I attended a fantastic concert featuring Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk earlier this month. I've heard Bell show off his pyrotechniques and his own cadenzas in violin concertos with symphony orchestras, but this performance of chamber music was very different. It is only recently that I've developed a taste for chamber music, and this concert went straight to my heart.
The program featured four very different pieces of music.
The first piece was Bach's Sonata No. 4 in C minor for Violin and Keyboard, BWV 1017. This piece was soooo Bach. The musicians made it sound gentle, light, and smooth. Hearing it, I felt like I could just let go and float along.
The second piece, Grieg's Violin Sonata No. 3 in C Minor, was a substitute for what was written on the program. It was a very strong contrast to the Bach. It was positively wild and electrifying. Its moods were intense, loaded with energy, and constantly changing.
Next was Schumann's Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105. I have never been much of a fan of Schumann's chamber works for violin, and this was no exception. Bell and Denk played it quite well, but that piece just doesn't appeal to me.
The final piece, Ravel's Sonata in G Major for Violin and Piano, really captivated me. After years of listening to Ravel's Bolero, I had thought I didn't like this composer, but fortunately, I started listening to his other works. In fact, lately I have been listening over and over to the album "French Chamber Works," which includes Ravel's Piano Trio in A Minor performed by Joshua Bell, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and Steven Isserlis, and I love the recording. According to the concert program notes for Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Piano, Ravel wrote "...I wrote a Sonata for violin and piano, two incompatible instruments whose incompatibility is emphasized here." Ravel's Sonata is also well known for its second movement, "Blues," which Ravel also described as "jazz as seen by a Frenchman." This music absolutely captivated me. I relinquished control to it. I had been disappointed by an experience which had occurred a few days before the concert. It was not a major issue, but it was bothering me. I had told myself to stop thinking about it. However, when Ravel's music captured my soul, I let go and allowed myself to feel the disappointment from my recent bad experience. By the end of the piece, I had tears in my eyes. I had done some active grieving, and I felt better for it.
Of course, the audience applauded enthusiastically, and of course, there was an encore. Joshua Bell spoke through a microphone and I could only hear part of what he said. He told us that he was going to play a short piece by Fritz Kreisler. It was a perfect encore piece, sweet and delectable, and Bell played it so smoothly that it didn't even sound technically demanding.
At this concert I was interested in seeing how Bell played as a member of a duo. He never seemed to upstage or outdo Jeremy Denk. However, I noticed that Bell never glanced at Denk, but Denk craned his neck around to watch Bell at critical points in the music as if to say, "How long are we going to hold this note?" or "When will we resume playing after this pause?"
Besides all the wonderful music I heard, I got and brought home a physical memento of the concert which I'll bring it to my luthier. The staff likes to hang these things up on their walls. Also, it's a nice way of saying "thank you" to them.
P.S. Check out my website.
Turlough O'Carolan, the blind Irish harper, composer, and itinerant musician is one of Ireland's best known and loved musicians. He was born in 1670, and when he was 14 years old, his father went to work at an iron foundary owned by the McDermott family -- an unplanned blessing for Turlough. Mrs. McDermott was impressed by Turlough's intelligence, and she had him educated with her children until he was 18. When he was 14, disaster struck him. He was stricken with smallpox and became permanently blind. There were few employment opportunities for the blind in Ireland at that time, and most blind people became musicians. Turlough studied the harp for 3 years and then became a wandering ministrel. He stayed at the home of one nobleman after another, composing and playing his harp for the families he lived with. He often wrote songs for his employers, called Planxty (Name) meaning In Honor of (Name). Living among the aristocracy, he was exposed to Italian classical music, which influenced his compositions. When he died in 1738, he was well known as one of Ireland's greatest bards. (See this website for more details.)
Although O'Carolan wrote for the harp, his music is now played by many people on many instruments, including me on violin. Celebrate St. Patrick's Day by listening to some of O'Carolan's gentle music. You won't hear this music in Irish pubs. Here is Planxty George Brabazon on harps and other instruments.
Although O'Carolan wrote for the harp, his music is now played by many people on many instruments, including me on violin.
Celebrate St. Patrick's Day by listening to some of O'Carolan's gentle music. You won't hear this music in Irish pubs.
Here is Planxty George Brabazon on harps and other instruments.
The next two are Planxty Irwin on recorder and then on guitar. I've found that this is a piece that almost everyone likes and picks up quickly. I always get some other instruments playing with me, and I have a lot of fun with that.
The news about classical music in the US is generally pretty bad. Major symphony orchestras are on the verge of going broke. Musicians are forced to take horrific cuts in salaries and benefits. The latest bad news is from the time honored Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, a bulwark of culture in this country. Now that orchestra is playing to 40% empty houses and the musicians are taking major financial cuts. This is especially discouraging because just two years ago, the Philadelphia Orchestra was paying its musicians high salaries and giving them good benefits.
Only one major symphony orchestra is bucking the trend: the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The BSO is also the only major American Symphony Orchestra led by a woman, Marin Alsop, but that may be a coincidence. ;-) I 've read that the BSO is attracting more concertgoers and getting more grants and donations. I have just learned that truth in a personal way. I bought tickets to a BSO concert series months ago, when they first became available and the prices were at their lowest. I recently developed a schedule conflict for one performance, so I looked up the rules and found that I could exchange my ticket for a ticket to another BSO concert. Because I had ordered series tickets at the beginning of the concert season, I got a very good price: $30 for the cheapest seat in the house. The first concert I chose as a potential substitute was completely sold out. My second choice concert was sold out except for two seats at $47 each. The one remaining concert had about 35 seats available at $47 each. I considered the sorry state of my budget and decided not to go to any of these concerts. Nevertheless, I felt happy that one good, major symphony orchestra in this country is thriving, and I can hear it live. Yay!!!!!
More entries: February 2010