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Luna Nova Honors Late Patron
Aug. 7 Dixon concert celebrates memory of Dr. Efrim Fruchtman
JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Memphis News, August 1, 2011

In pop music, the latest thing is always in demand, but with classical music, new names work hard for their audiences. This season, the Luna Nova Music Ensemble will kick off its season with a little of both.

Luna Nova, a chamber ensemble dedicated to performing new works by rising composers, will honor the memory of one of its patrons with a concert at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens on Aug. 7 at 2 p.m.

“We thought, wouldn’t it be great to do the concert at the Dixon with the Impressionism exhibition because the Debussy and Ravel tie-in perfectly with that,” said Patricia Gray, executive director of the nonprofit ensemble, referring to two composers slated for the concert.

Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel were both at the height of their careers as painter Jean-Louis Forain, whose works are now on exhibition at the Dixon, came under the wing of Edgar Degas.

Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano and Ravel’s Trio in A minor were favorites of the late Dr. Efrim Fruchtman, a Julliard-educated musicologist and teacher of viola de gamba at the University of Memphis who died in October. In 2006, when Luna Nova was transitioning from a grant-funded academic ensemble to nonprofit status, Fruchtman and his wife Caroline were among the first supporters to offer a sizeable donation to the group.

“When we were first thinking how we could make this work, we had the Fruchtmans to dinner and they were both so enthusiastic about the idea because there’s not really any on-going new music ensemble outside of the university,” Gray said. “I thought, what a vote of confidence. The Fruchtmans have always been there and it’s been wonderful to know that people believed in you that much.”

Performing are three Luna Nova members, violinist Gregory Maytan, pianist Adam Bowles and cellist Craig Hultgren.

The ensemble last performed the Ravel Trio in June at its annual Belvedere Chamber Music Festival. It’s a four-movement piece for cello, violin and piano of contrasting calm moments and jazzy, uneven rhythms that reflect the friendship between Ravel and Ira Gershwin.

Debussy’s Sonata was to be the first of six “Sonatas for Diverse Instruments,” but only two more were ever written. It is comprised of three movements and is considered a standard repertoire piece for cello.

But the ensemble will open with something a little more off the beaten path. Specifically, a trio titled “YR” by composer Lasse Thoresen, which was written for the concertmaster of the Oslo Symphony Orchestra. Never heard of it? That’s the point, said Gray.

“You have to be careful when you program chamber music so that you have a nice variety,” Gray said. “It’s not just the same thing or there’s this sameness throughout the concert. You have to really be there and know the music and know what you’re looking for.”

YR involves melodies of Norwegian folk songs and even some scripted foot stomping. It also comes with some technical challenges, namely the use of scordatura, or the tuning down of the D and G strings of the violin to C and F, respectively.

The concert will take place inside the Dixon’s 200-seat hall, and as a memorial to Fruchtman, it will be free.

“It’s an intimate setting and it’s comfortable for the musicians because the stage is plenty big,” Gray said. “We’re delighted to play there.”

And it’s a nice stop for the 5-year-old group on the way to its debut at Germantown Performing Arts Centre on Sept. 22 featuring John McMurtery on flute and Mark Volker on guitar. The two will play in GPAC’s black box theater. Tickets are $10 and available at GPAC.

“Not a lot of people spend a lot of time listening to small groups of 20th century chamber players,” Gray said. “When we first started, I could probably name everybody in the audience, and it’s so nice to see all these people whom you’ve never seen before. Every now and then the magic happens.”

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN, June 15, 2007

Chamber music festival scheduled
Belvedere concert series coming to Grace St. Luke's
By Christopher Blank

The fireworks during Memphis in May's Sunset Symphony might as well be the annual coup de grace to classical music.The explosions cue the stark silence of summer. Who knows why there's practically no orchestral music for three months? Other cities have festivals. Sitka, Alaska (pop. 9,000) has put one on since 1972. Aspen's is huge. Right now, violins are wailing all over Vermont. Maybe it's the heat. Memphis summers could melt a sharp to a flat, that's true. But it's not like the Cannon Center lacks air conditioning. Some would argue that people with the cash for the symphony are spending it on vacation, as if East Memphis ups and leaves town for the whole summer. And that could be true. Except that there are certainly good crowds at the Memphis Botanic Garden's concert series. And, hey, I'm still here. The biggest exodus is among the musicians themselves. When their contracts end with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra in May, many go elsewhere to teach in various summer programs or perform at major festivals. So classical fans have to sit patiently until classical music rises again, phoenix-like, in September. Well, not this summer. Some bad financial luck for a small summer chamber music festival has meant good news for Memphis. Six concerts, more than 30 different compositions, and best of all, it's all totally free. Interested?

