May 16, 2004, Maine Sunday Telegram
Midcoast Symphony lets out all the stops…"
February 4, 2001, Portland Press Herald
Cohesive chamber trio performs with power
September 28, 1999, Portland Press Herald
PSQ gets warm reception, Beethoven gets last laugh
January 18, 1999, Portland Press Herald
Nordica Trio performs flawlessly
April 19, 1998, Portland Press Herald
Complex "Soldier's Tale" well rendered
April 30, 1998, Portland Press Herald
Some sound advice
March 1, 1997, Portland Press Herald
USM faculty recital allows violist to shine
May 25, 1996, Portland Press Herald
Pair of intimate trio recitals well-received
March 18, 1995, Portland Press Herald
USM faculty recital exudes excitement
March 12, 1995, Portland Press Herald
Recital to shine spotlight on Nordica Trio


by Christopher Hyde

Lewiston's Franco American Heritage Center in St. Mary's Church turns out to be a good place to hear the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra.

The seating is comfortable, and while the cathedral is huge, it doesn't reverberate as much as other church spaces. Toward the back of the seating area, the acoustics seem to favor the higher instruments, such as the piccolo, but that was an advantage in the program of all-American music that the Midcoast staged for its final concert of the season.

Graybert Beacham was the guest conductor for the performance, replacing the newly appointed Rohan Smith, and brought out the best in the ensemble, which has at any rate been steadily improving all year. The orchestra purrs along so smoothly that when the inevitable miscue or wrong note happens, it is as if someone had fired a gun. With most "amateur" orchestras, one usually expects the worst and is not so startled when it occurs. Beacham and Smith, however, are conducting a professional-sounding ensemble capable of playing almost anything without concessions.

The opening work on the program was Charles Ives' remarkable set of variations on "America," written for his own performance on the organ when he was 18, and later orchestrated by (I believe) the American composer William Schuman. Most sets of variations begin with a statement of the theme, but Ives never did anything conventional except sell insurance.

Everybody knows the tune of "America" anyway, so he starts in medias res with a wild variation and doesn't play the melody until later. The orchestration is a fantastic parody of American band styles. In one of them, the tuba takes the obligato part formerly played by the piccolo. There is even a Latin version with castanets. The orchestra exhibited them all with verve, enthusiasm and considerable technical skill.

The Ives was followed by Aaron Copland's popular "Rodeo" suite. Unfortunately, its "Hoe-down" has been ruined, at least partially, by being overused in beef commercials. Still, there is plenty left of the movement that the advertisers couldn't cram into a 30-second spot. This selection was played almost as well as the Ives, with good work by the brass and woodwind sections and a moment of truth for the strings, when they stood all alone at the beginning of the melodic third section.

The final work on the program was the Dvorak Symphony No. 9, "From the New World," which has a distinctively American flavor, in spite of the fact that Antonin Dvorak composed all of the themes, including the famous spiritual, with an almost total misunderstanding of nature and origins of the Native American or African-American music.

Although this symphony is always good to hear, and earned the orchestra a standing ovation, it was not quite as well played as the earlier works. It is long enough to be tiring, and familiar enough so that mistakes tend to stand out.

Published on May 16, 2004, Maine Suday Telegram
© 2004 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


by Christopher Hyde

The small audience that braved the snow Friday night for the Nordica Trio concert at the University of Southern Maine's Corthell Hall in Gorham was rewarded with one of the best chamber music performances this winter. I would call it a jewel, except that the word implies smallness, and the trio, augmented by French horn player John Boden, had a surprisingly powerful dynamic range.

This was particularly evident in the last work of the evening, the great Brahms "Trio for Piano, Violin and Horn," Opus 40, played by Boden, violinist Graybert Beacham and pianist Yuri Funahashi. The playing was little short of inspired, and led to a well-deserved standing ovation. Beacham and Boden exploited Brahm's harmonic sweetness to its full extent, but the crowning achievement was the trio's near-perfect coordination of tempo, volume and intonation. Couple that with real passion and enthusiasm, and one has a performance to remember. The melodic adagio was outstanding and the rapid repeated horn notes of the finale were executed in virtuoso style. Funahashi drew gigantic Brahmsian chords from the hall's controversial new Steinway without ever overpowering the other voices.

