Sextet Concertante to perform in Columbia

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December 04, 2003|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

With all the gifted string players our conservatories are turning out these days, it is no wonder our musical cup is brimming with prodigious young string quartets ready to grapple with the great masterworks of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

Threesomes such as the Beaux Arts Trio and Eroica Trio have also approached superstardom, while any string or wind soloist tethered to a capable pianist can have a go at the many great sonata duets that dot the chamber repertoire.

But what about the quintets, sextets, septets and octets bestowed on us by our greatest composers - works that require larger forces but are chamber works? Who champions them?

Enter Concertante, a gifted, Juilliard-trained sextet founded in 1995 by string players out to expand the artistic collaborations they forged in music school.

Concertante - which consists of violinists Xiaodong Wang and Ittai Shapira; violists Rachel Shapiro and Ara Gregorian; and cellists Zvi Plesser and Alexis Pia Gerlach - will perform at Columbia's Smith Theatre on Saturday evening under the aegis of the Candlelight Concert Society in a program of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms and Bohuslav Martinu.

As solo performers, Concertante's members have graced the world's stages from New York's Carnegie Hall, to London's Royal Festival Hall, to Shanghai's Grand Theatre, as each has maintained a full schedule of performing and teaching apart from participation in the ensemble.

Cellist Gerlach, for example, also is a member of Trio Solisti, where she plays more intimate chamber works with violinist Maria Bachmann and pianist Jon Klibonoff.

Violist Gregorian is on the faculty of East Carolina University, and the group's other cellist, Plesser, teaches at Jerusalem's Academy of Music and Dance.

As a unit, Concertante has furthered the cause of contemporary music, giving world premieres of pieces by Steven Gerber, Justine Chen and Oded Zehavi, while blowing the dust off infrequently performed works by Georges Enesco, Arnold Schoenberg and Martinu, the Czech composer and emigre to America whose 1932 Sextet opens Saturday's program.

Martinu's style, which fuses an Old World eastern European flair for melodic color with feisty 20th-century rhythms, is accessible to a fault. This is a composer who deserves to be better known.

The concert continues with Mozart's "Grande Sestetto Concertante," a chamber arrangement of his celestial "Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra", one of the sparklers of the classical canon.

Concertante's program concludes with Brahms' B-flat Sextet, a work crafted by a 27-year- old composer honored to tip his cap to Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert, yet eager to explore the syncopated rhythms and lush sonorities that would become his own.

Candlelight Concert Society is to present the string sextet Concertante in music by Martinu, Mozart and Brahms at 8 p.m. Saturday at Smith Theatre on the campus of Howard Community College in Columbia. General admission is $29, $26 for senior citizens and $12 for students. Information: 410-480-9950 or www.candle lightconcerts.org.

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