Cellist Michael Samis set to premiere rare Romantic concerto

samis5Nashville cellist Michael Samis is like a musical geologist: After recently doing a lot of digging, he uncovered a gem.

His find will be on display Monday night at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, when Samis presents the American premiere of Carl Reinecke’s Cello Concerto in D minor, Op. 82. The program will also feature music director Gregory Wolynec leading the Gateway Chamber Orchestra in Haydn’s Symphony No. 103 in E-flat major “Drumroll” and contemporary American composer Aaron Jay Kernis’ Musica Celestis.

Samis, who is best known in Middle Tennessee as one of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra’s cellists, uncovered the Reinecke concerto while researching repertoire for his upcoming debut CD. “I was looking for a Romantic work, because I’m most comfortable with that style,” says Samis. “Reinecke’s concerto definitely seemed to be in the Mendelssohn-Schumann school that I love.”

It was also appealing to Samis that Reinecke’s concerto had never been professionally recorded before. “Reinecke had been a prolific composer,” Samis says. “But most of his music has been lost to history.”

ReineckeBorn in Hamburg, Germany in 1824, Reinecke became one of the mid-19th century’s most prominent pianists, conductors and composers. As conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, Reinecke worked closely with Johannes Brahms, premiering that composer’s A German Requiem in 1869. Reinecke was also one of Europe’s most important piano teachers, and many of his best students went on to study with Franz Liszt in Weimar.

One interesting factoid about Reinecke: In 1905, he made a piano roll of Beethoven’s Ecossaise in E-flat major. That roll, which could be reproduced on a Welte-Mignon player piano, is the only recording that was ever made by a musician who actually lived (admittedly briefly) in Beethoven’s time – Reinecke was born three years before Beethoven’s death in 1827.

Reinecke, who sported a thick pair of mutton chops that made him look a bit like an overgrown chipmunk, was a versatile composer. His output included four concertos for piano along with concertos for violin, flute, harp and, of course, the aforementioned cello concerto. He also wrote an opera, “King Manfred,” several symphonies and a large body of chamber music. Today, his only work to receive regular performances is the Flute Sonata “Undine.”

“Reinecke’s music was so overshadowed by Wagner that it failed to find a niche in the repertoire,” says Samis. “But some of his music has been making a comeback, thanks to recordings.”

Certainly, Reinecke’s cello concerto deserves more attention. Composed in 1864, it is a large-scale work arranged in three movements that lasts about 25 minutes. The first movement, marked “Allegro moderato,” opens with a broad theme filled with the sort of flowing melodies that characterized a lot of Brahms’ music. The slow movement, a Romanze in G minor, is brimming with chromatic harmony – the music unfolds for nearly a dozen measures before we actually hear a G minor chord played in the open. The finale is a virtuoso romp.

samis-jump2Reinecke’s concerto will anchor Samis’ debut CD, which he plans to release on the Delos label by 2014. That recording will also feature Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro with the Gateway Chamber Orchestra. In addition, Samis will record such solo cello works as John Tavener’s Threnos, Ernest Bloch’s Suite No. 1 and Osvaldo Golijov’s Mariel.

Samis has launched an online fundraising campaign to pay for the CD. “Delos will distribute the CD, but I have to pay the production costs,” says Samis. Given the importance of committing the Reinecke concerto to disc, Samis’ project should be considered a worthy cause.

Cello fans can get another taste of the upcoming CD at 4 p.m. on Mar. 3, when Samis performs the Tavener, Bloch and Golijov pieces at Christ Church Cathedral, 900 Broadway. That recital will also feature Bach’s Suites Nos. 1 and 4 for unaccompanied cello.

“This is some of the greatest music ever written for cello,” says Samis. “So I hope people come out to hear it.”

IF YOU GO

Cellist Michael Samis joins the Gateway Chamber Orchestra to play Reinecke’s Cello Concerto in D minor, Op. 82. The program also includes Aaron Jay Kernis’ Musica Celestis and Haydn’s “Drumroll” Symphony. The performance starts at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11 at the George and Sharon Mabry Concert Hall on the Campus of Austin Peay State University in Clarksville. A map of the location is here. For tickets and addition information, click here.

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), ArtNowNashville.com and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.