I haven't looked up the genesis of the trio, but its opening theme is a motif reminiscent of American Indian materials used by Brahms' protege Dvorak in his "New World" symphony. The thought was prompted by the publication date of 1865, just at the end of our Civil War. I have heard this trio in the alternative version, with viola rather than horn, and horn is better, much better.

The Nordica Trio consists of Beacham, Funahashi and Karen Beacham, clarinet, but has been working with Boden, principal horn of the Portland Symphony Orchestra, for some time. Another result of this collaboration was a marvelous "Trio for B-flat Clarinet, F Horn and Piano" by American composer George Rochberg. The trio, written in 1948 and revised in 1980, is tonal and easily accessible on first hearing. It is also fiendishly difficult and extremely tightly written. There is not a self-indulgent note in the score. That it was negotiated so well, and still managed to convey deep feeling, should have indicated that a good Brahms was to come. (One always hopes.) The adagio, in which minor thirds are explored by the clarinet and muted horn, did indeed sound like a new "single instrument," as Boden asserted in his opening remarks.

The evening began with the late Hovhaness trio, "Lake Samish," Opus 415, composed in 1988 on the shores of that lake in the Pacific Northwest. The composer uses typical Armenian and other folk materials to paint a tonal picture of the lake in various moods, more successfully than most ventures in that form. Hovhaness's own program notes, with their "celestial motets of interstellar space," read like a press release, but the work, lovingly played, lived up to the notices.

Published on Sunday, February 4, 2001, page 9E
© 2001 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


by Christopher Hyde

Alarge and enthusiastic audience at the State Street Church greeted the Portland String Quartet for the opening of its 1999–2000 season.

Although the program was all late Mozart, it did not suffer from sameness, ranging from the sprightly to the tragic and back again. Major contributions were made by violist Graybert Beacham and clarinetist Karen Beacham. The first offering was one of Mozart's "Prussian" quartets, K. 590, commissioned by the King of Prussia. It has a strong part for the cello, of which that monarch was an amateur, which is most prominent in the first movement. More interesting, however, were the allegretto, with its ingenious toying with a simple theme, and the fugal last movement, when members of the quartet began to listen closely to one another.

Graybert Beacham doubled the violas with Julia Adams in the second piece, the String Quintet in G Minor, Opus 516. This is a dark work, beloved of Tschaikovsky, whom it anticipates to an uncanny degree. I particularly liked the close harmonies in the adagio. My theory about the lilting rondo, which seems out of place at the end of a tragic work, is that it is a Beethovenesque joke. Beethoven often made fun of emotional responses to his work. I think, without the slightest bit of evidence, that Mozart decided to show that he could create a cheerful movement using the traditionally sad "dying fall" of a descending scale, which would have all the more impact after three and a half movements of sturm und drang.

The deservedly popular Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581, ended the program with a flourish. Karen Beacham was up to the considerable demands of the clarinet part, and in addition has the liquid sound that must have delighted Mozart with the early instrument.

The Quartet had excellent ensemble, continuity and flow, but I was distressed sometimes by the number of off-pitch notes in the high and low registers. This seldom happens when the group is performing new music. Could it be that Mozart is so familiar that it does not appear to require as many rehearsals? The audience did not agree with me, and gave the last quintet a standing ovation.

Published on September 28, 1999, page 8B
© 1996 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


by Christopher Hyde

Half a churchful of fortunate people braved icy roads Saturday night to hear the Nordica Trio at the United Baptist Church in Lewiston. The concert, which included five full-length pieces, seemed all too short.

The Nordica Trio, consisting of Karen Beacham, clarinet, Yuri Funahashi, piano, and Graybert Beacham, violin, has been playing together for about six years, and has discovered a wealth of interesting music for its particular mix of virtuosity.

