Taos is uniquely poised as a multicultural hub, one where Native Americans, Hispanos and others of European descent coexist in this remote high desert valley and demonstrate to the rest of the country what it means to be American.
In preparing to launch its 25th season, Nancy Laupheimer, director of the Taos Chamber Music Group (TCMG), chose to celebrate that sentiment.
“I wanted to put together a program that reflects the great diversity of cultural backgrounds and experiences in America – and that represents the rich melting pot which defines this country and its music,” she said.
“All American,” the first of the TCMG seven-concert season, will be performed Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 30-Oct. 1). Both performances begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Arthur Bell Auditorium at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux St. The season continues through May 2018.
The internationally acclaimed American String Quartet will perform at this season’s opener, with violinist Peter Winograd, violinist Laurie Carney, violist Daniel Avshalomov and cellist Wolfram Koessel. Laupheimer, who is also a classically trained flutist, will accompany the quartet on one of the program’s works.
Selections for this year’s premiere include Antonín Dvořák’s “American,” Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for St rings” and Zhou Tian’s “Viaje,” each a powerfully moving testament to this country’s history as a beacon for immigrants.
“The Bohemian Dvořák composed ‘American’ in the late 1800s while spending several years as director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City and then spending time in a Czech community in Iowa. It’s a reflection of his love for American music and also his inspiration by the beauty around him,” Laupheimer explained. To date, it remains the most frequently performed of his chamber music works.
“Barber’s ‘Adagio’ is a standout,” she noted. Indeed, its movements have been immortalized from use at state funerals to venues as far-reaching as television’s “Seinfeld” and Oliver Stone’s iconic war movie, “Platoon.” Given Barber’s reputation as one of America’s most-celebrated composers, it was at the suggestion of the American String Quartet that Laupheimer chose to include the piece. When you hear it, you will know it. It’s been in your subconscious soul for years.
Tian, a Chinese-American, combined American and Spanish musical influences when composing his iconic contemporary masterpiece, the title of which is Spanish for “voyage.” A lyrical and lively conversation between strings and flute, the nine-minute work summons “inspiration from different cultures and combin[es] them in a seamless musical whole, receiving critical acclaim for his lush and distinctive musical voice,” according to Laupheimer.
Of the work, Tian said, “It wasn’t until the piece was finished that I realized that I had unconsciously married my musical roots as a Chinese-American with my newfound love of Spanish music.”
Of all the offerings in the season’s premiere, the fourth inclusion deserves particular attention because, first, it is the epitome of a powerful musical selection. Second, it will have the rare honor of being introduced and discussed by the composer himself.
“American Pilgrimage” is the creation of one of the country’s most in-demand composers, Robert Sirota, and was commissioned by the quartet, which debuted the piece in 2016 at the Manhattan School of Music, where it is the faculty quartet-in-residence.
It is in four movements: “Morning: Waldo County, Maine”; “Midday: Mother Emanuel Church, Charleston, South Carolina”; “Sunset: High Desert, Santa Fe, New Mexico”; and “Evening: Manhattan.” The raw material is derived from Protestant hymns, gospel music, Native American songs and jazz. Sirota describes the work as an effort to “capture a glimpse of the epic quality of our country – the awesome diversity of its landscape and its people.”
Partially inspired by the time Sirota spent in New Mexico, he has also drawn upon American tragedy, bucolic memories and his native New York energy. “Through the many years of professional attachments, I’m grateful Robert is willing to be here for both performances,” Laupheimer said. “His dialogue will add so much to the audience’s experience.”
Laupheimer, who curated “All American,” said she wants concertgoers to leave the auditorium remembering what it means to be an American. “Part of the definition of ‘American’ comes with the responsibility to remember where we all came from,” she said. “It’s important to me personally as a citizen of this nation. And it think it’s particularly important in today’s conversations.”
The Taos Chamber Music Group was created by Laupheimer in 1993, after she and a small group of local musicians agreed to perform a concert during a spring arts event. It was so well received, she recalled, that “everyone kept asking when and where we’d perform again. So we gave ourselves a name, and here we are.” In the early years, the group offered three concerts per season; it has since grown to the present seven.
And for the last 20 years, TCMG has been the resident chamber group at the Harwood. “We’re grateful to the Harwood for providing us a venue and allowing us to showcase the depth of musical excellence we’ve been able to bring to Taos.”
The group also works with local schools, inviting students to open rehearsals “for a real hands-on experience in seeing how a concert comes together,” she said.
Tickets are $25, $12 for students per performance. Season tickets for all seven performances are $140. Tickets may be purchased at taoschambermusicgroup.org until noon the day of the performance. Names will be on an online reservation list at the door. Otherwise, tickets may be purchased at the door. A physical ticket will be provided if purchased at the gift shop, and a 20 percent discount for Harwood Alliance members is available through the museum only.
All concerts are general seating. Empty seats will be filled five minutes before the concert, so ticket holders are advised to arrive early.
Several area restaurants have partnered with TCMG to round out an evening of world-class entertainment. Doc Martin’s, Lambert’s, Martyrs Steakhouse and The Gorge Bar and Grill will offer discounts to ticket holders after each show. (Contact each restaurant for discount details.)
For more information, visit taoschambermusicgroup.org or call the venue at (575) 758-9826.