Reviews: 2016 Twickenham Fest

Last week, Susanna was joined  by 15 other artists for Twickenham Fest, the annual chamber music festival in Huntsville, Alabama which she co founded Twickenham Fest with bassoonist Matthew McDonald in 2010. The Fest’s mission is to bring the foremost young classical musicians of the world to their hometown each year engaging students and adults in Engagement and Education events and performing concerts that are FREE to the public.

This year’s musician roster included co-founders Susanna Phillips (Soprano) and Matthew McDonald (Bassoon), and 2016 Resident Musicians: Matthew Abramo (Double Bass), Michael Brown (Piano, Composer), Daniel Carlson (Violin), Jonathan Cohen (Clarinet), Christopher Coletti (Trumpet), Joy Fellows (Viola), Jason Haaheim (Percussion), David McCarroll (Violin), Kelley O’Connor (Mezzo-Soprano), Angela Park (Cello), Brian Santero (Trombone), Amy Yang (Piano), Matthew Zalkind (Cello), and Itamar Zorman (Violin).

Below are review samplings from the Fest’s five unique public performances from August 26 through August 28th. More information on Twickenham Fest can be found at the website –

From Opening Night’s performance Friday, August 26, 2016

Along with a lucid tone guided by a structurally intelligent mind, Brown brought the same professionalism to the hot, yet crystalline “Trois Chansons de Bilitis” of Debussy with mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, who, along with Phillips, filled out the center of the program with song. O’Connor’s rich lower registers and subtle flirtations gave flesh and blood to the impassioned experiences of the poem’s young girl coming-of-age text.

Phillips’ set took the next logical step, portraying motherhood and marriage, although, as she shared from the stage, the programming was also a tribute to her own recent personal history. Pulling out her softest, most tender voice frequently during her Richard Strauss selections, Phillips offered a lullaby, “Wiegenlied,” and love declaration “Cäcilie,” around the beatific favorite, “Morgen!” The latter was exceptionally well-paced by the soprano, as it has a tendency to stretch out indulgently in the hands of less wise performers. It was done in an arrangement that included solo violin, and the result, though beautiful, was less transcendent than the purely piano or the orchestral versions, and more saccharine.

(Edward Forstman, ArtsBham, August 2016)

Read the Review from Thursday August 26th here.

From the Evening concert on Saturday August 27, 2016

Soprano Susanna Phillips, the festival’s co-founder and Huntsville’s operatic pride and joy, revealed her already proven acumen with Claude Debussy in “Apparition,” effortlessly soaring to the song’s high notes, then subsiding to a subtle sotto voce. An aria from Antonin Dvořák’s “Rusalka” followed, sung with an intensity that occasionally had her straining and stretching pitch centers. Michael Brown, who is also the festival’s composer (his new composition will premiere Sunday), was the able piano collaborator.

For his Quartet, Op. 35, Anton Arensky altered the makeup of a string quartet, employing two cellos instead of two violins. The unusual combination was wholly appropriate to the music, which on several occasions evoked the bass-heavy scoring of Russian choral music. Sandwiched in between were variations on a theme by Tchaikovsky, Arensky’s mentor. The performers, comprised of Carroll, Fellows, Park and Zalkind, moved from ebullience to doleful sorrow. Park was especially impressive, producing deep, rich hues from the low range of her cello, while complementing Zalkind’s more lyrical playing.

(Michael Huebner, ArtsBham, August 2016)

Read the review from Saturday night’s performance here.

From the Closing Performance Sunday August 28, 2016

In his chic fable “L’histoire du soldat,” that fact explodes from the page. Each instrument of the famously hodge-podge ensemble (violin, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, and percussion) whirls around the piece’s moralizing narration seemingly to the beat of its own drum. The appeal of “L’histoire” lies in the success of both Stravinsky and the performers to control the herd of cats that are its shifting time signatures and cartwheeling motifs. At Sunday’s final concert of the 2016 Twickenham Fest, the musicians took the risk of going conductorless and gave a reckless tour de force that flirted in its faster moments with the limits of their coordination, yet was undeniably impressive.
Read artsBHAM’s reviews of Friday night and Saturday night concerts at Twickenham Fest 2016

Spinning out some of the most hair-raising ear-fouettés were clarinetist Jonathan Cohen and trumpeter Chris Coletti, often doing so in a vertigo-inducing high-wire tessitura; they were nothing short of amazing. Susanna Phillips as narrator read a rhyming adaptation of the story, seasoned with comic timing and a hilariously absurd and virtuosic one-breath sales pitch. The star of the performance was, however, violinist Itamar Zorman, whose gorgeous line furled and unfurled around a part which can in the wrong hands be repetitive, mechanical, and dry. The centerpiece of the work has the eponymous soldier playing his violin for a princess, who is healed on her sickbed and compelled to dance. When Zorman had led the ensemble through this climax, I did not find the mythical claims to be too unbelievable.

(Edward Forstman, ArtsBham, August 2016)

Read the entire review from Sunday’s concert here.

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