A wonderful Bartok piece, "Contrasts for Violin, Clarinet and Piano" was written by the composer in 1938 at the request of violinist Jospeh Szigeti, who wanted something he could play with Benny Goodman. It was premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1939, with Goodman on the clarinet.

"Contrasts", which consists of a dance-like first movement, a slower "restful" midsection, and a fast finale, is built around tritones, intervals of an augmented fourth -- from F to B going up the scale -- that early classical musicians called "the Devil in music." Just to show how uninhibited he was, Bartok composed one section for a violin in special tuning that permitted it to play two of these compositional no-nos at once.

Bartok seemed to think that the clarinet and the violin didn't really belong together, and in "Contrasts" emphasized their differences. He may not have heard the two Haydn trios that began the program, in which the voices are so perfectly woven together that it is sometimes hard to tell which is which.

The two works played after intermission were also great finds. The first was a suite by Darius Milhaud, which includes a fantastic parody of the type of trio music that used to be played in the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel, yoked to some infinitely sad melodic lines, as if a friend were continually urging the composer to cheer up.

The last work on the program, a pleasant suite by the contemporary Armenian composer Alexander Arutiunian, was a reminder that there is a lot of life still left in tonal music based on folkish themes.

Both the individual playing and the total ensemble were virtually flawless in every work, no matter how difficult. Better still, the musical character of each was shaped with taste and imagination. This concert will be played again, under the auspices of the Maine Music Society on Saturday at the Second Congregational Church in Norway. It should not be missed.

Published on Monday, January 18, 1999, page 3C
© 1999 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


by Barbara Wilson

On Friday evening, the USM Faculty Concert Series presented Igor Stravinsky's "Histoire du Soldat," or "The Soldier's Tale," the taut musical recounting the Faustian legend of a soldier who unwittingly barters his soul with the devil.

The collaborative theater piece features two actors as the Soldier and the Devil, a dancer as the Princess, the Narrator and a seven-member instrumental ensemble, all of whom form indispensable expressive components in this complex, stringently orchestrated production. The work was created by Stravinsky and writer C. F. Ramuz in 1918 during the Russian-born Stravinsky's exile in Switzerland, with an eye toward portability. To that end, there is no set to speak of, save a simple bench and hat rack. The props are the Soldier's duffle bag containing his few worldly goods, including his homely fiddle, and the Devil's enticing magic book.

The musical tale unfolds with the instrumental ensemble, stage right, juxtaposed against the actors (and dancer in Act Two) in center stage, and the Narrator, stage left, all of whom share the stage throughout the performance.

The compact stage of Corthell Concert Hall certainly lent itself to a cohesive interpretation of this largely neglected piece and the stark, linear presentation was appropriate for the genre. Nonetheless, this reviewer was wishing for more area-specific lighting to allow greater dramatic focus on each successive performing ensemble. But, as the tale itself remonstrated, we can't have it all.

Conducted by Lawrence Golan, the seven-piece instrumental ensemble comprising USM music faculty and PSO members was superb, invoking Stravinsky's compelling martial atmosphere, its colorful dissonance shining with a clear, rhythmic vibrancy.

Violinist Gary Beacham was the virtuoso of the evening, as the violin personified the adventure of the human soul, so desired by Old Nick, the Devil. Closely rivaling his virtuosity were Nancy Smith, percussionist; John Schnell, trumpet; Mark Manduca, trombone; Thomas Parchman, clarinet; Ardith Keef, bassoon, and Joseph Holt, double bass, who brought to life a complex, exciting score whose every note could not have been otherwise.

The fatefully-comprised Soldier, played by David Moisan, and the menacing, sinuous Devil, played by Charles Bernard, both USM students, were equally riveting and well-matched in visual and emotional intensity as the stakes in the Devil's barter with the Soldier grow evident, and the Soldier discovers the emptiness of his wealth.

Daielma Santos, dancer with the Portland Ballet, added an element of lightness and grace in her role as the Princess and new wife of the Soldier.

Narrator Stephanie Hughes, a USM music major, was expressive and articulate in her rhyming narration, although her voice was occasionally overpowered by the simultaneous orchestral story line.

