Open the chamber doors

Mellow Cello: Cellist and Asheville native Anna Wittstruck performs sonatas by Strauss and Grieg (with Daniel Weiser on piano) as part of Classicopia’s Summer Sonata Series. The series aims to bring chamber music into homes and small venues, where “you can feel the vibrations.”
Mellow Cello: Cellist and Asheville native Anna Wittstruck performs sonatas by Strauss and Grieg (with Daniel Weiser on piano) as part of Classicopia’s Summer Sonata Series. The series aims to bring chamber music into homes and small venues, where “you can feel the vibrations.”

Classicopia calls itself “Asheville’s newest chamber music organization,” which is an apt description of the group’s originality, as much as a measure of how long it’s been in town.

Pianist Daniel Weiser moved to Asheville from Vermont in September 2009. He’s forged the organization with a distinct, if iconoclastic purpose. “I try to avoid ‘sophistication,’” he says in a phone interview. “From the time I started Classicopia, I made it clear that you can come and be informal. I understand why people think [classical concerts] are boring and stuffy, because you see some of this stuff and it is boring and stuffy. I get tired watching it.”

Weiser co-founded the group in New Hampshire more than a decade ago. The first concerts took place in private homes and other intimate venues, “where, clearly, chamber music was meant to be played,” Weiser says. He continued that idea upon moving to Asheville. “When we moved down here I started scoping out people’s houses that had pianos. I’ve been really lucky to find a couple of people who love to have the music in their home.”

Such events describe Classicopia’s particular brand of performance: redefining the “chamber” in which chamber music is played. The house concerts “open it up,” Weiser says. “People pay a little extra money, but they get a little food and wine. It’s the best. When you’re that close — literally a foot away — it’s a real different experience. You can feel the vibrations.”

Classicopia’s musical personnel vary by concert, with Weiser a constant at the piano. “All my life I’ve done collaborative piano rather than solo piano, because I get lonely when I play all by myself. I try to consider myself a collaborator.”

Weiser collaborates with a violist, a cellist and a flutist for the Summer Sonata Series, which begins Friday, July 22, and takes place in several venues, including White Horse Black Mountain and The Altamont in downtown Asheville. “I love these cool venues where you don’t normally have classical music,” Weiser says. “I think once people see this stuff they think, ‘This is pretty good.’”

And Weiser narrates between pieces, offering details about the given composer that many might be surprised to learn. “We’re trying to bring it with a little more life,” he says. “I try to tell stories. I don’t usually talk about the forms of the piece. People’s eyes glaze over. I do like to talk about the sexual escapades, the drugs people were doing. They were all doing some crazy stuff.”

As a form of preview, Weiser provided some anecdotes illuminating the darker folds of some of the works in the first two concerts of the Summer Sonata Series:

Johannes Brahms, Clarinet Sonata in F Minor
Johannes Brahms was known as a very tough critic, both of himself and others. He burned many of his own pieces that he didn’t think were good enough; he rarely praised works by younger composers. He famously left one party saying, "If there is anybody here I have not insulted, I beg his pardon." By 1890, Brahms, who was then in his late 50s, decided he would stop composing as he felt he had no more to say. In the summer of 1891, though, he heard the clarinetist Richard Muhlfeld for the first time and was mesmerized, calling him "the nightingale of the orchestra.” Brahms suddenly began composing again, focusing on music for the clarinet, including a trio with clarinet, cello and piano, the clarinet quintet and the two Sonatas of Op. 120, the last chamber pieces he wrote before his death.

Ludwig Van Beethoven, "Kreutzer" Sonata in A Major
Beethoven had written the piece for the multiracial virtuoso George Bridgetower and they had premiered it together in Vienna in 1803; in fact, Beethoven had to rush to finish the piece in time for this performance and left large parts of it unfinished so that both men had to improvise. Soon after this incredible premiere, Beethoven and Bridgetower fell in love with the same woman and their relationship fell apart. Though Bridgetower may have won the girl, Beethoven got the last laugh by dedicating the Sonata to Kreutzer and that is how it is known today, though it probably should be called the "Bridgetower" Sonata.

— Jaye Bartell can be reached at jbartell@mountainx.com

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