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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 21, 2000. All rights reserved.

A Feast for the Senses

E-mail: ElaineStrauss@princetoninfo.com

The interests of Peggy Schecter, artistic director

of the New Jersey Chamber Music Society, go beyond chamber music.

She cares about art, and especially about outdoor sculpture. Reading

last year about the addition of a French restaurant to Grounds for

Sculpture, she was struck by a singular idea. "I thought, outdoor

sculpture and good food, fine! But there’s one thing missing: chamber

music."

Now chamber music is coming to Grounds for Sculpture, in a "Concert

in the Park," performed by the Chamber Music Society on Saturday,

June 24.

In an interview from her home in Montclair, Schecter relates how she

was perusing the real estate section of the New York Times last year

when she read about the construction of an office complex and restaurant

on acreage adjoining the 22-acre Grounds for Sculpture, the former

New Jersey State Fairgrounds in Hamilton where J. Seward Johnson Jr.

has created an outdoor sculpture display and museum. The restaurant

was to be Rat’s (U.S. 1, January 26, 2000). The office center would

house Johnson’s International Sculpture Center, as well as the Atlantic

Foundation, a fund-granting organization for arts and oceanographic

research. The $4.5 million project was designed to re-create elements

of the Impressionist painter Claude Monet’s water-garden at Giverny,

with its now-iconic lily ponds and Japanese bridge.

Sculptor Seward Johnson has created a colorful niche for himself by

using paintings by Impressionists Monet, Edouard Manet, and others,

as blueprints for three-dimensional works on view at Grounds for Sculpture.

His piece "Dejeuner Deja Vu" (1994) is a transcription of

Manet’s notorious "Dejeuner sur l’herbe" (1863), the painting

that shocked academic artists by showing two fully-clothed gentlemen

picnicking with a nude woman. Johnson’s "The Eye of the Beholder"

(1997), a transcription of Manet’s painting "At Pere Lathuille’s"

(1879), shows a loving couple intently absorbed with each other as

a Parisian waiter looks on. In all, seven Johnson sculptures derived

from Impressionist paintings are displayed at Grounds for Sculpture.

The term Impressionism dates from 1874, derived from Monet’s 1872

painting, "Impressionism: Sunrise." Impressionist exhibits

today draw spill-over crowds in art museums around the world. Even

when Impressionism was in its infancy, its appeal went beyond the

ranks of its practitioners.

French musicians, who were the younger contemporaries of the Impressionist

painters, found themselves drawn to the new approach. What bound artists

and musicians together was a readiness to overturn the old rules,

a love for incorporating space and color in their works, and a taste

for mood and atmosphere, rather than epics and sharp-edged constructions.

While, in the 1890s Impressionist art began to influence musicians,

a century later Impressionist music seems to find an echo in Seward

Johnson’s sculptures. When Johnson translates two-dimensional painting

into three-dimensions, he follows the path of Impressionist Maurice

Ravel, who transcribed Moussorgsky’s piano piece "Pictures at

an Exhibition" for orchestra. Both Johnson and Ravel have fleshed

out smaller works, recreating them on a larger, more voluptuous scale.

Chamber Music’s Schecter, reading about the expansion at Ground for

Sculpture, was intrigued by its French aspects. Schecter’s ticket

to France was a Fulbright grant that enabled her to study flute at

the Paris Conservatoire and to enjoy French art treasures of the 19th

and 20th centuries. A fan of Rodin’s sculpture and Monet’s water lilies,

she was intrigued by the francophile elements at Grounds for Sculpture.

She wrote Johnson proposing a Grounds for Sculpture performance of

French chamber music that could recreate pieces that Monet might actually

have heard, and sent him the Chamber Music Society’s CD "Twentieth

Century French Classics." Johnson listened, and particularly liked

the Vincent D’Indy, Suite, Op. 91. He invited Schecter to visit Hamilton

and discuss details. The result is "A Feast for the Senses,"

on Saturday, June 24, a concert of French music by the New Jersey

Chamber Music Society. The concert will use as its stage the site

of "The Nine Muses," a large-scale granite sculpture by Carlos

Dorrien; in case of inclement weather, the concert moves indoors to

the museum. An optional, French-inflected meal at Rat’s restaurant

follows.