Correction: Correction published Sunday, April 26, 1998: A concert review on Page 12E of the April 19 Audience section misspelled the name of the violinist who played in "Histoire du Soldat" at the University of Southern Maine on April 17. He is Graybert Beacham. It was the writer's error.

Published on April 19, 1998, page 12E
© 1998 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


by Lloyd Ferriss

Isaac Stern, one of the leading violinists of the 20th century, pushed his gray plastic glasses back on his forehead. Then he pulled them down low on his face, and peered over the rims.

A yard away, 16-year-old Sarah Washburn rapidly played the challenging "Violin Concerto No. 1" of 19th-century composer Max Bruch. When it was over, Washburn, a sophomore at Mount Blue High School and a student of the violin since age 6, looked to Stern with an inquisitive, worried expression.

Don't worry about nerves, he told her. Interpret the music, he advised, along with striving for technical excellence.

"Above all else," he said quietly, and not unkindly, "be self-critical."

Washburn was one of six violinists, two from Maine and all between ages 14 and 18, selected for a master class in Gorham on Wednesday with Stern. The master violinist has made more than 100 recordings, appeared in films, and premiered violin works by some of the finest composers of this century. He will perform the works of three composers tonight at Merrill Auditorium in Portland.

The master class, held at Corthell Concert Hall on the Gorham campus of the University of Southern Maine, was sponsored by USM's Department of Music and PCA Great Performances.

Stern, 78, was sharply critical at times Wednesday, yet generous with compliments, too.

Becoming a virtuoso violinist is a painful process of concentrated study, he said more than once.

"It takes time," he said. "You have to have a fire in your belly…You have to want it more than anything else in the world."

The six students who took part in the master class were selected on the basis of tapes submitted by 20 contenders from schools and towns all over New England. Lawrence Golan, the Portland Symphony Orchestra's concertmaster, selected the elite few along with Judith Hunt Quimby, who also served as piano accompanist.

According to organizers of the event, the field wasn't limited to teen-agers.

But that's how it worked out.

In addition to Washburn, there was Heather Powell, Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H.; Gabriel Boyers, St. Paul's School, Concord, N.H.; Catherine McCurry, Northampton, Mass.; Gary Capoziello, Fairfield High School, Connecticut; and Patrick Doane of Kennebunk.

Doane, 14 and a middle school student, had his share of advice from Stern, as he played the difficult "Symphonie Espagnol" by Edouard Lalo.

Stern complimented him for his bow work, and excellent preparation. He suggested that Doane take off a ring he was wearing because "it would be less heavy" and, he said, it would attract too much attention from an audience.

"I have personal qualms about jewelry," he added.

Like all the performers at the class, Doane is committed. He has studied the violin eight of his 14 years, and practices three to four hours a night.

"I started to love the sound of string instruments when I heard my older brother playing the cello. Later, I got a violin for my sixth birthday," Doane said before his performance.

As each performer took his or her turn, Stern never broke his intense concentration. Leaning at times against the piano, he stood up from his stool at times to check the arms and feet placement of his young players.

Dressed casually in suede sweatshirt, black pants and running shoes, his thoughtful comments praised more than damned.

"Very well done," he told Heather Powell, 17, the student from Exeter.

Then he suggested more improvisation, and a firm grasp of the violin. "The hardest thing you have to learn," he said, "is how to be simple."

Powell, who played with strength the "Violin Concerto" by Tchaikovsky, said she practices five to six hours a day, despite a full academic load at school. "I just make the time," she said. "Three hours in the afternoon, then two more at night."

Though the event was billed as a master class, Stern said at the outset he wouldn't define it that way. "Call it an encounter," he said. "At best a passing encounter."

While Stern's advice was tailored to musicians, including many of dozens who filled every seat of Corthell Hall, his advice seemed applicable for success in work and sports generally.

Don't make a task more difficult than it has to be, he told one student. Decide what your goals are, he told another.

"Play your fiddle the way you would play any physical sport," he told one young violinist. "Always follow through."

