Making Aston Magna great again

As artistic director for 32 years, I continue to enjoy discovering new repertoire and presenting it with old favorites in mixed thematic programs. This summer's festival features concerts in the Boston area at the Allen House in West Newton on July 11.th18th25th and on 1 Augustst – every Thursday evening at 7 p.m. These programs are repeated throughout the Berkshires. We also offer lectures at 6:15 p.m. for ticket holders who want more in-depth background information. Tickets HERE or at the door.

On July 11th I will be performing some of my favorite solo pieces: JS Bach's three partitas for solo violin, with commentary. These masterpieces include dances from across Baroque Europe and (still surprising!) the New World. The Sarabande and the Chaconne are variants of dances imported from Central America, along with chili peppers, chocolate and tomatoes.

July 18th The concert will be led by keyboardist David Hyun-su Kim, who has been enriching our programs for several years with chamber music by Mozart, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. He has called this program “Side-by-Side-by-Side” because it includes three pianos of different sizes and ranges. His repertoire includes Schubert and Chopin. [CPE and Beethoven?]performed in the manner in which Clara Schumann presented these works. David is a wonderfully eloquent advocate of old pianos and will both speak and play.

Baroque violinist Julie Andrejeski will lead an ensemble on July 25th of early Baroque music, entitled “Sonata, what do you want from me?” This ironic, biting title is a translation of the French quote “Sonate, que tu me veux?” – attributed to the philosopher Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle (1657-1757) and made famous by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his essay on the “Sonata” in his Encyclopedia. The polemical humor of the rhetorical question sheds light on the philosophical-musical question of whether music without text can have any real meaning. The topic became popular and controversial as purely instrumental music evolved from its earlier function as mere dance accompaniment to its independent, sophisticated state of absolute music. The controversy also reflected the tension between the French practice of adorning purely instrumental music with descriptive titles (e.g. The mysterious Baricades; The Nations; The Sun, La Timid (The Timid), The Apothecary of Lullyetc.) – and the Italian and German habit of publishing groups of works without descriptive titles (e.g. Corelli's trio sonatas, Bach's many sonatas and solo works, Vivaldi's many concertos). This program is a vociferous defense of the early sonatas – of abstract music and of art for art's sake. The composers featured are Castello, Frescobaldi, Rosenmüller, Bertali, Buxtehude, Corelli, Rebel, Hacquart and Purcell.

An Aston Magna contingent in 2022.

I will lead the 1st of Augustst Finale, “An English Extravaganza”, which deals with Henry Purcell, John Eccles and John Avison. Purcell is represented by a group of a cappella Catches and accompanied songs from 'The Fairy Queen'. John Avison composed many sonatas for 'concerted' harpsichord, that is, harpsichord solo accompanied by strings – the opposite of the usual ensemble sonata in which the harpsichord, playing 'continuo', improvises in the background over the prevailing harmonies. We will play one of Avison's colourful sonatas, with Peter Sykes. The operas and chamber music of John Eccles, a contemporary of Purcell, enjoyed great popularity in his day. We will semi-stage his chamber opera The Judgement of Paris. In Eccles' version of the Greek myth, Mercury presents rural shepherd Paris with the difficult decision of presenting a golden apple (approval) to one of three beautiful goddesses: Juno (who promises him kingdom), Pallas (who promises him military glory) or Venus (who promises him love). An instrumental ensemble of strings, harpsichord and trumpet will support singers Kristen Watson, Sophie Michaux, Deborah Rentz Moore, Frank Kelley and David Kravitz.

Mr. Stepner is a professor of practice at Brandeis University, a member of the Boston Museum Trio, and artistic director of the Aston Magna Festival in the Berkshires.