In yet another unique showcase for the Savannah Music Festival, the U.S. premiere of "Brahms vs. Tchaikovsky" on March 24 at the Lucas Theatre was a superb display of chamber music from two titan composers of the Romantic era.
The multimedia event included actors portraying Johannes Brahms (Mervon Mehta) and Pyotr Tchaikovsky (Paul Petit), multiple cameras and a full-stage screen projecting images and video, creating a multilateral sensory experience.
At the center, both literally and figuratively, a chamber quintet lead by Savannah Music Festival veteran Daniel Hope on violin became the show's centerpiece over the course of the evening.
Joining Hope for an extraordinary performance of some exquisite pieces of chamber music was Benny Kim (violin), Scott Lee (viola), CarlaMaria Rodrigues (viola), Eric Kim (cello) and Keith Robinson (cello).
"The ensemble of six players is made up of my closest musical friends who have been delighting Savannah audiences now for over a decade," Hope told Do Savannah in a preview of the concert. "They are also some of the finest musicians in the world."
What perhaps sets this particular concert apart from other showcases of chamber music is the conversation created in the musical programming. While the actors had actual conversations between and before movements that meandered from topics about other classical rivalries to actual stories and quotes from the composers, the most striking conversation happened without words.
By pitting two exceptional pieces of chamber music from these giants of classical music against each other in sequential trade-offs of each movement, a palpable juxtaposition was created. Each composer has earned merit over the decades for his own approach to composition. To hear these pieces performed in such a manner was an educational spotlight into what set them apart, and how their idiosyncrasies truly distinguished them from other contemporaries.
The orchestra delivered an immaculate performance. I will always argue that there is no better way to truly experience music than a live performance. I think this especially rings true for classical music. You could easily find a slew of wonderful recordings of Brahms String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Opus 111, or Tchaikovsky's String Sextet in D minor, Opus 70, "Souvenir de Florence," from some of the greatest musicians the world over, but to experience those pieces in a live setting with a group that not only understood the music, but also interpreted it in a tonal conversation with their fellow musicians, is a peerless experience.
Chamber groups were, arguably, the first rock 'n' roll bands, in the sense they were small groups of musicians who played pre-written music and relied on other musicians during the performance to work in separate wavelengths to create one sound.
In this idea, Friday's ensemble excelled. Throughout the evening, the musicians would trade looks with each other and slight smiles while working the music in a spectacular fashion as individual voices in a singular unit - perhaps the strongest characteristic of a good chamber ensemble.
This was all evident from not only my second-row seat, but also throughout the hall via close-up camera views on the musicians as they played that were projected on the full-stage screen behind them.
The addition of cameras was a remarkable aspect of the concert, one which immersed viewers on a visual level, heightening the entire operation to an extraordinary plane of performance art.
The chamber ensemble rightfully received roaring applause and a standing ovation at the end of a sporting concert in which everyone who attended were the real winners.