Musicians reflect on current politics

The Williams Chamber Players is an ensemble of faculty members founded almost two decades ago in 1999, who endeavor to “present concerts to the college and community” which give “special attention to music of the 20th and 21st centuries and to music by Williams composers,” per the group’s bio.

Assisstant Professor of Music Zachary Wadsworth composed a piano and violin duet titled “In Angustiis (In Troubled Times),” which he performed with Joana Genova, artist associate in violin. The piece was written to be “a kind of prayer or lament” like some 20th century compositions that “lamented steps backwards” especially in regards to the politics of the time, according to Wadsworth. The title comes from Haydn’s “Missa in Angustiis (Mass for Troubled Times)” which “lamented” on the invasions of Napoleon in the late 1780s. Naturally, there are several issues concerning the common citizen in America today on which to “lament.” Accordingly, the performers dressed in all black, as if in mourning. The haunting combination of the piano and violin captured all the attention     and hearts of the audience.

The other three pieces also contributed to this atmosphere of anguish. The first, entitled “Five Love Songs,” challenged the stereotypical romantic melody by juxtaposing jagged acoustic guitar rhythms with an elegant, operatic soprano, achieved by the duo of Robert Phelps and Erin Nafziger. Composer Thea Musgrave combines classical style with contemporary flavor to reflect her more modern experience. The soprano’s storytelling and audible suffering would confuse anyone expecting to hear a “love song.”

Brahms’ “Sonata in F major” for cello and piano followed next. In contrast to a number of Brahms’ sweet, romantic melodies, this sonata felt troubled at times. It was riddled, no doubt, with sophisticated and effortless lullabies, achieved by the coordination of the piano by Elizabeth Wright, and the cello by Nathaniel Parke. This piece felt as if it was a roller coaster of emotions that was communicated through beautiful, distinctly Brahms harmonies and rhythmic grace. The third movement, “Allegro passionato,” truly lives up to its namesake; one cannot help but enjoy the satisfied glances the musicians would give each other after each movement.

The final piece in the concert was a trio in G minor by Clara Schumann, the famous wife of composer Robert Schumann of the Romantic Era. This trio for violin, cello and piano almost stole the show. It was an interlacing of complicated yet overtly romantic melodies that when played together evoked sorrow or torment. Once again, the music overcame the musicians, who appeared as though they were communicating with each other in a foreign language. The conclusion of the four-movement trio satisfied an audience of Berkshire community members, faculty and students who had been transported into a turbulent time only to return slightly relieved.

During such a complicated time in this country’s history, music can be a bridge to join together the differences among us. Each of the pieces in Friday’s concert embraced the storminess in the air and on the horizon, a storminess that transcended centuries of history. Times have not changed and neither has the music which seeks to explain, accept or disapprove of its consequences.  We may see, feasibly, the events of this semester to reflect the changes in the world around us.

The Williams Chamber Players performed original and classics on Friday in Chapin Hall. Photo courtesy of Janeth Rodriguez, Photo Editor.