Monday, February 24, 2014

24 In A Drawer

In 27 Pieces, The Hilary Hahn Encores’ program notes proclaim, “If you are captivated by a certain piece, you can acquire the score and study its architecture. If you are interested in commissioning, consider sponsoring a composer you like, be it someone close to you or someone you have always admired.” Why, yes.

Then she goes on to say: “Mesmerized… I listened for hours…Uncovering works …was intoxicating… fueled by tea and chocolates. A newly written work is like exploring a mysterious building with no apparent doors… once inside, I wander around, puzzling where I fit.”

     I sincerely hope that admirers of Hilary Hahn won’t upset themselves by reading further.

This compilation speaks volumes of Ms. Hahn’s acumen (not musical) in the promotion of her reputation at the expense of her sponsors and these many talented composers.
   Of these 27 short and aspiring chestnuts, let’s hazard that three might survive this ambitious project.  A couple are in the form of perpetual motion; monochromatic, yet impressive in ways brilliant and self-apparent. Jennifer Higdon’s Echo Dash is engagingly compelling with dry charm and wry wit. David Lang ’s light moving is gentle and atmospheric, admirable in its transparent construction and lack of pretension. In The Angry Birds of Kauai by Jeff Myers, if the octatonic harmonies are predictable, this character piece is handled masterfully, though the performance could have been more robust.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Ohlsson Warms the Cold, the Tired, the Jaded

On a cold and sunless Sunday February afternoon in New York, pianist Garrick Ohlsson offered warm solace in Carnegie Hall where one could, like cozying up to a comfortably appointed fireplace, dwell without hurry on the nuances of masterpieces. In this beautifully proportioned program, the classical first half set up Mr. Ohlsson’s greatest strengths in the impressionist and romantic works of the second.
   After intermission, in three pieces of Charles Griffes, whose music this artist champions, The Fountain of Acqua Paolo (1916) established this musician’s epicurean nature with lush, plush accompaniments that supported deeply felt melodies, which he ever evolved in shape. This afternoon‘s Scherzo of 1913 was a richer, more commanding version than on the definitive recording of Griffes’ complete piano music released by Mr. Ohlsson nearly a year ago. Live, his scintillating scales thrilled, like the discovery of one’s youthful sexuality. Earning the respect of this difficult matinée audience, The White Peacock (1915,) though never lascivious, ravished the listeners to silence, and reduced this one to tears of pleasure, right to its end’s time-stopping ambiguous tri-tone resolution.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Great Schick and His Schticks


The solo percussionist Steven Schick, who has carved out a career as a brilliant champion of 20th and 21st century avant garde repertoire gave an impressive concert of the instruments’ staples Thursday last at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, the first of  three. Nearly sold out, this was a testament to his charisma and his spiritual and socially responsible leanings. He began each of the eight selections with a Buddhist tashi delek bow towards good fortune, and for an encore recited Wendell Berry’s poem Manifesto:The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, which antagonistic people might consider socialist.
With so many young people and doubtless many percussion students in the audience, he is clearly an inspiration, a worthy mentor. As an admitted geek, how can I more than respect, but love this musician for his admission that he transcribed Varèse’s Ionisation by hand to know it better?