A winter music journey in spring

W&L music instructor performs Franz Schubert’s dark classic, “Winterreise”

Xiaoxia Yin

Jason Widney, a baritone soloist, and Jonathan Chapman Cook, a pianist, performed Franz Schubert’s piece, “Winterreise,” at the Lexington Presbyterian Church on Saturday.

Jason Widney is on the faculty of the music department at Washington and Lee. He has performed with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Anne Arundel Community College and the Handel Choir of Baltimore as a concert soloist. Widney is a regular performer with the Lyric Opera of Baltimore and their Opera Education Outreach programs.

Jonathan Chapman Cook, a composer and pianist, is a guest artist of Washington and Lee University and has performed with the University Singers, Men’s Glee Club, Cantatrici and Oratorio Orchestra.

The pair performed “Winterreise,” a work that contains 24 poems written by Wilhelm Müller, a German lyric poet from the 19th century. The work was composed in 1828 by Franz Schubert, an Austrian composer who was best known for his song cycles.

“Winterreise” includes somewhat bleak songs that mark a distinct departure from Schubert’s original style. Schubert was originally unwilling to publish this piece but finally compromised due to his financial crisis. He died in the same year of the work’s publication.

“Winterreise” depicts miserable things that happen to a single, depressed “stranger” in the setting of a  cold winter landscape, which instills in the audience the theme of the life-threatening and treacherous power of winter.

Cook said he and Widney were blown away by the piece.

“It is the kind of piece that I encountered and would not try to immediately play it but study it, study the poems and study the music with a lot of different recordings, and after some days of practice, decided that someday I will perform it,” Cook said.

During the concert, Widney and Cook performed all 24 songs included in piece. Certain audience members were complimentary of the performance.

Charlene Jarrett, an audience member, said the show was fantastic.

“Both the soloist and the pianist are brilliant and I am moved,” Jarrett said. “I have been to almost all of the Washington and Lee concerts, and this one is [undeniably] an amazing one. The soloist is amazing [in] that he is able to match the movement of the music and the words and change his tone properly. The pianist is great, too.”

Widney also offered reflections on his own performance.

“Both of us took a long time to prepare for it,” Widney said. “It is hard to talk about my feelings after singing such much miserable songs.”

Cook agreed.

“Sometimes I don’t understand why I play a miserable piece for two hours,” Cook said. “But when I see that all of the audience [members] are moved by the music, I just come and do my job and I think it is worth [it].”