For anyone traveling to Boston, a stop at Fenway Court is mandatory. Conceived by the eccentric heiress Isabella Stewart Gardner as a public museum to house her collection of 2,500 art objects, the building, which resembles a Venetian palace, is a testament to one woman's zest for life and a lasting tribute to her unique vision.
When she died in 1924, Gardner's will stipulated that the display of her treasures – she adorned the galleries by juxtaposing items from a variety of cultures – remain essentially as she left them, frozen in time.
Because of the popularity of her museum and the expansion of its educational outreach, however, it was decided to add a new wing to the original building. Designed by Renzo Piano, this new addition opened in 2012, offering more appropriate space for public programming such as concerts.
Currently the chamber orchestra in residence at the Gardner Museum is the 17-member ensemble called A Far Cry. As part of their current national tour, this group, which has been hailed as representative of an “exciting new generation in classical music,” comes to Aiken tomorrow to cap off the 2013-2014 USC Aiken Cultural Series with a concert at the Etherredge Center beginning at 7:30 p.m.
This special performance includes works spanning three centuries. The program will begin with Luigi Boccherini's “Night Music of the Streets of Madrid” composed around 1780 when the Italian maestro was employed by the Spanish royal family. Interestingly enough, Boccherini was not engaged by the king – Charles III – but by his brother, who had been exiled from Madrid to Avila after he married a commoner.
The piece in question, divided into six parts, offers a description of street life in the capital city on a typical night. The first part, for example, features the tolling of church bells to call the faithful to evening prayer; the third and fifth replicate the tunes of street performers; the final movement (in two parts) follows the progress of the night watch as they patrol the streets as curfew is imposed.
Boccherini's tone poem will be followed by Sir Edward Elgar's “Introduction and Allegro for Strings.” Composed for the London Symphony Orchestra in 1905, this two-part work by a quintessential English composer is particularly remembered for its so-called “Welsh theme,” Elgar's quotation of a folk song that he presumably overheard on a vacation to Wales in 1901. The theme is first played in the introduction and then repeated in the allegro, which many scholars argue is one of the most challenging pieces for modern string orchestra.
The first half of the program will conclude with the “Concerto No. 1 in E major,” more popularly known as the “Spring Concerto” from Antonio Vivaldi's “The Four Seasons.” No more appropriate work could have been selected by which to signal the end of winter, particularly the unusual winter that we have just had here in Aiken.
After a brief intermission, Saturday's concert will conclude with Leos Janacek's “Idyll.” Written in 1878, this orchestral work in seven movements demonstrates Janecek's early maturity as a composer – he was only 24 at the time. During his lifetime, Janacek was largely overshadowed by his Czech contemporary Antonin Dvorak, but in the last 50 years, particularly with the growing popularity of his operas, Janacek has now found his proper place in the Western musical canon.
As one might expect from the title, his “Idyll” captures the feeling of pastoral or rural life through the incorporation, as was typical of the music of both Dvorak and Janacek, of Czech and Moravian folk melodies.
For more information regarding this final concert in the 2013-2014 USCA Cultural Series scheduled for Saturday at 7:30 p.m., call the Etherredge Center at 803-641-3305 or visit the box office on the web at www.usca.edu/etherredge-center.
Dr. Tom Mack holds the G.L. Toole Chair at USC Aiken. His newest book entitled “The South Carolina Encyclopedia Guide to South Carolina Writers” (USC Press) is available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats.