Montgomery County offers a wealth of performances for classical music lovers. But opportunities to enjoy chamber music are far fewer than orchestra or solo concerts, according to Li-Ly Chang. Certainly, that was the case when she created Musical Arts International (MAI) in 1995.
“The organization began as a cultural outreach program in Montgomery County, whose artistic mission was to encourage and inspire audiences of all ages to appreciate chamber music,” said Chang, herself a pianist. “We also aim to uncover the tremendous wealth and variety of music in the repertoire of chamber music, to encourage the creation of new works and to premiere new works.”
MAI presents mostly local artists and ensembles who play classical chamber works — past and contemporary – and also introduces new works. During the 1999 season, the organization held a Jazz and Folk Music Night that featured the works of George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington. “Our goal was to reach a wider audience,” Chang said.
The occasional special evenings offer audiences a chance to hear less common instruments including the hammered dulcimer, wooden flute, penny whistle, cittern and musette. Performers have included folk groups like the German Ensemble and the Gerdau Duo (Eastern European folk melodies and rhythms, and jazz artists such as Stefan Scarggiari and Jeffrey Chappell.
“These concerts attract audiences from different parts of the world, and many ethnic groups that bring a lot of diversity in culture, tradition, arts and music,” said Chang. “This diversity is reflected in our programming.”
A mix of musical styles will be performed during MAI’s next concert, which concludes its 24th anniversary season. The Beau Soir Ensemble consists of Carole Bean, on alto and bass flutes; Ruth Wicker Schaaf, viola, and Michelle Myers Lundy, harp. Bean and Wicker Schaaf play with the National Symphony Orchestra.
The trio performs classical contemporary repertoire spanning a variety of genres. “Beau Soir grew out of a shared love for chamber music, which we find really personal and intimate,” said Myers Lundy, the ensemble’s founding member and manager. “Also, as a harpist, I didn’t have a lot of options — the way other string players do with string quartets. The main chamber music for harp is written for flute, viola and harp.”
Still, Beau Soir started as a duo of flute and harp in 2007, adding viola only in 2012. Fortunately, said Myers Lundy, there’s a great deal of original music being written now for this combination of instruments.
These contemporary composers can give credit to Claude Debussy, the French Impressionist composer who wrote a sonata for flute, viola and harp in 1915. It was the second entry in a projected series of six chamber sonatas. The Debussy Trio, named for him, has commissioned many new works for flute, harp and viola.
The ensemble’s MAI concert will feature classical chamber music by Baroque composer Johann Granum and French composer Maurice Ravel as well as works of American composers including Kathryn Cater, Lucas Richman and Sonny Brunette. Brunette’s ragtime-inspired “Cruisin With the Top Down” will celebrate the start of spring. “The pieces have very descriptive titles, such as ‘Eye of the Night’ and Drowsy Maggie Medley” said Chang.
As is typical in MAI concerts, Bonny Miller, a colleague of Chang’s in the Music Teachers National Association, will give a pre-concert talk. A pianist with master’s and doctoral degrees in piano performance from Washington University in St. Louis, Miller performs as a soloist and accompanist, and has taught piano and music history in universities.
Once the musicians choose their program, Miller prepares an introduction with “sufficient background information for each composer and each piece to present a theme or arc to the concert. “The repertoire in most MAI concerts includes musical styles and forms from over several centuries,” she said. “I draw on my experience as a teacher, music historian and performing pianist to speak about the selections.”
Miller said her presentations don’t imply “knowledge of everything. Often, there are works I’ve never heard — as in this program — so my preparation demands gathering information, listening and studying the music. It’s a special challenge to speak about recent music by living composers.”
Programs sometimes change, even during the week right before, so Miller prepares close to the event. Her pre-concert talks are in addition to the brief remarks the artists will make about the pieces they will play. “I don’t want to say exactly the same things that they will cover, but it’s good if we reiterate certain significant aspects about the music or the composers,” she said.
Musical Arts International will present The Beau Soir Ensemble in concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 5, at Calvary Lutheran Church, 9545 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring. Miller’s pre-concert talk will begin at 2:30 p.m.; a reception with the artists will follow the performance For tickets, ranging from $15 to $20, call 301-933-3715 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For information, visit www.musicalartsinternational.org.