Celebrating Debussy

Chestnut Hill Concerts series explores chamber music by composer and his contemporaries

Charles Debussy. Image courtesy of Chestnut Hill Concerts.

By David A. Brensilver

The 150th anniversary of Claude Debussy’s birth is as good an occasion as any to program a selection of the composer’s works, though, as Ronald Thomas recently pointed out, “any excuse is a good reason to celebrate the guy.”

Thomas, a cellist, is the artistic director of Chestnut Hill Concerts, which, in August, will present four programs of music by the French composer and his contemporaries.

“He was very much a revolutionary,” Thomas said of Debussy, who is typically associated with musical Impressionism, though the composer himself “didn’t consider himself an Impressionist.”

Debussy, Thomas said, charted for himself an “evolution of form, harmony – the most fundamental aspects of music,” at the turn of the 20th century.

“A Celebration of Debussy and His World,” as this year’s Chestnut Hill Concerts series is billed, “was an opportunity to do a taste test,” Thomas said, to introduce audiences to thoughtfully chosen works by Debussy, Satie, Franck, Fauré, Ravel, and Guiraud.

The first concert in the month-long series, on August 3, bookends compositions by Debussy with works of Guiraud, an American expatriate with whom Debussy studied in Paris, and Franck, who composed in the German tradition “Debussy was running from, in a way,” Thomas explained.

The series’ second concert, on August 10, features works by Debussy and his contemporary, Satie, and Fauré, whose music, while structurally traditional, was at the time rather harmonically progressive.

The series’ August 17 and August 24 concerts showcase works by Debussy and Ravel (with Fauré’s Violin Sonata No. 1 opening the final program), including a piano four hands arrangement of Debussy’s “Iberia,” the second movement of his orchestral piece Images.

Thomas said he wanted to program a piano four hands arrangement of Debussy’s La Mer, but the Boston Chamber Music Society, of which he’s a co-founder and artistic director emeritus, has programmed the work as part of its winter MIT Series.

The Chestnut Hill Concerts series, a longtime summer staple on the shoreline, is presented on Fridays, August 3, August 10, August 17, and August 24, at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, in Old Saybrook. Each concert is repeated the following evening in Watertown, Massachusetts, as part of the Boston Chamber Music Society’s Hamel Summer Series.

The 2012 Chestnut Hill Concerts program, published here with the organization’s permission, is as follows:

August 3

Guiraud: Deux Romances sans paroles for Cello and Piano

Debussy: Reflets dans L’eau, from Images for Piano, Book 1, L. 110

Debussy: La fille aux cheveux de lin, from Préludes for Piano, Book 1, L. 33

Debussy: La serenade interrompue, from Préludes for Piano, Book 1, L. 33

Debussy: Piano Trio in G major

Franck: Violin Sonata in A major

Sheryl Staples, violin, Julie Albers, cello, Jon Klibinoff, piano

August 10

Satie: Choses vues à droite et à gauche for violin and piano

Satie: Gnossienne No. 1

Debussy: “Claire de Lune” from Suite Bergamasque for Piano, L. 75

Fauré: Préludes Nos. 1 and 2 from Op. 103

Fauré: Impromptu No. 3 in A-flat major, Op. 34

Debussy: Sonata for Cello and Piano

Fauré: Piano Quartet No. 2 in G minor

Steven Copes, violin, Marcus Thompson, viola, Ronald Thomas, cello, Randall Hodgkinson, piano

August 17

Debussy: Violin Sonata, L. 140

Ravel: String Quartet in F major, M. 35

Ravel: Violin Sonata No. 2 in G major, M. 77

Debussy: String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10, L. 85

Jennifer Frautschi, violin, Xiao-Dong Wang, violin, Dimitri Murrath, viola, Ronald Thomas, cello, Mihae Lee, piano

August 24

Fauré: Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 13

Debussy: “Iberia” from Images for orchestra, L. 122, arr. piano four hands

Ravel: Piano Trio in A minor, M. 67

Paul Huang, violin, Ronald Thomas, cello, Mihae Lee, piano, Benjamin Hochman, piano

For more information about Chestnut Hill Concerts, visit chestnuthillconcerts.org.


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