The Ellingwood Chapel concert series in Nahant has come a long way. Singers in the first program, 26 years ago, had to clean out bales of hay and lawn mowers from the Gothic chapel before they began.
“The chapel used to be a storage shed for the DPW,” says series producer Jim Walsh. “It has gradually evolved from there over the past 15 years. We’ve had a steady set of performances, with groups like the Harlem and Borromeo quartets, and Lorelei Ensemble, in recent seasons.”
The series has also hosted the estimable string orchestra A Far Cry in the past, and this weekend a sextet from the Criers will return to perform a thoughtfully conceived program that pivots around Schoenberg’s great programmatic work, “Verklarte Nacht” (Transfigured Night). Beethoven’s Eyeglasses Duet, and the Mozart C major quintet, round out the program.
“We’re imagining this like Schoenberg’s salon in Vienna,” says Crier violist Sarah Darling. Darling will be joined by regular Criers Jae Cosmos Lee and Jesse Irons (violins); violist Jason Fisher; and cellists Rafael Popper-Keizer and Jonathan Butler, who is guesting for the first time with the Criers in this performance.
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“Schoenberg had this amazing love for chamber music,” Darling says. “He hosted a salon regularly, and we are imagining being in Vienna, getting that feeling of playing in his living room.”
While “Verklarte Nacht” casts a moody, meditative shadow — it’s based on a poem that describes a couple walking through a moonlit forest, deep in intimate discussion (no more spoilers here) — the rest of the program is light and engaging.
Beethoven’s Eyeglasses Duet (for viola and cello; the nickname is a mystery) is a short, unfinished, quasi-improvised lark. Along with the Mozart quintet (string quartet with an extra viola) — its centerpiece an extensive, complicated first movement — those two works bring a lighter touch to the presentation.
“Verklarte Nacht” comes in several versions, including a string orchestra arrangement that the Criers (naturally) have also performed. “It’s a great work for string orchestra, like the Tchaikovsky ‘Serenade,’ ” Darling says. “But in a lot of ways the sextet feels much more taut, more anguished. Each player carries more weight.”
A self-conducting ensemble, with 18 core members, the Criers are one of the area’s busiest groups. Between their decade-long residency at the Gardner Museum, concerts on their home turf in Jamaica Plain — where they maintain a store-front rehearsal space — and aggressive touring, they still find time for one-off visits to welcoming venues like Ellingwood Chapel.
“Our strength, the thing we do best, is to make music together as 18 players,” Darling says. “That’s where the alchemy comes from. But we try to say yes to every great opportunity — who wouldn’t? And making chamber music in Nahant, even though we might get here only every three or four years, is one of those opportunities.”
A sextet of members from A Far Cry performs Schoenberg’s “Transfigured Night,” along with works by Beethoven and Mozart, on Saturday, Aug. 25 at 8 p.m. in the Ellingwood Chapel, 195 Nahant Road, Nahant. Tickets are available at www.nahanthistory.org/activities or by calling 781-367-2007.