Music News & Reviews

Schubert’s haunting harmonies at the Harris Center

Susan Lamb Cook (left) and Igor Veligan (right) will be on strings and Gayle Blankenburg (center) will play piano for Sunday’s celebration of Schubert.
Susan Lamb Cook (left) and Igor Veligan (right) will be on strings and Gayle Blankenburg (center) will play piano for Sunday’s celebration of Schubert.

The Great Composers Chamber Music Series brings the works of Franz Schubert to the Harris Center at Folsom Lake College on Sunday afternoon. Schubert’s gift for harmony will be celebrated in song and chamber music. The music will be performed by Susan Lamb Cook on cello, Igor Veligan on violin and Gayle Blankenburg on piano. Soprano Carrie Hennessey will be featured in the songs.

“In offering a sampling of works by Schubert for this program,” said Cook, “I wanted to feature his lovely ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata, which is one of the gems of the cello repertoire, as well as his great Piano Trio in B Flat for violin, cello, and piano.”

Schubert’s sonata is one of his most loved compositions, although the “arppegione” for which he originally composed it – basically a guitar played with a bow – never became popular. As Cook noted, the sonata’s transcription for cello is the version that is dominant today.

Despite his early death at the age of 31, the composer was prodigiously productive, with special attention to his roster of art songs. “Schubert is probably best known for his hundreds of songs, so it was impossible to do a concert of his music without some,” Blankenburg said.

“I am so grateful that Susan and Gayle thought of me for this concert, because Schubert truly was the father of the German Lied,” said Hennessey. “Other composers had worked in this vein, but he was the master. His integration of text and music is so visceral that words could be absent and the listener would still understand the story being told.”

Hennessey worked with her colleagues to select songs that would best fit the program’s intentions. “In choosing a short set of Schubert songs,” she said, “my approach was to show as much of the variety in his writing as possible. Showcasing well-known pieces alongside lesser-known gems in the time allotted was the goal, while being sure that the set flows emotionally for the audience.”

Concert-goers used to the mighty forces of a full symphonic orchestra may need to make some adjustments in savoring the chamber-music experience.

“For those who may not be familiar with the term,” Cook said, “chamber music means any small classical music ensemble in which each player plays their own part, unlike in a symphony orchestra where there are multiple players playing the same part – at least in the string sections.”

Chamber music places a greater responsibility on each player in the scaled-down ensemble.

Blankenburg used a sports analogy to illustrate her concept of chamber music.

“When I think of listening to a chamber music concert, I often think of a basketball team,” she said. “Each player on the team needs to excel individually, but each player also must know where his other teammates are, what they are likely to do, and how best to interact with them. This is exactly how chamber music works. There is no conductor, so it is up to the players to know exactly how their own parts should go, but also every other person’s part, how they should interact with those other parts, and how to communicate with small visual cues throughout the performance. When you are playing in an excellent group that is compatible, it’s a total blast.”

While it’s a blast playing chamber music, it’s also important to celebrate the works of Schubert, Cook said.

“Through his music, one can almost feel transported back in time to a world filled with charm and grace, perhaps when life was less complicated,” she said. “One very important aspect of musical life in Vienna was the ‘House Concert,’ when friends would have social gatherings to hear the latest works by composers of the time. In celebrating the music of Franz Schubert, these gatherings came to be known as Schubertiade. The concept of a Schubertiade is what I hope to capture at the Harris Center.”

Sunday afternoon’s Schubertiade is sponsored by the VITA Academy, which supports music education in the Sacramento region. The academy has backed Susan Lamb Cook’s Great Composers Chamber Music Series since its inception five years ago.

If You Go

The Great Composers Chamber Music Series

What: “Schubert: A True Viennese Classic”

When: Sunday, April 7, 2019, 2:00 p.m.

Where: The Harris Center at Folsom Lake College, 10 College Parkway, Folsom

Info: 916-608-6888,

Price: $15.00 to $35.00