Once again cellist Robert Howard will open up his house for series of four presentations in an intimate setting that he calls Concerts By The Square. The basic idea is to provide “a more intimate, digestible form” (Howard’s words) to fostering an interest in chamber music. That begins with the proximity of a house concert, reinforced with food and wine through which members of the audience have a chance to get to know the musicians as well as the music. In addition each piece that is performed is preceded by a short discussion, the goal being to set a context for the music without burdening the listener with “too much information.” All performances take place on Sunday afternoons beginning at 5:30 p.m. (a time that used to be favored by Vladimir Horowitz, who thought audiences were particularly alert in the hour or so prior to dinner).
The four concerts of the 2016/17 will be distinguished by diversity of repertoire. Howard himself will perform in each of the programs. However, the variety of fellow performers will make for an impressive assortment of offerings. Specific dates and concert themes are as follows:
October 30: Sfizi Italiani will be a program of sonatas for two cellos. Howard will be joined by his Philharmonia Baroque colleague Phoebe Carrai, who serves a faculty baroque cellist at both the Juilliard School and Harvard University. The discussion will address the evolution of the cello from the Baroque period to the present day. The music to be performed will address the transition from the Baroque to the Classical and will include duo sonatas by Giacobbe Cervetto, Alessandro Scarlatti, and Luigi Boccherini.
January 22: Pushkin’s Legacy will examine Romantic traditions in Russia that originated with the literature of Alexander Pushkin and thrived in the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, only to be confronted early in the twentieth century by the harsh realities of the Russian Revolution. The music will focus on a composer sometimes called the last pillar of the Russian Romantic tradition, Sergei Rachmaninoff. Howard will be accompanied by pianist Jeff LaDeur for a performance of Rachmaninoff’s cello sonata, a massive composition that, at least in Rachmaninoff’s opinion, treated both cello and piano as equal partners.
February 12: For this program Howard will be joined by Owen Dalby, violinist in the St. Lawrence String Quartet, and Meena Bhasin, violist in the Decoda Ensemble. The title of the program will be Jean Cocteau’s Paris, and the focus will be on music composed there in the two decades between 1920 and 1940. The composers to be represented on the program will be Maurice Ravel and Jean Françaix.
March 26: Howard will be joined by pipa virtuoso Shenshen Zhang for a survey of the Chinese musical heritage. The program will combine traditional selections with the efforts of the more recent composers Lou Harrison and Bright Sheng. Sheng’s opera Dream of the Red Chamber was just given its world premiere by the San Francisco Opera, and the title of this final program will be The Red Chamber.
Because seating is very limited, reservations must be made prior to the performance date. All reservations require a donation, which is tax-deductible as allowed by law. (Concerts by the Square is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.) A single Reservation Web page has been created with hyperlinks for $60 donations for each of the four concerts and a $200 donation for a subscription to the entire series. The venue is a Victorian flat near Alamo Square (hence the title of the series), which is 42 stairs above street level. Unfortunately, no elevator is available. Specific details regarding the address of the venue are provided once a reservation has been confirmed.