Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Yuja Wang and Members of the Hong Kong Philharmonic. September 6, 2017.

HK Cultural Center Concert Hall.  Stalls (Seat D49, HK$480).

Program – Yuja and Friends: A Chamber Night.
Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 (1861) by Brahms (1833-1897).
Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50 (1882) by Tchaikovsky (1840-1893).

Yuja Wang, piano; Jing Wang, violin; Andrew Ling, viola; Richard Bamping, cello.

Between two concert performances with Hong Kong Philharmonic, Yuja Wang will perform in a chamber concert with several Hong Kong Philharmonic musicians.  The program is quite traditional (Brahms and Tchaikovsky), although each piece presents its set of technical and artistic challenges.

Both pieces were written as some sort of remembrance for the respective composer’s mentor.  In Brahms’s case it was for Robert Schumann, written in 1856.  It consists of four movements: Allegro; Intermezzo (Allegro ma non troppo – Trio – Animato); Andante con moto – Animato; Rondo alla Zingarese (Presto – Meno Presto – Molto Presto).  Plagiarizing the Program Notes, some of the characteristics of the piece are (i) having an intermezzo rather than the usual scherzo or minuet – although I am sure people would be okay if it is labeled as a scherzo; (ii) the “toy-soldier” theme in the third movement which is supposed to be the memorial; and (iii) the gypsy theme in the last movement marks the first time Brahms incorporates Gypsy elements in his work.

I listened to a YouTube performance of this (by a rather well-known quartet, but forget which one).  My reaction was somewhat of an “oh oh” as the piece was quite long (for today it was about 40 minutes); and I couldn’t quite make sense of it.

Tonight’s performance sounded much more coherent than how I remembered it.  The themes got passed from one instrument to another seamlessly, and the musicians came to the foreground and faded into the background naturally, complementing one another well.  I was impressed with the three Hong Kong Phil musicians.  The Program Notes also contained a brief mention of their biographies: Jian Wang is Chinese Canadian; Ling is a Hong Kong native, and Bamping is a Briton.  They were all good, and their instruments sounded superb.

The longer Tchaikovsky Trio (47 minutes) contains only two movements: Pezzo Elegiaco (Moderato assai – Allegro giusto); Tema con Variazioni – Variazione Finale e Code.  The story as described by the Program Note is a little incoherent.  Tchaikovsky was of the view that the instruments didn’t work well together and he was thus not ready to write music for this type of ensemble.  It took the persuasion of his patron Nadezhda von Meck to convince him to do so, after the death of his former mentor Nikolai Rubinstein, who had criticized Tchaikovsky earlier work – the second movement of his second piano concerto which was effectively a triple concerto.

The Program Notes describes the first movement as an expression of the sorrow at Rubinstein’s death, and the second movement – variations on a theme Rubinstein loved – episodic descriptions of Rubinstein’s live.  Tchaikovsky himself denied it.  The coda was a solemn funeral march.  I couldn’t quite track the variations.

Throughout the performance, Yuja simply let the music speak for itself.  She was just one of the voices, her flamboyant outfits (lime green and bright orange)  not reflected in her playing.

 Jiang Wang handing Yuja Wang a bouquet.  Notice the two empty sections in the concert hall.

Two empty rows in the main auditorium.

It was a rather long concert, but enjoyable.  I was surprised at the large number of empty seats, there were two sections that had no people at all.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Hong Kong Philharmonic – Jaap van Zweden, conductor; Yuja Wang, piano. September 2, 2017.

HK Cultural Center Concert Hall.  Balcony (Seat M123, HK$680).

Piano Concerto No. 1 in B Flat minor, Op. 23 by Tchaikovsky (1840-1893).
The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky (1882-1971).

As Chung Chu remarked on my Facebook entry, this was a great program.  Indeed it is, with Yuja Wang as the soloist, at that.

Perhaps I was somewhat disappointed at the last HK Phil concert I attended (in April), and perhaps my expectations were again quite high (I know these are counter-arguments in a way), I was somewhat disappointed at the performance.

Working from memory, it was a performance by Wang that brought out the Ravel Piano Concerto (in F?) for me, and I was fascinated by how adept she was in performing an arrangement of Mozart’s piece (the K.545 Rondo?).  And I saw her performance of the Tchaikovsky on YouTube which was really good.  Today was a few years later, so I was really looking forward to enjoy this war horse.

Wang did manage to make the piece look easy; perhaps not “one day in the office” easy, but there was certainly no anxiety that she might miss a note (not that I would necessarily notice), or some other mishap.

