchansky. “Word gets around about less-known venues like ours. We’re proud about our reputation.”
Hahn’s recordings have drawn rave reviews – especially the recent “27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores.”
That eclectic effort is a showcase of encores. But these are not the typical gems that one hears at the end of a standard recital. These are new works that range from jazzy to kinetic but solidly within the classical realm. The unusual idea came to Hahn when she noticed that new pieces were not being showcased as much as well-known works during encores.
Hahn has made it a goal to shine the spotlight on the encores of 27 composers. Hahn has said that she explored the music of 26 of the composers before personally contacting them and ran a blind online contest with open submissions to find the 27th composer.
The composers represented on the CD include Einojuhani Rautavaara and Nico Muhly.
Hahn is scheduled to perform sonatas by Robert Schumann and Claude Debussy with pianist Cory Smythe, as well as a modern take on Bach partitas.
In booking WindSync, Luchansky said he was interested in presenting a younger generation of performers to audiences.
The quintet shares Hahn’s appetite for testing musical boundaries in the way its members seek to expand the wind-quintet repertoire. Like Hahn, WindSync likes to perform newly commissioned works written for the group alongside classical masterworks.
“Their playing and programming is vital and cutting edge,” Luchansky said. “They’re great players and closer in age to our Music School students, so the inspirational effect will be more palpable and visceral.”
Call The Bee’s Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.
New Millennium Concert Series
The Smithsonian Chamber Players – Friday
WindSync – March 10
Faculty Gala – April 10
Hilary Hahn – April 17
Where: Music Hall, California State University, Sacramento (6000 J St., Sacramento)
When: All concerts at 7:30 p.m
Information: www.newmillenniumconcerts.com; (916) 278-4323