The second performance in this year’s Chautauqua Chamber Music Resident Artist Series, “Brian Zeger & Friends,” will feature pianist and guest voice faculty Brian Zeger alongside three School of Music faculty: violin instructor Nurit Pacht, chamber music coach and viola instructor Kathryn Votapek and cello faculty Tobias Werner. The performance begins at 4 p.m. Saturday, July 6 in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall.
The performance will focus on French music and composers from the late 19th century. Zeger and Pacht will begin by playing two pieces by Claude Debussy: “Cortège (procession) from ‘Petite Suite’ ” and “La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair).” Then, Zeger will play two solo pieces by Emmanuel Chabrier: “Danse villageoise (Village Dance)” and “Feuillet d’album (Album Leaf).” Finally, all four musicians will play Gabriel Faure’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 45.
All three of these composers lived and worked in Paris in the 1800s, and all the pieces were written in the same decade: the 1880s. By putting these pieces together, Zeger hopes to give the audience a musical portrait of Paris during that time.
“It’s marvelous to create a program with a lot of variety where you might have an American piece, a Russian piece, a French piece — but there’s also something, I think, that can be very seductive about just staying within one world,” Zeger said. “This program is very much like you’re being transported back into that world because all these pieces come from that same environment.”
The Debussy pieces are “charming and short,” Zeger said, each one only a few minutes long. Written when Debussy was a young composer in his 20s, they are relatively uncomplicated and serve as a lovely introduction to the French theme and style of music.
“The Debussy(s) are very good curtain-raisers,” Zeger said. “They’ve got really good tunes, they’re really hummable.”
The solo piano pieces by Chabrier are not often played, but Zeger finds them to be catchy and charming.
“They’re disarming, always surprising harmonically and really fun to play pianistically,” Zeger said. “I love them.”
The concert will finish off with the much longer Faure piano quartet, which is the centerpiece around which Zeger planned the program.
“I’ve known it all my life, and I really love it,” he said. “I think it’s undeservedly little-played.”
Faure’s Piano Quartet No. 1 is better known, but this second quartet has more depth and range to it, Zeger said. He last played it in concert about 20 years ago, and is excited by the chance to perform it again.
“The thing I find really remarkable about it is the third movement — the slow movement — which for me is one of the most profound and haunting pieces for chamber ensemble that I know,” Zeger said. “It particularly features the viola, and the sound of a viola well-played has a very mellow, somber, dark quality, and I think Faure takes advantage of what the viola brings to the ensemble.”
Votapek, on viola, also has great affection for the Faure quartet, and hopes that if audiences don’t know Faure, they will discover and love his work for the first time; and if they do know Faure, they will connect with this, one of his lesser-known works.
“I want them to be moved, like when you go to a movie and you weep,” Votapek said. “I want people to be viscerally moved by this piece.”
Zeger and Votapek have played together once before, last season, but it will be Zeger’s first time performing with Pacht and Werner. However, the unfamiliarity is exciting to him, and he knows that given how talented and experienced they all are, they will have little trouble coming together very well in concert.