The Belvedere Chamber Music Festival is the work of Patricia Gray, president of the Luna Nova Music Ensemble, and a Memphis resident. Since 2002, the festival -- which gave student composers the opportunity to have their works performed and recorded -- had been held in Texas, Florida and Alabama. When the grant money dried up, instead of disbanding the group, Gray decided to bring it to Memphis and make it a private venture. Her church, Grace St. Luke's Episcopal , and the Beethoven Club agreed to host the first concerts here. As in the past, three young composers were selected in a worldwide competition to have their music played. The first place winner, Gianluca Verlingieri, is flying in from Italy at his own expense to hear it. "We like to do new works, but also stuff that has general appeal," Gray said of the music on the programs. "We don't want to frighten people." Most of the composers on the programs are still living. Among the more recognizable works are a piano and bassoon duet by Hindemith, a flute and piano sonata by Prokofiev, and a clarinet and bassoon sonata by Poulenc. Each concert features five or six works, none of them repeated. Three of the concerts are on June 23, making it a marathon day for anyone who wants to keep up. "I don't like really long concerts," said Gray. "Each is about an hour and 15 minutes with no intermissions. The idea is to give people a wide variety of music and then get them out."

-- Christopher Blank

Birmingham News, Sunday, August 27, 2006

Luna Nova perfectly captures genius of an era
MICHAEL HUEBNER News staff writer

Anyone who needed an introduction to late-20th century music would have done well to hear Luna Nova on Friday night. Each of the five composers represented at the trio's concert at Hill Recital Hall easily makes the short list of great music scribes from the 1950s onward, and these nuggets for one, two and three instruments lay at the heart of their respective geniuses.

This music of the imagination transported a small but engaged audience from a warm Alabama night to a vast Japanese landscape to birds in flight to the depths of the ocean.

Toru Takemitsu's "Air for Solo Flute" (1995) is a lonely piece - light, atmospheric, expansive, breathy - composed a year before the composer's death. As rendered by flutist John McMurtery, it whispered, sighed, then exploded, always finding respite in a single pitch.

American composer Elliott Carter's dissonant, agitated yet probing "Enchanted Preludes" (1988) was played with the right amount of tension and repose by McMurtery and cellist Craig Hultgren.

There's little of Chinary Ung's music that escapes his Cambodian roots, and "Khse Buon" (1980) for cello solo falls squarely into his expressive mold, not only for its Khmer folk stylings, but for the sorrow it evokes with its eerie, wistful harmonics. For "Le Merle Noir" (1951), Olivier Messiaen transcribed birdsong and turned it into a piece for flute and piano by slowing it down, harmonizing it and applying a variety of rhythms. McMurtery and pianist Adam Bowles caressed its feathery sounds, then launched into its furious ending with focus and confidence.

The trio ended with a classic from 1971, George Crumb's "Voice of the Whale." Inspired by the gentle, high-pitched whistles and cries whales use to communicate, the work requires all three players to wear masks, the flutist to sing into the instrument while simultaneously playing it, the pianist to pluck and hammer inside the piano and the cellist to retune the instrument. All instructions were precisely followed, although the deep-blue lighting required in the score was missing.

More important, the musicians captured the sonic ambiance beautifully. The work's subtext - variations that progress from the beginning to the end of time - was convincingly done, its final descent to a meditative calm a captivating close.

Birmingham News, July 29, 2005

The most notable aspect of Wednesday's concert was the manner of performance--technically near perfect, sensitive to style, well-rehearsed, possessing a rare level of confidence. Then there were the pieces themselves--inventive, uniquely engaging, transcendent of the occasional design flaw.

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