Opus One & Lowell Liebermann

by Christopher Toenes on December 8, 2010

Lowell Liebermann

The chamber music powerhouse Opus One brings together musicians from top ensembles such as the Messiaen-loving Tashi Quartet, the Beaux Arts Trio, and the Orion and Guarneri String Quartets. They balance a steadfast commitment to new American composition with a reverence for historical greats, as the program for their December 11 performance at Reynolds will attest. Alongside Beethoven and Brahms, Opus One will unveil a new work by Lowell Liebermann, the Quartet for Piano and Strings, Op. 114. Liebermann made his Carnegie Hall debut at age 16, studied at Juilliard, and went on to expand the modern repertoire with often-recorded works such as his Sonata for Flute and Piano and Gargoyles for Piano. While technically and harmonically daring, his lusciously lyrical music enthralls classical music listeners befuddled by minimalism and the avant-garde. A pianist himself, Liebermann embraces beauty outright, and doesn’t care who knows it.

A decade ago, Liebermann was lumped in (alongside composers like Paul Moravec) with a group called the New Tonalists, known for composing brainy pieces but unafraid to have a lyrical heart. In a TIME piece in 2000, Liebermann responded to a critic who had called his music “excruciatingly conventional.” He bit back, “That’s like criticizing a novelist because his grammar is correct.” Since his early start in composing and performing, it seems as if Liebermann has known what he wanted and great successes have followed his efforts. He wrote operatic interpretations of The Picture of Dorian Gray and Miss Lonelyhearts, and many notable works for piano, cello, and flute, among others. He spent four years as the composer-in-residence for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Hugely influenced by Shostakovich, Liebermann appears to be on the right trajectory to do some influencing of his own.

Opus One

With all that in mind, we couldn’t ask for a better quartet to take on this composer’s grand work. Opus One brings together four of the greatest performers working today, pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, violinist Ida Kavafian (look for an interview with Kavafian later this week), violist Steven Tenenbom, and cellist Peter Wiley. That each player regularly performs both solo and in various ensembles means they’re more than comfortable with the pre-modern repertoire. In combination with their aforementioned dedication to new music, it makes them perfectly positioned to interpret the novel and classic elements of Liebermann’s well-balanced music with equal incisiveness.

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