I had forgotten how sublime the Bach Double can be, but Gil Shaham and his wife, Adele Anthony, brought it back last night at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado.
I'm at the end of two weeks of teacher training at the Colorado Suzuki Institute at Snowmass, a 15 minute drive from Aspen. When I arrived here, I checked the schedule for the Aspen Music Festival to see if there were any appealing concerts while I was here. My reaction went something like this:
Gil Shaham? Yes!
The Bach Double? Oh, no. It can't be. Not the Bach Double!
Don't get me wrong, I love Bach. But as a Suzuki teacher, I've a bit of an overdose. So far during this Institute, I've helped lead the children through the Bach Double four times. And I'm not even really teaching here, I just happen to be a teacher who has it memorized. As the various teachers discussed going to this concert, one admitted that she just simply could not take it.
“I'm just overdosed on the Bach Double,” she said. “I've been teaching it all week, and I'm just going to have to take a pass.”
I still remember, though, how much I wanted to learn the Bach Double when I was a young student, and trying to get this little girl named Sarah Beck to teach it to me in the hallway of my elementary school. And it is still a jolly ride. As soon as I finish rolling my eyes and start playing it, I realize how much I like it.
Having heard and played the piece literally hundreds of times, I can say that I have never heard it played so beautifully as I did last night, and the whole atmosphere of Aspen made for the happiest experience.
Unbelievably, I'd never been to a concert at Aspen. I never went as a student, and never made the long trip from Denver when I lived there. So I already was rather entranced by the setting: walking through a grove of shimmering aspen trees, sitting on the blue benches with the mid-summer late-evening sun filtering through the white canvas tent, noticing little pieces of cotton from the cottonwood trees floating by as I read my program. At one point a patch of sunlight fell over a tiny bit of the audience, and you could see the shadows of the shimmering aspen it it.
Before the beloved/overplayed Bach Double, the Aspen Chamber Symphony played Haydn's Symphony No. 30, with the cheerful conductor Nicholas McGegan, who conducted with no baton but instead with his whole body. My first thought was, energetic youth! Hats off to all of you who are playing in this orchestra. It's not easy to channel all that energy into something so elegant and delicate as Haydn. And I have to mention the flute soli in the second movement by Martha Aarons. Her runs just spilled over effortlessly; it was lovely.
Then came the much-awaited/dreaded Bach, with Ms. Anthony and Shaham. He came out with a smile that never left during the entire performance. And here was a thrill for the dozens of Suzuki-ites in the audience: they used the music! And of course they would, it is chamber music. But we had to giggle about it, after agonizing over memorizing both parts of the first movement, which is a requirement for Suzuki students.
They took the first movement at quite a fast clip, which settled into a somewhat more easeful tempo by the time the orchestra handed things over to the soloists.
The highlight was the second movement, which had beautiful ebb and flow. Shaham and Ms. Anthony made it unfold, with every sequence calibrated for maximum effect, and the end was a nicely restrained quiet. This allowed them to burst into the third movement, which had so much energy, well controlled and channeled. During a huge crescendo near the end of the movement, they seemed to be enjoying it as a thrill ride.
This sounds like so much hyperbole, but truly, I enjoyed it that much. I had never seen Gil Shaham or Adele Anthony play before, but they were generous performers, joyfully giving it all away on stage. Nothing held back, nothing overlooked.
The concert continued in the same inspiring way. We heard Benjamin Britten's “Two Portraits,” which were published posthumously in 1997. Certainly this piece deserves a place in the repertoire; it features the viola, which was Britten's instrument. The Aspen Chamber Symphony negotiated the piece well, as it was the kind of ensemble playing that leaves little room for straying. And violist Catharine Carroll found the richness in the considerable viola solo, which was a kind of deep weeping over quiet strings and pizzicato. The piece ended with on of those utterly still moments, just low celli and bass, when the entire audience stops breathing and moving until everything truly stops.
Suzuki teacher trainee Melissa Solomon came up to me at intermission and said, “It's so funny, I know so many people in the orchestra!” And indeed there is a connection between the kids at Suzuki camp and the young adults at Aspen Music School. I have no doubt that many of the children who are making their way through the Bach Double over here today, will be over there in the future!Tweet
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