Autumn is a season for contrasts. Frosty nights and cold rains are tempered by mild, sunny days, and trees explode into a crazy quilt of color, to be replaced all too soon by the drab gray coat of winter. In keeping with the season, contrasting musical styles and periods will be the theme at The Met this week, as Music Director Fabio Mechetti and the Spokane Symphony present works from four composers who each wrote pieces for the harpsichord, but whose works span more than three centuries. The chamber orchestra series at The Met allows the Symphony to explore a different repertoire than that heard in the larger Opera House, says Mechetti.
"The acoustics at The Met are very different than the Opera House," he explains. "In The Met, you hear everything. The concerts are more informal, more intimate. It's more of an exchange of ideas with the audience."
Joining the orchestra for this exchange will be Brazilian harpsichordist Ilton Wjuniski and alto Linda Caple-Adams, who is a native of Spokane. Wjuniski has performed at the Northwest Bach Festival each year since 1993, at the invitation of Festival Director Gunther Schuller. He spends most of his time in Paris, where he holds tenure at the Claude Debussy Conservatory and is associate professor to the City of Paris. He has won top prize at several international harpsichord competitions and travels around the world giving recitals, lectures and master classes.
Although Wjuniski is a regular at the Bach Festival, this concert marks his first appearance with the Spokane Symphony and Mechetti. "We've known each other a long time," says Mechetti. "We first met over 20 years ago in Brazil, but this is our first time performing together."
One reason it has taken the two countrymen so long to share a stage is the nature of the harpsichord itself. "It's not an instrument that's featured regularly with the orchestra," says Mechetti. "The harpsichord is an instrument with a unique but relatively small sound, and it's meant to be played in a smaller hall. With a full orchestra in a large hall, the sound would just get lost. The chamber orchestra series allows the orchestra to play with the harpsichord without overwhelming it."
Unlike a piano, a harpsichord's volume cannot be varied by striking the keys with more or less force. Instead of the piano's hammering action on the strings, a harpsichord's strings are plucked when its keys are depressed. Without pedals to sustain the sound, the harpsichordist must use ornamentation and trills to keep the sound going.
The harpsichord has seen peaks and valleys in its popularity and acceptance in the music world since its first appearance more than 500 years ago. As music moved out of grand cathedrals and private homes and into public performing spaces, the harpsichord became the secular keyboard instrument of choice. It remained popular throughout the baroque era until it was superseded by that technological advancement, the piano, in the late 18th century. (The name, "piano," incidentally, comes from gravicembalo col pian e forte, Italian for "harpsichord with soft and loud.")
Into the early 19th century, the two instruments vied for most favored position among composers and performers. In fact, the manuscripts of Beethoven's earlier keyboard works indicate their suitability for either harpsichord or piano. But later in the 19th century, as Romanticism swept the musical world, the harpsichord fell out of favor, says Mechetti. "The 19th century was definitely unfriendly to the harpsichord," he says. "It was a time when big orchestras were flourishing, and the piano took center stage."
In the early part of the 20th century, the harpsichord regained acceptance as a concert instrument, first as a tool for recreating the music of the 16th and 17th centuries. With the reemergence of the instrument, composers once again began creating new pieces for it. This, along with a broadening audience for early music, has brought the harpsichord out of the museum and back onto the stage.
In this week's program, Mechetti has planned pieces that show the varying ways the harpsichord has been used by composers over the centuries. The concert opens with Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, a dance suite from the late baroque period. Wjuniski then joins the orchestra for Haydn's Concerto for Harpsichord in D Major, followed after intermission by the early 20th-century Harpsichord Concerto by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu.
"These pieces give a sense of the use of the harpsichord over the years," says Mechetti. "They show the two different sides, from the early classical style of the Haydn to the more recent works in the second half." One point of contrast lies in the orchestration, he says. "The Martinu piece features a piano within the orchestra, with the harpsichord as the solo instrument."
For yet another contrast, the program concludes with a piece for orchestra and vocal soloist, the El Amor Brujo Ballet Suite by Manuel de Falla, from 1915. The Spanish composer later wrote a harpsichord concerto, providing a thematic link to the earlier works on the program. "The first three pieces are very instrumental, music for music's sake," says Mechetti. "This fourth piece has a story to tell. Like the Bach, it's also a suite of dances. It's very Spanish and very nationalistic."
The de Falla piece will feature alto Linda Caple-Adams as soloist. Caple-Adams, who now lives in San Francisco, returns for frequent appearances here in her hometown. "She sang the leading role in Carmen here three years ago," Mechetti explains. "She likes to have the chance to come home and visit."
& & & lt;i & The Spokane Symphony, with guests Ilton Wjuniski and Linda Caple-Adams performs at The Met Sunday, Nov. 5, at 3 pm, and again Tuesday, Nov. 7, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $11-$22. Call: 325-SEAT. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &