The BFSA Concert 2002

The BFSA Concert 2002

Artistic Director – Madeleine Mitchell

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 23 May, 2002
Venue: US Embassy, London

The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 to increase mutual understanding between the people of the US and those of other countries, with the British Fulbright Scholars Association (BFSA) functioning as the alumni association for former Fulbright Scholars in the UK. The BFSA concert is an annual event, featuring works composed and/or performed by Fulbright Scholars past and present. Violinist Madeleine Mitchell had assembled an attractive miscellany, featuring a number of noted and up-coming artists.

The evening, opened by Dan Sreebny – Minister Counselor for Public Affairs – and ended by BFSA Chair Anna Tilley, was compered by Seeta Indrani who, together with John Schwab, read poems by Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath as an interlude between the musical items. After Booth Street Brass played the arresting Fanfare to La Péri (1911) by Dukas, violinist Fenella Barton and pianist Annika Palm-Doumenge played the Dukas-influenced Theme and Variations (1932) by Messiaen. Pianist Ian Pace stepped up the momentum with Lucifer’s Banjo (1997) by Martin Butler, a short study in rhythmic velocity; quite a contrast with the ’Pastorale’ from Debussy’s ethereal Sonata for flute, viola and harp (1915), sympathetically rendered by flautist Christina Webster, violist Stephen Ruckman and harpist Ruth Potter.

After the poetry readings, cellist Alice Neary gave a thoughtful account of the ’Prelude’ and ’Sarabande’ from Bach’s Fifth Suite in A minor (c.1720). Daniel Helseth’s aim to raise the profile of the euphonium was ably demonstrated in the dreamily rhapsodic Im Tiefsten Walde by H.K. Schmid, also accompanied by Annika Palm-Doumenge. Ian Pace returned with Madeleine Mitchell for the high-flown passion of the ’Allegro’ last movement from Elgar’s Violin Sonata in E minor (1918), followed by the world premiere of Stephen Montague’s Folk Dances (2002).

This eventful piece – commissioned by BFSA, with funds provided by the American Embassy, in celebration of HM The Queen’s Golden Jubilee – incorporates a number of traditional influences. The Norwegian ’hallen’ underpinned the visceral rhythmic drive of the central section, framed by music in which the piano strings were deployed in washes of resonance – an evocative context for the keening lyricism of the violin’s upper register. Played with commitment, it provided a gripping conclusion to a concert which, as well as commemorating an important and respected organisation, made for a varied and pleasurable evening in its own right.

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