Wooed by ‘A Night in Vienna’

The works of Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms provide a tasty tribute in a performance by the National Chamber Ensemble. 

The National Chamber Ensemble presented A Night in Vienna, a one-night performance, in collaboration with the Austrian Cultural Forum, which featured works of Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre in Arlington Oct. 22.

Special guest Andreas Pawlitschek, director of the Austrian Cultural Forum, presented the musical pieces with love of his country’s patrons. He asked us to raise hands if we knew his native Vienna. Hands flew in the air; I kept mine down — one day I’ll go to that glorious city too.

“Oh good!” he exclaimed with pride. Then he asked a show of hands of those who have been to Vienna, Va. After the laugher and snickers died down, Pawlistchek compared Vienna to two other European cities of romance: Paris and Venice. 

Vienna? A romantic city? I thought. I wouldn’t know but, by all means music of Vienna — take me away.

The opening song, “Die Forelle” by Schubert was sung by Nancy Peery Marriot and accompanied by David Chapman on piano. The “appetizer” of the night — as the presenters referred to it— was Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet (in A Major) performed by Leonid Sushansky on violin; Uri Wassertzug on viola; Sean Neidlinger on cello; T. Allan Stewart on bass; and Carlos César Rodríguez conducting on piano. The entrée was Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 (in G Minor) performed by the same crew, minus bass. When four men with bows assembled on stage with their conductor I was confused. Somehow I thought I was attending an opera. 

I had even dressed up for the occasion believing it would be my first opera. Now, I am no stranger to classical music. I get down with Debussy, Ravel, Saint-Saëns and Dvorák, but only for so long. So without a vibrant set to support a colourful cast of characters, how would I know what’s going on? How would I follow along without a story? How would the National Chamber Ensemble “woo” me?

Those questions subsided as I watched and listened. The songs from Schubert and Brahms were delightful. Schubert’s “Trout” Andante and Brahms’ No. 1 Allegro prompted me to search for them later on youtube. The performance even stirred me to revisit the 1984 Oscar winner,“Amadeus.” Though the musicians were sitting on chairs on an empty stage, the story I had hoped for in an opera was found in the players. 

The expression “rock out” was apropos for these musicians, particularly Rodríguez, who conducted the others from the piano. His hands flew through the ivories, playing scales that led to a thunderous note as he gyrated in his chair — a wizard summoning a musical incantation. 

He peered over the piano as if to see if his spells were cast. Each of the stringed players matched their instrument in size and moved with a swagger that mirrored the sound of their instrument. With each solo completed by the violin or cellist, Rodríguez would bow and kindly smile at the soloist, acknowledging their own mastery of the song. 

None moved with the vigor of Rodríguez, but they all swayed in rhythms that synchronized with their passion for the Vienna based composers. By the end, it became apparent that I didn’t need a story. The energy of the musicians was a story in itself and even though I haven’t been to Vienna, I look forward to seeing and hearing Austria’s city of romance: Vienna. 

If you go

For future events at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre, go to rosslynva.org/go/rosslyn-plaza-theater and for more information about the National Chamber Ensemble go to Nationalchamberensemble.org.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016

@Connor Bergeron