Correction: Correction published Saturday, May 2, 1998: A story on page 1A Thursday incorrectly named one of the two people who selected students for a class with violinist Isaac Stern. Graybert Beacham, who teaches violin and viola at the University of Southern Maine, and Lawrence Golan, the Portland Symphony Orchestra's concertmaster, selected the students. It was a reporter's error.

Published on April 30, 1998, page 1A
© 1998 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


by Nick Humez

The middle-sized instrument of the string family is the butt of more than its fair share of jokes. Acoustically, the viola is undersized for its lower pitches. And in the real world, many ad hoc violists are really violinists who may be accustomed neither to the viola's larger size nor to the C clef in which its parts are written.

So it was a pleasure to hear Graybert Beacham splendidly play this maligned instrument at his USM faculty recital in Gorham Friday night. In three works spanning two centuries, Beacham demonstrated agility, accuracy and good musical sense, all to deft piano accompaniment by Yuri Funahashi.

This duo is two thirds of the Nordica Trio. From fine musicians in a long performing association with each other, good things might well be expected, and the audience in Corthell Hall was not disappointed.

In Henry Eccles' down-to-earth English baroque sonata, Beacham gave us a stately Largo whose gravity rose to pathos and a vigorous shake in its miniature cadenza, followed by a brisk Corrente accented by feather-light rolled chords to open its phrases and a flurry of double stops to end.

After a dignified Saraband in slow 3/4 came a catchy Gigue in a faster 3/4 (not the usual 6/8!) with nimble fingering way up the viola's neck in its coda. Funahashi played with solid reliability throughout: always there, yet never in the way.

Neither this sonata nor the Schubert one which followed were originally written for viola: Eccles composed his piece for double bass, also the instrument on which Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata is most often heard. We have a violist named Milton Katims to thank for both arrangements heard here.

The three-movement Schubert was refreshingly light and lyric (for all Beacham's viola has an unusually rich and full sound) compared to other performances we've heard on galumphing great basses. Our favorite movement of this one was its final Allegretto, a rondo packed with mood swings and embedded binary forms.

In his last years Brahms wrote two clarinet sonatas which he also arranged for viola. Beacham played his Sonata in E Flat Major with panache and poignancy, while Funahashi shone in its dramatic piano part's fat chords, tricky rhythms and tasteful rubato. The house gave both musicians a good hand at the recital's end, and rightly so.

Nick Humez, a Portland silversmith, is the executive director of the Maine Composers' Forum.

Published on Saturday, March 1, 1997, page 8B
© 1997 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


by Nick Humez

Two trios got three curtain calls from an audience of four dozen in the intimate recital hall of the Portland Conservatory of Music on Friday night.

Andrew Pelletier (French horn) and the conservatory's director, Carol Eaton Elowe (piano) were joined by Karen Beacham on clarinet for George Rochberg's "Trio for B flat Clarinet, F Horn and Piano" and by Graybert Beacham on violin for Brahms' "Trio in E flat Major." Both trio sonatas got good performances, and drew favorable comments from the listeners at intermission and after the recital.

Two challenges face any horn player who is part of a piano trio. For one thing, the horn is unusually susceptible to "fluffs"—reaching for one note in the closely spaced upper harmonics and blowing the one next to it in the series instead. It is to Pelletier's credit that there were remarkably few false notes from his horn during the entire performance.

The other problem is balance, especially in a small space. Unless all the members of an ensemble take constant pains to keep their instruments at comparable volume, a horn is almost guaranteed to overpower a clarinet or violin at least some of the time.

But these four musicians seemed to be well aware of this problem, and to compensate accordingly. Although the clarinet occasionally was buried during the intricate first movement of Rochberg's piece, the unaccompanied duet that opened its second movement (an exploration of alternating thirds and sixths) was a tour de force of exquisite balance mysterious enough to raise hairs.

Rochberg's witty finale was a delightful romp whose fast 3/4 rhythm almost came unglued at one point but was quickly recovered, and the interplay of voices in its fugal sections was a contrapuntal joy.

