Museum of Art sets daylong tribute to the Mendelssohns

Published Saturday, August 4, 2018 9:00 am

by BY WAYNE F. ANTHONY

The Toledo Museum of Art hosts its fourth annual one-day summer festival Saturday, exploring the music of a selected composer.

This year’s offering is slightly different, as it celebrates the works of two composers: the Mendelssohn Bartholdy siblings, Fanny and Felix.

Born into a family of bankers in the early Romantic Era (1875-1900), the two children were free to pursue of life of musical exploration, and, indeed, would rank among the best-known music promoters of their time.

Fanny Hensel, nee Mendelssohn (1805-1847), was the eldest child and a gifted pianist and composer. She was celebrated as a patron of musical artists, regularly holding salons where both neophyte and experienced performers gathered to read new music and support each other’s endeavors.

Jacob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1845) was a gifted violinist and pianist. His fame as a composer overshadowed that of his sister, though he often cited her as the better pianist of the two. In addition to his performing skills, he was a pioneering musicologist, most noted for his rediscovery of the forgotten music of J.S. Bach. In fact, it is due to his efforts that the St. Matthew Passion found a renaissance into the canon of celebrated musical literature.

As in years past, the one-day festival is the cooperative product of Scott Boberg, manager of programs and audience engagement at TMA, and Merwin Siu, artistic administrator and principal second violin of the Toledo Symphony.

“The idea was to create an experience that would put some classical excitement into the summer musical map, bringing together Toledo Symphony musicians with other performers from the northwest Ohio area with a love a music making,” Boberg said. “It is not a formal museum group, but rather a community of players who come together as the music of a certain composer dictates.”

Siu added: “The idea was that every other year we would alternate exploring a well-known composer with someone a bit more obscure. The first year was the quartets of [Dmitri] Shostakovich, literature that is on the lesser-known side for most people. We followed that with a 24-hour J.S. Bach marathon, very familiar, and last year was a modern composer, Lou Harrison, whose music, though not so well-known, is brilliant.

“This year we’re tackling both sides of the concept, the well-known Felix paired with his lesser-known sister, Fanny. We’re hoping to raise the parity level of the latter, allowing people to experience her and find that she was just as brilliant a composer as her brother.”

The idea of tackling a family unit is well-timed for the TMA. This fall it will house a special exhibition bringing the individual pieces of the Van Campen family portrait by the Dutchman Franz Hals together for the first time since they were separated in the late 18th century.

As in past years, the festival is divided into two parts, a balance of free and ticketed events. The first section comprises three concerts between noon and 4:30 p.m. Saturday, which are free and open to the public in the TMA’s Great Gallery and Cloister.

“The idea is to provide opportunities for people to ‘come upon’ the Mendelssohns; to allow any and all to discover the accessibility and beauty of their music,” Boberg said.

From 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., the GlasSalon will house the ticketed portion of the festival, which offers concert-goers a more intimate exploration of the pair’s chamber music.

“I am particularly excited about the GlasSalon portion of the festival,” Siu said. “It is such an amazingly warm, intimate space for performing, especially as the light dims and the atmosphere transitions from day to night. For those who have never experienced chamber music personally, this space offers the most amazing opportunity.”

Two special events will happen during the festival: a special performance of Felix’s Octet will be done side-by-side as symphony pros team with area high school students, and the tragic last months of Fanny and Felix’s lives will be explored in a lecture recital by musicologist Efytchia Papanikolaou of Bowling Green State University.

Fanny died suddenly in 1847 after just finishing her Trio in D Minor. On the day she died, she composed her last song, “Bergeslust (Mountain Rapture).”

The event so affected Felix, he suffered a complete breakdown. His next composition, the String Quartet in F Minor, is an elegy to his sister. It explores a new tonal and musical vocabulary. He died just six months after her.

“Papanikolaou will attempt to unravel the complex emotional underpinnings of this time,” Siu said. “It’s all reflected in the change in Felix’s music.”

All events for the Mendelssohn intensive are at the Toledo Museum of Art, 2445 Monroe St., Toledo, from noon to 11 p.m. Saturday. Tickets for Part II, $5 for students with IDs, $15 Toledo Museum of Art members and TSO Subscribers, and $20 for all others, are available at 419-246-800 or toledosymphony.com. Additional information is available from the Toledo Museum of Art at 419-255-8000 or toledomuseum.org.

The Toledo Symphony Orchestra has events all year round. View our upcoming performance schedule now.

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