Stephanie and I heard the Met Orchestra Musicians in concert online on January 17, 2021. It was hosted by bass baritone Eric Owens, who made some lovely introductory remarks. He talked about the talent and training embedded in the Met Orchestra, but he also brought up something you don’t often think about or hear about: he talked about their years of playing together. There’s no substitute for that.
The first piece was an arrangement of three arias from Mozart’s *The Magic Flute,* arranged for flute and cello by Eric Stephenson. They were played by Chelsea Knox (flute) and Julia Bruskin (cello). The three arias were Pagageno’s entrance aria (“Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja”), Tamino’s aria about the magic flute (“Wie stark ist nicht dein Zauberton”), and another Papageno aria (“Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen”). It was charming, lovely, a perfect way to open the program.
The next set was played by a string quartet of players from the orchestra: Angela Qianwen Shen and Julia Choi (violins), Chihiro Allen (viola), and Julia Bruskin again (cello). They opened with a new string quartet called *Warmth from Other Suns,* which was introduced by the composer, Carlos Simon. He was inspired by the novel *Warmth of Other Suns* by Isabel Wilkerson. The music was delicious, fascinating, full of unexpected harmonies and textures, with masterful writing for the strings. They were playing at the Italian Academy on the Columbia University campus, such a beautiful jewel of a theater.
Next they played the Andante con moto from Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” string quartet. This movement is an arrangement of a song that Schubert wrote, so it would have been nice if they had inserted a performance of the song before the quartet. I’m not sure Owens has a low D, but you know there are plenty of singers on the roster who do! I thought the quartet’s playing was fantastic, they had the nobility, the drama, and the wheezing. Stephanie didn’t like it as much as I did.
The quartet finished their set with *Valencia* by Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw. Exciting and colorful but not as engaging as the Simon. It had its moments but it didn’t hold my interest throughout.
The final set was played by Chelsea Knox (flute), Elaine Douvas (oboe), and Bryan Wagorn (piano). They opened with an arrangement of the flower duet from *Lakmé.* Douvas introduced the piece by telling us the story of the opera, saying that when Lakmé realizes that her boyfriend’s loyalties are elsewhere, she decides to “Eat poisoned flowers and DIE.” That line got a guffaw out of me. Stitch that on a pillow, turn it into a hashtag.
The arrangement is written with the two instruments trading places on the top line, which I thought was an interesting choice. Stephanie said this is so neither player feels like they're being subservient to the other. It was gorgeous and Knox definitely had a juicy sound down in her lower register.
The final piece was the Grand Duo on Themes from Rossini's *William Tell* for flute, oboe and piano by Jules Demersseman and Felix-Charles Berthélemy. Douras introduced the piece and said she had studied it with her teacher, Marcel Moyse. Turns out Stephanie studied with him too! The dude was born in 1889 and lived to be 95 years old. Talk about a link to the Old World.
I thought it was a divine bit of camp, but Stephanie thought they played it a little too straight! She had played the piece in Florida the year before and said they had more fun with it. Here's a fun performance from 1988: