A set of concerts blend contemporary and classical tones

As published in Berkshires Week, June 30, 2011

CHARLEMONT — Audiences of all ages are welcome to the Mohawk Trail Concerts series because, as executive director Ruth Black explains, one of the main goals of the series each year is to present music that is both old and new.

Cellist Astrid Schween & pianist Estela Olevsky.

Cellist Astrid Schween & pianist Estela Olevsky.

“We present music that is old — and old in in two senses, old and familiar — or music that is new,” Black said. “But something could be new to your ears, and it was written in 1600. So there’s sort of a double entendre with the old and new — it can be familiar and unfamiliar, or it can be historically old or contemporary.”

The concert will start at 7 p.m. on Friday and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Federated Church, 175 Main St., in Charlemont.

Both evenings, cellist Astrid Schween and pianists Estela Olevsky and Nigel Coxe will deliver a widespread, eclectic program covering all the bases of “old and new.” The “old” will come in the form of Beethoven’s Variations on Mozart’s “Bei Mannern WoO 46” and Percy Grainger’s “Lincolnshire Posy” for two pianos, and the “new” in the work of contemporary composer Gordon Green.

Green uses computer technology to create unique musical statements that blend synthetic and acoustic instrumentation. In this performance, Schween, Green’s wife, will play her electric cello while Green accompanies with computer-generated sounds.

The unique combination of unusual sounds flow in and out of each other, representing music of both the classical era and the modern day that is haunting yet captivating.

Another major theme weaving its way through the concert series this year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of composer and pianist Franz Liszt. Liszt was — and still is — known as a sort of rock-star musician in his day. A talented pianist, he even helped to develop the piano as an instrument, making piano manufacturers produce better mechanics and overall instruments to meet his technical needs. Schween and Olevsky will play Liszt’s “Elegie” and “La Lugubre Gondola,” giving a proper commencement to the season-long celebration.

Black describes Liszt as not only a fabulous pianist, but a great teacher and composer as well.

“It’s rather a gift for me to be able to show all sorts of aspects of Liszt — writing for other instruments, how he promoted other composers by taking their music and arranging it for the piano,” she said. “One of his real aims in life was to promote what he thought of as other people’s good music, and he did that a lot. So that’s a theme that’s going through the entire concert season: either Liszt’s transcriptions or flashy virtuoso piano work, or some of his almost religious contemplative program kind of music.”

Reminiscent of Liszt’s transcriptions, Schween and Olevsky will also play one of Gustav Mahler’s Ruckert-Lieder songs that was transcribed by Green for cello and piano, bringing themes of Liszt, old music, and new music full circle.

“Liszt would have loved Green,” Black said.

Finally, a free outdoor concert will be held on Sunday at 2 p.m. in celebration of Independence Day with “Winds O’er the Water,” a newly assembled wind quintet playing on the bank of the Deerfield River in Charlemont.

“It’s mostly Americana,” said Christine Mortensen, a French horn player who brought the quintet together for this cocnert. She serves on the board of directors for the concert series.

Along with Mortensen, fluist Amy Poliakoss, oboist Aaron Lakota, clarinetis Ed Matthew and bassoonist Jill Collura play in the quintet.

Mortensen shared some of the highlights from the program.

“We’ve got some Gershwin, a George M. Cohan medley, a folk song suite by William Grant Still and something by Scott Joplin called ‘Ragtime Dance,” she said.

And of course an Independence Day concert wouldn’t be complete without a few Sousa marches.

The quintet also will perform music related to or reminiscent of water, from sea shanties to Handel’s “Water Music.” Guests are encouraged to listen from the water or on the banks of the river.