NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- The Bethel Quartet, with faculty from Friends University and a faculty member and student from Wichita State University, will present Camille Saint-Saëns’ popular chamber piece "The Carnival of the Animals." Performances will be Monday, Sept. 12, at 7:30 p.m. at Friends University’s Alexander Auditorium, and Thursday, Sept. 15, at 7:30 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium on the Bethel College campus. Admission is free and open to the public.
The Bethel Quartet was established in Fall 2001. Its members are string instructors at Bethel College and the Bethel College Academy of Performing Arts in Newton, as well as members of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra.
Nancy Johnson, first violin, is the principal second violin with the Wichita Symphony. Rebecca Schloneger, second violin, directs the Suzuki violin program for BCAPA. Both Kay Buskirk, viola, and Susan Mayo, cello, also teach at Friends University.
Friends faculty who will perform are Dan Racer, bass, Rachelle Goter, clarinet, Amy Hoffman, flute, Toni Libhart, percussion, and James Knight, piano, with Tate Addis, a student at WSU, piano, and Trudy Burkholder, a new music education faculty member at WSU, as the narrator.
Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) wrote the 22-minute-long "Carnival of the Animals" in 1886 as a joke. He was on vacation, and he intended the piece to be played by a private chamber ensemble of two pianos and 11 other instruments and only for his friends.
At the time he wrote "Carnival," Saint-Saëns was a well-established composer, known throughout his native France and all of Europe. By 1886, he had written symphonies, concertos, operas, chamber pieces and sacred music, and he considered "Carnival" too frivolous for publication.
Fortunately, Saint-Saëns did not completely disown the piece. In his will, he made provision for it to be published after his death. He would probably not be pleased, however, to know that he is now perhaps best remembered for "The Carnival of the Animals" rather than his other, "serious" work.
The 14-part chamber piece includes musical portraits of various animals, such as a cuckoo, a lion, an elephant, kangaroos and a swan, and borrows music from other pieces to entertaining effect. The clever use of various instruments offers interesting insight into those instruments.
The narration read by Trudy Burkholder comes from American writer Ogden Nash (1902-71), best known for his whimsical poetry (much of it written about animals). His narration for "The Carnival of the Animals," ca. 1950, is the one most often used with the piece.
The Bethel Quartet and Friends-WSU group will also present Saint-Saëns’ "Tarantelle Op.6" and a movement from Maurice Ravel’s Piano Trio.