There are places for 200 at the concert, and for 100 at the dinner.

Since notices were sent out to the Grounds’ mailing list of 5,000,

both events are close to selling out.

The program typifies French music near the turn of the century. It

consists of Jacques Ibert’s, "Two Interludes;" transcriptions

of Claude Debussy’s "Bruyeres" ("Heaths") from Preludes,

Book Two, and "Prelude and Menuet" from his "Suite Bergamasque,"

both originally for piano; a transcription of Ravel’s "Pavane

for a Dead Princess," originally for piano; Camille Saint-Saens’

"Fantasy for Violin and Harp;" D’Indy Suite for flute, violin,

viola, cello, and harp; and Louis Moyse’s "Suite in C."

Moyse is the son of the legendary flutist Marcel Moyse, one of Schechter’s

mentors. The suite was written originally for two flutists, the father-and-son,

and Louis’ wife, a violist. The Chamber Music Society performs it

using flute, violin, and viola.

New Jersey Chamber Music Society performers are Peggy Schecter, flute;

Nicolas Danielson, violin; Ryo Sasaki, viola; Wendy Sutter, cello;

and Susan Jolles, harp. Founded in 1974, the Montclair-based organization

consists of a 16-member classical music core and a jazz component.

Co-founder of the ensemble, Schecter grew up in Brooklyn

in the 1950s and was a classmate of Barbra Streisand at Erasmus Hall

High School. Her father was an English teacher father, her mother

was a high school administrator. Although the parents played no instruments

they encouraged their daughters. Older sister Philippa played piano

and cello. Peggy started piano at six and tried violin before settling

on flute. The two sisters played duets as girls.

"I always wanted a second instrument that would enable me to play

with others and socialize," says Schecter. At 10, she had her

first chamber music experience at a music camp in New York state.

At the Juilliard School, Schecter studied with Julius Baker for four

years. She considers Baker and Marcel Moyse, with whom she studied

in the 1960s, to be her main mentors. "Baker," she says "is

known for his fantastically beautiful free, open sound. Sound and

technique are his specialties. He’s typically American."

Moyse was born in France in 1889 and knew Debussy and Ravel. Along

with pianist Rudolf Serkin, violinist Adolf Busch and cellist Hermann

Busch he helped found Marlboro, the Vermont chamber music mecca, in

1949. Schecter attended Marlboro for two summers in the 1960s. "From

Moyse," says Schecter "I learned about depth in musical phrasing,

in emotions, and in timbre. Moyse would make people play better than

they ever could." He also impressed her with his energy; driving

regularly to New York City from Brattleboro, Vermont, at age 72.

Now active as a freelance flutist, Schecter is principal flute of

the Queens Symphony. Her husband, Ron, is a lawyer and a cellist.

Their daughter teaches art in Atlanta.

Schecter has a penchant for founding musical organizations. She is

also the founder of the flute choir at Montclair State College, where

she has taught since 1981. "Flutists love to play together,"

she says. The ensemble comprises the entire flute family from the

petite piccolo to the contrabass flute, a candy-cane shaped instrument

about eight feet long capable of playing as low as a cello. There

are only three contrabass flutes in the United States, Schecter says.

"You need strong arms, hands and lungs to play it."

Furthermore, Schecter is the co-founder, with Drew University’s Virginia

Schulze Johnson, of New Jersey Flute Choir Day. She describes the

ensemble, which attracts more than 100 participants ranging in age

from 9 to 70, as "nurturing and non-competitive."

Now Schecter can add to the list of projects she has initiated the

Grounds for Sculpture concert. In this she bridges the gap between

art and music, employing a program with guaranteed appeal. "Whenever

we do a French program from the late 19th and early 20th century,

it’s well attended," she says. "Everybody loves the music

— it’s the colors."

— Elaine Strauss

Concert in the Park, Grounds for Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds

Road, Hamilton, 609-689-1089. By reservation. Concert only is $25;

concert followed by dinner at Rat’s restaurant is $95. Saturday,

June 24, 4:30 p.m.


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