BRENTANO STRING QUARTET
2020-21: "Dido Reimagined" with soprano DAWN UPSHAW
The music in this program’s first half – early English works for consort of viols and songs originally for voice and lute* – will flow toward the famous Lament from Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas, in which Dido confesses an intensely intimate plea to a friend. After intermission composer Melinda Wagner and librettist Stephanie Fleischmann breathe new life into Dido, imagining her psyche, her vulnerability and her strength. This unique monodrama will probe a truly compelling character through the concentrated closeness of the chamber music experience.
Although none of the music in this program’s first half comes from the standard modern chamber music canon, all these works embody the qualities for which our art is most prized. Early English works for consort of viols and songs originally for voice and lute evince a luminous intimacy, beautifully private to such an extent that an audience can feel only the delicious privilege of eavesdropping on an undefended and vulnerable expression. The two types of music here interleaved offer opposite and complementary aesthetic outlooks: the consort music complex, translucent and intricately interwoven, while the songs are disarmingly, guilelessly, transparently direct. The energy of ardent and sophisticated conversation pervades the consort music while the songs offer a more solitary and personal utterance. These two strains of expression (as well as the hybrid consort songs) flow toward the final work of the first half, Dido’s famous lament from Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. It is an intensely intimate plea confessed to a friend, a view into the inner sanctum in the midst of the more public expression of opera, poised between drama and introspection. “Remember me!”, Dido repeatedly exhorts as she relinquishes her hold on life.
And so, in the second half of the program, we do. Composer Melinda Wagner and librettist Stephanie Fleischmann breathe new life into Dido, the proud, heroic woman who has been abandoned. They have imagined her psyche, her vulnerability and her strength. And they have allowed for us as performers again to enter the arena of drama and intimacy; through this chamber music monodrama we probe Dido’s inner resources, and the emotional and psychological richness inherent in Dido’s predicament. It is an honor for us to have this new work in which Dawn Upshaw becomes Dido and explores Dido’s raw honesty. We all peer into her character through the concentrated closeness of the chamber music experience. And we allow the audience the intense pleasure of eavesdropping as all is laid bare.
Mark Steinberg, February 2020
*The first half of the Dido program will be a mix of consort songs and music, including works by Byrd, Gibbons, Purcell (including "Dido's Lament") Mico, and, Bull. (Exact works TBC as of 5/4/2021)
The artists express their gratitude to the commissioning partners for "Dido Reimagined":
Chamber Music Northwest
Dartmouth College – Hopkins Center
Interlochen Center for the Arts
Tisch Center for the Arts at 92nd St.
Wake Forest University - Secrest Artists Series
University of Maryland, Clarice Smith Center