• Sarah Kwok

Pro Nova Ensemble - June 2 & 5


Pro Nova Ensemble

The Pro Nova Ensemble performs on June 2 & 5 with a program of captivating chamber works. I had a short conversation with their violist, Barbara Irschick, who spoke about the various works as well as one of the composers who it turns out is not the most famous Roentgen out there.


So, tell me about the show

This is our last program of the season, and as usual, we'll play some things classic, some things new. We're playing the wonderful Shostakovich piano quintet, and Julius Roentgen's 2nd piano quintet, with guest artist, Rosemary O'Connor. On our own, the quartet is tackling some dances from John Adams' Book of Alleged Dances (alleged because, as he said, the moves hadn't been invented yet), with recorded prepared piano. We'll also be playing Ernest MacMillan's Two Sketches, based on French Canadian airs (strangely, a little Vaughan Williams-esque, though).


How did you choose this program?

I’d say we choose our programs because it is the music we enjoy playing and listening to. In this program, I’d say each composer brings a unique voice to their works and this will come across as a contrast.


The John Adams “Alleged Dances” employs pre-recorded piano and percussion that blends with our live performance. John Adams is considered a minimalist composer, but this music is so very dynamic and exciting it really doesn’t come across as minimal in any sense.


The Ernest MacMillan 2 Sketches for String Quartet are based on French Canadian mountain airs. The lively 2nd movement I believe was used for a CBC radio show and I’m sure it will be the your earworm running on repeat in your mind after you leave the concert.


In the second half of the concert we’ll be playing the Shostakovich Piano Quintet, a beautiful, intense 5-movement work. It was first performed in 1940 by the Beethoven Quartet and Shostakovich himself. Unlike some of his other works the piano quintet was immediately popular and is considered one of the classic chamber music works of the twentieth century. We have loved working on this piece and being able to perform it with Rosemary is going to be a definite highlight and a wonderful way to finish the season.


Can you talk more about the Julius Roentgen quintet? He was a talented pianist and composer but I'm not very familiar with his works, are there distinctive qualities in his compositions?

Julius Roentgen, in his time was very well regarded in the Netherlands. He was very prolific composer, but few of his works are in print and his works are not often performed. His life spanned from 1855 to 1932 and I’d say his music retains the romanticism of the 19th century. He grew up in Germany and was friends of Johannes Brahms. His music is however very different than other late romantic composer like Richard Strauss or Sergei Rachmaninoff as his music is often more pure and often very concise. And I would say his later works often give the impression of a kind of mystical world. The 4 movements of the Piano Quintet we’re playing last only 15 minutes in total. It does certainly demonstrates some of the skill Roentgen had as a virtuoso pianist. There is a more famous Roentgen, the distantly related Wilhelm Roentgen who discovered x-rays. But a famous quote from Edvard Grieg goes: "I tell him that he (Julius) is 'the famous one' after all, he deserves to be, because the X-rays go no further than the bones, whereas his rays go right through!"


Experience this corporeal permeation for yourself when the Pro Nova Ensemble performs on June 2 at Mount Seymour United Church and on June 5 at the Silk Purse Arts Centre, both shows start at 7:30pm and admission is by donation.


More information: http://www.pronova.ca/

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