by Carolyn Val-Schmidt, guest reviewer,
and Coril Prochnow
On June 20th a small group of people was treated to the treasure of an intimate concert (a la “Schubertiade”) at the Montgomery Arts House for Music & Architecture, the Malibu home of Maria Newman and Scott Hosfeld. Fondly thought of as MAHMA, the building was specially designed for Maria Newman by Eric Lloyd Wright (grandson of Frank Lloyd Wright) at the behest of Ms. Newman’s mother, Martha Montgomery, to offer an exceptional venue for public performances of chamber music.
The Malibu Friends of Music makes its home here and hosts concerts throughout the year. The combination of the beautiful environment, the physical immediacy of the outstanding artists, the wonderful acoustics, the informal musical notes spoken by the artists prior to each selection, and the wine and delicacies provided afterward, all contribute to the MFM’s claim that these are “not just concerts,” they are “experiences!”
Dave Beck, program Host of Classical KING-FM in Seattle, welcomed the audience to the concert, which had as its theme, “Celebrating the History of Our Great Nation”. Compositions were primarily American in origin and ranged in date from the Colonial period to 2008. The evening began with a Suite for Violin and Piano (1943) by William Grant Still (1895-1978). Among many other firsts, he was the first African-American composer to have one of his symphonies performed by a prominent orchestra and he brought an integration of black culture into classical forms. He is often referred to as “the Dean” of African-American composers. In the second movement of the suite, Mother and Child, Maria Newman’s sweet tones and exceptional legato brought forth the sumptuousness of a mother’s love and Wendy Prober exhibited the first instance of her heroic pianism.
The concert continued with Hosfeld’s viola singing three Solemn Songs and Spirituals, including Old Man River, which he mentioned had been written in a fine key for the viola! Songs by Ms. Newman’s famous father, composer Alfred Newman, were also featured.
Guest artist, mezzo-soprano Diana Tash, was a genuine smash when she performed, joined in her selections by various combinations of violin, viola and piano. Her rich, warm voice was easily and evenly produced, starting with Dvorak’s Songs My Mother Taught Me (sung in Czech), followed by Mozart’s most-sung aria for mezzos, Smanie implacabili. The character of this aria is melodramatic in the extreme, but Tash managed to confine her drama to a very small space.
At the close of the first part of the concert, the “AmericanYouth: Bursting Free of the Confines of the Generation Concept” teen trio made up of Martha, Isabella and Samuel Thatcher, the eldest children of Maria Newman, sang and played guitar in Summertime, as arranged by Waylon Jennings, and Bottom of the River, arranged by Delta Rae, bringing a youthful charm and change of texture.
In the second half of the concert, Ms. Tash sang in two of three compositions by Maria Newman. The first one, Pactus (2008), based on the Biblical story of Ruth and Naomi, had three contrasting movements for voice which began with just voice and two violas. Movement no. 1, The Lesson, was a recitativo-like narrative with many short melismas. The Canticle and The Pact followed, in which Ms. Tash’s voice soared in a tessitura often above the staff. In these pieces she chose a variety of vocal textures, at one time issuing a ghost-like sound when speaking of death. Tash was compelling throughout the concert, showing a brilliance and strength in her upper range and a liquid legato, as well as a lushness of voice.
In the second composition, Songs on Motherhood (1998), the first two texts were penned by Newman’s poet grandmother, Louise Moss Montgomery, Poet Laureate of Mississippi. Between the three vocal movements the composer interspersed short, instrumental “Jeux” which she referred to as “palate cleansers”. The final song, Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep, was an unusual concert closer, as it was slow and dramatic while also sad and uplifting. The sound of the music, the skill of the instrumentalists and the beauty of the singing were all breathtaking.
The evening’s performance included many other bravura performances in various classical styles by the three resident instrumental artists. In Newman’s composition Quandam (2008) for violin and piano, she and Prober played with great agility in what was a dramatic tour de force for both of them.
It is a customary facet of these regular concerts to feature a visual artist, who displays their work in the performance hall during the concert. For this event the artist was Juan Tallo, photographer, cinematographer and functional artist. His work can be seen on his website, www.juantallo.com.
Ms. Newman’s and Mr. Hosfeld’s musicianship can once again be heard on Sunday, June 28th at 5 PM, when the Malibu Friends of Music present Haydn’s Mass in Time of War and Ms. Newman’s Lux Aeterna at the Westwood Presbyterian Church, 10822 Wilshire Blvd, L.A. Soloists will include Christina Borgioli, Rachel Youngberg Payne, Nandani Maria Sinha, Gustavo Hernandez, Miguel Vargas, Paul Cummings and Dimitri Smith.