Curtis Institute returns to Seattle

By R.M. Campbell

Musicians from the Curtis Institute returned to the Henry Chapel Wednesday night in the Highlands for its third year. The concerts have become predictable: interesting repertory, exemplary musicianship.

Already known and widely respected in the music world, the Philadelphia conservatory wanted a broader profile. And so, among other activities, it has embarked on a series of tours featuring not only students but now faculty. Seattle is on the tour itinerary with concerts scheduled in the intimate Henry Chapel in the Highlands. This is chamber music at its best — in a warm, appealing space that is not so large. The audiences have been attentive and appreciative.

This year, the faculty member is the noted pianist who has performed with most of the major American and European orchestras, well as festivals on both sides of the Atlantic. He also conducts, like so many of his keyboard colleagues. In short he has a major career. Just as his father was a celebrated writer, his son is a celebrated musician. The students were two. Violist Ayane Kozasa, from Chicago, whose teachers are among the most distinguished, including Roberto Diaz, Curtis president. Already she has done plenty of performing. Kelly Coyle, from Naperville, Ill., also has a long list of important teachers. The programs are not long: Wednesday’s lasted barely 90 minutes. From the standard repertory were Brahms’ E-flat Sonata (Op. 120., No. 2) and Mozart’s E-flat Trio (K. 498), “Kegelstatt.” The novelty was Daron Hagen’s suite for clarinet and piano titled “Book of Days.” In most places Hagen would not be well-known, but in Seattle he is, at least in opera circles. His opera, “Amelia,” was commissioned by Seattle Opera and premiered last summer. Hagen writes affable music. It doesn’t run away from neo-romantic cliches but it doesn’t attempt to avoid romantic sensibility. That is a good combination and serves Hagen well, making an attractive and appealing idiom. This suite is a mixture of all sorts of moods , as well it should be, although I am not sure what makes Monday so different from Thursday or Friday. Maybe it is not relevant. Hagen knows how to spin a melody, and he does so without any hesitation. There is some astringency but not enough to be irritating. But perhaps by being so unremarkable, the music is not quite so pungent. However, it gives extended solos to the viola and the clarinet ,which Coyle and Kozasa exploited to the utmost, a compliment.

In the last decade of his life, Brahms discovered the astonishing clarinetist Richard Muhlfeld which stimulated what one scholar called, “a surge of fresh creative power.” The E-flat Sonata came last. It is scored for either clarinet or viola and piano. Coyle played the sonata on Wednesday. She has a fine tone, although it gets strident in the upper register, and useful technique. She captured a good share of the work’s expressive style but did not probe particularly deep into the work. I would have liked to have heard Kozasa, particularly given the richness of her sound. She would have made a far greater impression.

The “Kegelstatt” is familiar territory, and the three played it as such, with affection and accuracy and poise. Coyle played without pretense or with a hyper style. Kozasa, too, played with decisiveness, breadth and subtlety. For the night Solzhenitsyn provided leadership of the best sort and approached everything he did with style and aplomb.

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