Chamber trio Beau Soir Ensemble is an acclaimed flute, viola, and harp trio dedicated to the performance of standard and contemporary chamber music. Founded in 2007 by harpist Michelle Lundy, the group features Lundy on harp, Tsuna Sakamoto on viola, and Carole Bean on flute. Sakamoto and Bean are current members of the National Symphony Orchestra. Playing with Beau Soir gives them the opportunity to practice their craft in intimate settings including art galleries, mansions, and even private homes. A typical Beau Soir concert includes the opportunity to speak with the musicians, learn about chamber music and even try your own hand at the harp.
Because not a lot of music exists for this particular trio of instruments, Lundy spends a lot of time scouring the internet for appropriate compositions. This is how she encountered acclaimed Mexican Composer Eduardo Angulo. After performing two of Angulo’s compositions, Lundy decided to do something she describes as “a big deal” in the world of chamber music: She commissioned Angulo to write a piece of new music specifically for Beau Soir.
That composition, “Autumn Messengers” will premiere in Washington, DC in early December with two concerts (Friday, December 2nd at the Mexican Cultural Institute and Saturday, December 3rd at the Dacor Bacon House). I spoke to Lundy to learn more about Beau Soir and their growing relationship with Eduardo Angulo.
How long have you (the members of Beau Soir) been playing together?
Beau Soir Ensemble (BSE) was founded in 2007, originally as a flute and harp duo. We added viola to the group in 2012, and the current Beau Soir members have been performing together for four years.
Michelle, what made you decide to found the group?
I founded BSE to further my passion for performing chamber music and bringing unique musical experiences to audiences. Chamber music is an intimate musical form where each instrument stands out and has an equally important voice in the presentation. The flute, viola, and harp each have such a different and distinct sound, yet blend perfectly together to form music that stands in contrast to more typical arrangements involving a group that consists only of strings (such as the string quartet), brass, or woodwinds, where all of the instruments are in the same category of instruments with similar timbres.
What does a typical Beau Soir concert look/feel like?
We aim to have our concerts feel like you are experiencing a professional concert in your own living room. Beau Soir’s mission is to make chamber music approachable, accessible, and enjoyable for novice and sophisticated audiences alike. A typical BSE concert is a casual, intimate experience where audience members get to experience the music close-up and learn about each piece of music, not just hear it. We attempt to forgo some of the formalities of classical music in favor of a more participatory experience. We play in smaller venues (such as art galleries, historic mansions, worship venues, and even personal homes) where the musicians’ finger-work and their instruments can be seen and the music can be felt, not just heard. We include conversations and introductions about the music, so audiences have a story and context for what they hear. We play both standard and contemporary music, so that there is something new for everyone. After a performance, we often meet with audiences, answer questions, and socialize. People sometimes enjoy sitting behind the harp, as it is not a common instrument for most. Audiences leave our concerts feeling that they were a part of the performance, not just a listener.
Your December concerts will feature an original composition by Mexican composer Eduardo Angulo. How did you learn about Eduardo Angulo?
I am constantly seeking out new music and looking to promote lesser-known composers. Plus, there is not a lot of music that has been written for our unique instrumentation – flute, viola and harp. And, what music there is tends to be difficult to find – both in terms of sheet music and records. So, it requires a lot of research, including internet searches, phone calls, and emails. In this case, I actually first discovered the music of Eduardo Angulo about 7 years ago when doing a search for flute, viola and harp trios on YouTube. I was instantly smitten with his music and, over the past few years, have listened to almost everything I have been able to find that he’s written. But, finding the actual music scores for Angulo’s trios proved to be incredibly difficult. For almost two years I searched for sheet music through the standard methods of music purchase such as his website, sheet music distributors, and publishers and U.S. harp music distributors. After years of having no success with these standard methods, I located an email address to reach out to the musicians on the YouTube recording I originally fell in love with. The flute player of this trio was kind enough to contact the composer, who she personally knew, and sent me the music after a trip to Mexico. After sharing his music with my partners, they were equally as excited about performing his music; so, we committed to learning it and incorporating it into our repertoire.
What is the process of commissioning a piece like? How closely do you work with the composer and what guidelines did you give him for what you wanted out of the work?
After having the opportunity to perform two of Angulo’s existing works, I came to appreciate his adeptness at writing in a musical style that works well for all three of our instruments. But commissioning a new work is a big deal in chamber music. Simply put, we aren’t able to earn a lot playing chamber music. It is a labor of love more than anything and funding for new music is limited. However, it is something that I’ve always wanted to do – to have an amazing piece of music written for Beau Soir and to be able to introduce it to the world and then make it available for others to play. So, we took the plunge after going back and forth with Angulo from his home in Mexico. In order to help fund the commission, we applied for different grants and were fortunate to receive partial funding from the American Harp Society.
All commission processes are different, but in this particular instance, we were lucky to trust the composition process to work well with very little oversight, feeling secure in what he would produce. We also had the freedom to allow Angulo to write any type of piece as there were no restrictions from other parties or venues to consider. I had my first conversation with Angulo in July of 2021 and while we emailed back and forth from time to time during the writing of the piece, it was more just for conversation (he is a delightful person). Otherwise, we really gave him the creative freedom to do what he wanted. Angulo finished the piece in March of 2022 and much to our delight, the piece is absolutely stunning. There was very little that needed correction, and while the parts are difficult, they work well for our instruments.
We have had the chance to perform “Autumn Messengers” several times this fall, and at each of the performances we have received a standing ovation. In the piece, Angulo invites the audience to reflect upon life, and writes a substantial piece that is both uplifting and meditative. Angulo writes in a romantic style that is appealing to our trio, our instrumentation, and our audiences. His music is rhythmically interesting and has a distinct Mexican sound to it. So, it is both familiar in many ways and is not out of place with many of the standards, while at the same time being new, fresh, and a bit exotic. All three of us agree that rehearsing and performing his music is “good for the soul”.
What else will be performed at your concert on Friday, December 2nd at the Mexican Cultural Institute and Saturday, December 3rd at the Dacor Bacon House?
In addition to “Autumn Messengers” by Angulo, we will perform Angulo’s “Bacanal,” French music by Dubois, Holiday melodies, and a famous Mexican folk song, “Sobre Las Olas” arranged for our trio by Nicholas Greer. The last piece worth noting is “The Chasing Tale” by English Composer, Martyn Adams. This piece was written in 2021 for a flute, viola, and harp trio in England and we are the first group to perform it in the U.S.
Beau Soir will perform “Autumn Messengers” and other compositions in two performances:
On Friday, December 2nd, 2022 at the Mexican Cultural Institute, 2829 16th Street, NW in Washington, DC. For tickets to this performance go online here.
On Saturday, December 3rd at the Dacor Bacon House, 1801 F Street, NW in Washington, DC. For more information or to order tickets for this performance, go online here.