Day By Day

Friday, March 13, 2009

In Concert

"She Who Must Not Be Named" has noted several times recently that I have not been blogging about any of the cultural events we have attended. I can take a hint, so in the interest of preserving domestic bliss here goes....

We are subscribers to the Shriver Hall Concert Series in Baltimore. "She" particularly likes this venue because not only do we get a chance to see new and established artists in performance, but each concert is preceded by lectures presented by faculty at the Peabody Conservatory. So a concert date involves listening to a lecture on and discussion of the evening's concert, attending the concert itself, then going to a leisurely late dinner at a local restaurant with friends. Circumstances have prevented us from attending all of this season's concerts but we get to most of them. In recent months we have seen some remarkable performances. viz

Ingrid Fliter, a lovely young pianist from Argentina who has been burning up the international concert circuit for the past few years and in 2006 was the first woman to win the prestigious Gilmore Artist Award. The LA Times describes her as a "pianistic force of nature" and proclaims "a wonderful pianist has arrived." She certainly can play with power, but I was more impressed by her fluidity.

She played Bach, Schumann and Chopin. I was unable to find any performance of her concert selections on the internet, but this performance of Chopin's "Nocturne in D-flat Major" gives a good indication of her virtuosity.

She's already a major star and has several decades of performance before her. She'll be one to watch. Interesting.

The next concert featured an established artist -- another pianist, Radu Lupu. Lupu rose to prominence back in 1966 when he won the Van Cliburn competition and followed it up with wins at the Eriscu International competition in 1967 and the Leeds International competition in 1969. Ever since he has been one of the most important figures on the international concert circuit. We heard him perform Sonatas 9 in E Major and 10 in G Major by Beethoven as well as Shubert's Sonata in B-flat Major. This time the pre-concert lecture was particularly helpful because the instructor was able to highlight continuities between Beethoven's and Schubert's treatment of the sonata form of which I had been completely unaware. It was nice during the concert to hear things you had just been discussing.

Here's Lupu's performance of the first movement of the Shubert Sonata. What amazing technique! The video also has links to the rest of the sonata. Listen to them all -- the guy is terrific.

Comparing him to Fliter's performance above illustrates the difference between a good rising artist and one of the all-time greats.

Then a couple of weeks ago we again trekked up to Schriver Hall to see a famous pianist perform. This time it was Peter Serkin and he was not performing alone. The featured artists were the Brentano String Quartet. Earlier in the season we had missed a performance by the Guarneri String Quartet. Sad, but unavoidable; particularly disappointing because this is the last season the renowned quartet will be performing. So I saw the Brentano concert as a consolation prize.

The concert started and ended with traditional material -- Haydn's Quartet in D Minor and Beethoven's Quartet #16 in B-flat major [the famous Grosse Fuge]. In between, though, was a something completely different.

Here's an excerpt from the Haydn, not by Brentano, though.

And here's the Beethoven:

I am not a great fan of the modern composers. I often say that my appreciation ends with Bartok. In the second performance of the concert Serkin joined the Quartet for a rendition of Charles Wuorinen's "New Piano Quintet". Wuorinen is one of my least favorite composers, one who has bucked the post-modernist tide and stubbornly continues to churn out modernist monstrosities. Here's an example of what I mean.

At the preceding lecture we learned that Wuorinen is currently composing an opera based on "Brokeback Mountain". Gee, that's something to look forward to. I wonder if there will be any female parts -- an opera without sopranos, strange.

I will say one thing for Wuorinen. After enduring one of his pieces, I gained a new appreciation for Arnold Schoenberg. I had always disliked Schoenberg's work, but coming after Wuorinen he sounded almost traditional. For the first time I heard and sorta liked his "Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte" [performed by the piano quintet]. I couldn't find a performance of it anywhere on the internet. Too bad, it's an interesting piece -- a "sprechstimme", a musical form the invention of which is frequently attributed to Schoenberg, in which the a spoken part is performed [actually a mixture of song and recitation] in approximate pitches to the accompaniment of the musical score. Because the pitches are only approximate the performer [in this case Thomas Meglioranza, a wonderful baritone] has wide discretion as to how the recitation should sound. From the preceding lecture we learned that Schoenberg placed only one restriction on the performance -- that it had to be done by a male singer. In one case the "Ode" was recorded with a female singer and in response Schoenberg fired off a letter in which he threatened to dedicate the rest of his life to ruining her and the group with which she performed [he wasn't entirely sane at that point].

All in all an interesting and informative evening, despite the Wuroinen.

So that's the extent of our recent participation in the music scene. I hope "She" is happy.