Teachers Turn Performers to Treat Ravinia Audience
Miriam Fried and Friends give memorable chamber music rendition.
When Miriam Fried took her violin to the stage of Ravinia’s Martin Theater Saturday, it was a chance for the director of the Steans Institute’s piano and strings program to lead some of the world’s foremost music teachers in an evening of outstanding chamber music.
Fried, who has soloed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for Ravinia Festival concerts, teamed with violist Atar Arad, cellist Frans Helmerson, violinist Donald Weilerstein, husband and violist Paul Biss and pianist John O’Conor to treat the audience to an intimate night of Beethoven, Shostakovich and Brahms.
Biss and Fried both teach at the New England Conservatory of Music. Before that Fried taught at Indiana University where Arad is on the faculty. Helmerson is a professor at the Musikhoschule in Cologne, Germany. Weilerstein teaches at the Julliard School of Music in New York while O’Conor is director of the Royal Academy of Music in Dublin.
“It was very nice to see these top teachers doing what they love to do,” David Robin of Highland Park said after the concert. “The Beethoven was chamber music as good as it gets.”
The Beethoven Robin mentioned was the composer’s Piano Quartet in E-Flat major played by Fried on the violin, Biss on viola, Helmerson on cello and O’Conor on piano. The chorus of bravos after the performance was an affirmation of Robin’s thoughts.
Beginning with a melodic burst from the piano in the first movement, the piece picked up as the other instruments joined with the strings seeming to accompany the piano. Before the quartet was over, each instrument had its moment of individual attention.
The evening continued with Weilerstein, Helmerson and O’Conor playing Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor.
Beginning with soft strains from the cello, then the violin and finally deep, low piano tones, the composer wrote a tribute to lifelong friend musicologist Ivan Ivanovich Sollertinsky, who died four days before it was complete, according to program notes.
As the piece continued, strains of Eastern European Jewish folk music could be heard. The connection was not lost on Tom Stone of Highland Park who was at the concert with his family including two grandsons.
“The music was wonderful. The cello stood out,” Stone said. “I particularly enjoyed pointing out the Jewish themes to my grandsons.”
Stone's grandson, Gabe Wexler, found the Trio No. 2 memorable. He, too, got his grandfather’s message.
“I recognized it when I heard it,” Gabe said.
Patricia Fernandez of Hinsdale was taken by the same soulful music Wexler heard. She also liked O’Conor’s effort.
“It was so intense. There was a slow, heartfelt feeling,” she said. “The piano was a very difficult piece.”
For Eduard Khutornyy of Lincolnshire, the Shostakovich piece was a journey home to his native Russia.
“I felt it in a parochial way. I felt like I was back in the U.S.S.R.,” he said.
The night concluded when Fried, Weilerstein, Arad and Biss performed Brahms String Quartet No. 2 in G Minor.