Piedmont Center for the Arts: Violinist Axel Strauss
performs music of Czech composers
By Lou Fancher
Piedmont and Bay Area fans of Gold Coast Chamber Players and their appearances at the Piedmont Center for the Arts will not want to miss Czech Marks, the third concert this season. With Violinist Axel Strauss returning from his position as a professor at McGill University in Montreal and joined by an ensemble of award-winning local musicians, the performance features the vibrant music of Czech composers Dvořák, Novák, and Janáček.
The concert on Sunday, Jan. 26, is preceded by a 30-minute talk by musicologist Kai Christiansen. Well-researched historic and cultural references offered by Gold Coast at pre-concert talks and during each performance set them apart, and often above, other ensembles. Typically, the conversations are led by experts who offer a terrific balance of fundamental facts about each work on the program, musicology pertinent to the composers’ era and countries of origin, and delightfully quirky, lesser-known stories.
Janáček’s Violin Sonata opens the program, followed by Dvořák’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 23, a piece frequently played during Dvořák’s lifetime, but performed less often and thus less known in modern times than is his second piano quartet. Vitezslav Novák is another unknown and a student of Dvořák’s, whose influence is recognizable in the program’s final work, Novak’s Piano Quintet, Op. 12. Slavic romanticism, from buoyant, dancing, or hard-driving rhythms to ethereal passages, combine with hints of modern (for Novak’s time) tonalities. Universal themes of love, passion, and power the composer found intriguing in Moravian folk tunes and themes continue to have compelling resonance centuries later.
Strauss’s technical command and skill as a performer are familiar to Bay Area audiences. As a regular on the Bay Area classical scene and in his tenure as Professor of Violin and Chamber Music at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music before moving to Montreal, he established himself as a meticulous musician who gives attention to a score’s every note and nuance.
In 1998, he was the first German artist to win the international Naumburg Violin Award in New York. After his American debut at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and his New York debut at Alice Tully Hall that same year, his solo career flourished, leading to appearances with orchestras and at music festivals worldwide.
Strauss is joined in the concert by members of his San Francisco Piano Trio, cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau, pianist Jeffrey Sykes, Gold Coast Artistic Director and violist Pamela Freund-Striplen, and violinist Liane Bérubé.