In contrast to Rochberg's 20th-century tonal liberties, the Brahms horn trio's romantic harmonies seemed tame. But both works, though separated by 90 years, display their respective composers' facility for writing good counterpoint, and the Brahms offered plenty of rhythmic trickery, such as staggered accents and hemiolas in triple-beat passages, to test these performers' skills.

Graybert Beacham's violin has an unusually rich tone, which was a great help in mitigating some of the balance problems implicit in Brahms' score. He and Pelletier luxuriated in their lyric solos of the first and third movements, whose palpable melancholy contrasted agreeably with the bouncy second-movement scherzo and a final allegro in an irrepressible 6/8 evoking hunting-horn and the steeplechase.

Published on May 25, 1996, page 8B
© 1996 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


by Nick Humez

The Nordica Trio—Graybert Beacham (violin), Karen Beacham (clarinet) and Yuri Funahashi—gave an exciting performance of four sonatas from three centuries Friday night.

Their faculty recital at the University of Southern Maine drew a near-capacity audience to Corthell Hall on the Gorham campus, and the crowd loved what it heard.

The ensemble, based in Farmington, excelled in Khachaturian's orientalist "Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano," redolent with a folk declamatory style harking back to the mountainous Caucasus district of the composer's youth.

This piece was a banquet of dead-accurate double stops on violin and lyric, soaring melodies on clarinet. Sometimes the Beachams doubled each other at the octave or played in fourths while Funahashi's driving keyboard provided a solid rhythmic underpinning.

Karen Beacham plays wonderfully: now velvet-smooth, now agile. It would have been a pleasure to hear her in other works. But the violin-piano sonatas which made up the rest of the recital were by no means inferior.

In Telemann's miniature "Sonata in A Major," which opened the program, Graybert Beacham showed a judicious use of vibrato and a deft, light touch appropriate to this rococo piece.

Unfortunately, Beacham's violin would have been better balanced in this piece by a delicate realization of figured bass on harpsichord. Though Funahashi played with admirable restraint, the heavier sound of her piano tended to overpower Beacham in his lowest octave. But most of the sonata was satisfying, the adagio especially so.

A similar problem dogged Beethoven's "Spring" sonata: Early 19th-century keyboards were far lighter in touch and fugitive in tone than modern concert grands, making left-hand chords which were distinct for Beethoven sound muddy today. And once again, alas, Beacham's low notes tended to get buried.

But these were minor distractions in an otherwise charming performance of this familiar work, in which, for the most part, Beacham and Funahashi were a tight duo—sometimes thrillingly so, as in their extended shared trills at the end of the adagio second movement and the witty, staggered-stress scherzo of the third.

Most effective of the three violin-piano works was the final offering on the program, the "Sonata No. 3 in D Minor" by an aging and increasingly disillusioned Brahms.

Its tempestuous opening was a vigorous workout for Funahashi, who mopped her brow before she and Beacham settled into the melancholy grandeur of its adagio, an aria full of luscious double stops and an almost unbearable sense of pathos.

This sonata demanded consummate technique and control from both violinist and pianist, and they delivered handsomely. Tension built through the final two movements to a climax which drew loud applause and two curtain calls, with Karen Beacham returning to the stage for the last long hand.

Published on Saturday, March 18, 1995, page 4B
© 1995 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


by Nick Humez

Not all ensembles burst on the music scene in a dazzling flash of publicity and a flourish of trumpets. Despite recitals last season at several halls in Maine, the Nordica Trio—Graybert Beacham (violin and viola), Karen Beacham (clarinet) and Yuri Funahashi (piano)—has seemed almost reticent about promoting itself.

Friday's recital at the University of Southern Maine may change all that, thrusting these reluctant virtuosos into the limelight willy-nilly.

In the fifth of this winter's faculty recitals (Graybert Beacham teaches at USM and Karen Beacham at Colby), the trio will play works of Beethoven, Khachaturian and Brahms in Corthell Hall on the Gorham campus, starting at 8 p.m. Admission is $8 ($4 USM faculty and staff, senior citizens and students).

Published on Sunday, March 12, 1995, page 3E
© 1995 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.