After a thunderous applause, she played as encore a piece that seemed to have moving pedal points with embellishments around them.  Perhaps pianists would appreciate the virtuosity involved, I couldn’t quite get the why and what of it.

My main issue with the Tchaikovsky was how disjoint the piece sounded.  Perhaps I exaggerate a bit, the performance was like a series of unrelated themes or passages stitched together.  The orchestra’s simply lurched from section to section, with precision problems every now and then.  My first encounter with van Zweden was a Hong Kong Phil concert in 2012, when he was a few months in his post.  My remark that his ego exceeded his capability needs to be re-visited in light of his appointment to the New York Philharmonic; however, while Hong Kong Philharmonic remains a competent orchestra, it has not made great strides in the intervening years since took over as music director.

That unease was confirmed with the Rite of Spring performance.  The introduction by the bassoon was tentative, and it took me a while to get over it.  There were moments of brilliance, but the performance was again marked by more disjointness (is this a word?) than I would like.

The annotator’s decision to include the “program” of the ballet in the Program Notes was certainly very helpful.  The young mother sitting next to me was going through the program with her son as the music progressed.  By putting in references to the instruments (e.g., “the horns dance cheerfully”) he made the music very easy to follow along.  The rest of the Program Notes was pretty boiler-plate, though.

The ushers were very strict about the "no photos" policy, even though it wasn't plainly stated in the program.  This out-of-focus shot of Wang and van Zweden leaving was the only photo I took after the Tchaikovsky concerto.

A full orchestra was used for the Rite of Spring performance.  Notice the two sets of timpanis.

One gets criticized for commenting on Wang’s sense of fashion; but if I walk on the street with a beanie cap with peacock tail feathers attached (think Cher), am I not inviting or even expecting remarks from others?  After much thought, the most politically correct way to say is Wang has the confidence to think she can pull it off with an outfit that would equally belong on a beach.  Another thought is many young girls were brought to this concert so they can be inspired by Wang, I wonder how many would want to grow up and emulate her fashion sense.

So happens I also attended Hong Kong Philharmonic’s opening concert last year; there I debated if I wanted to go because of the obscure piece on the program, and I ended up really enjoying it.  For tonight I had no hesitation to get a ticket (and solicited Tim’s help to do so as the concert was rapidly selling out), yet I ended up with a real sense of disappointment.

To put things in perspective, I also bought a ticket to the chamber concert this coming Wednesday where Wang will be performing with HK Phil musicians.  And of course overall I think the concert is worth the money and the time.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra – Louis Langree, conductor; Kirill Gerstein, piano. August 15, 2017.

David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat D8, $50).

Pre-Concert Recital
Frauenliebe und -leben, Op. 42 (1840) by Schumann (1810-1856).
Susanna Phillips, soprano; Louis Langree, piano.

Variations on a Theme by R. Schumann for piano solo (1854) by Brahms (1833-1897).
Piano Concerto in A minor (1841-45) by Schumann.
Symphony No. 1 in C minor (1862-76) by Brahms.

The attendance for the pre-concert event was good, although not as good as the one at the last concert we attended.  And those that chose not to make it missed a good one.

First, I admit I am not one into art songs, so I usually just acknowledge them and go to the next piece.  And I also complain about the acoustics for voices against orchestras in this auditorium.  Perhaps due to the (particularly) weak-sounding piano, Susanna Phillip’s voice carried very well, from beginning to end of this 20-minute program.  She sang clearly, with the right mix of emotions, and told the story well.  One thing I am not sure about is how good her German is, I am quite sure she got the pronunciation of many words wrong.  Evidently Langree is a competent pianist (few conductors start out in life as one), although he could have pounded the keys a bit harder, in my opinion.

Schumann took all of two days to set eight of Adalbert von Chamisso’s poems into music after he learned all the legal challenges put up by Clara Wieck’s father were resolved.  “A Woman’s Love and Live” traces the narrator’s adult life of courtship, pregnancy, motherhood, and death of her husband.  The poems are: (i) Seit ich ihn gesehen (Since Seeing Him); (ii) Er, der Herrlichste von allen (He, the Most Wonderful of All); (iii) Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht glauben (I Cannot Grasp It, Believe It); (iv) Du Ring an meinem Finger (Ring on My Finger); (v) Helft mir, ihr Schwestern (Help Me, Sisters); (vi) Susser Freund, du blickest (Sweet Friend, You Look); (vii) An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust (At My Heart, at My Breast); and (viii) Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan (Now Have You Caused Me My First Pain).  I found it a bit curious that the commentator saw the need to rationalize some of the non-gender-equal tone in the lyrics to accommodate the sensitivities of today’s audience.

Susanna Phillips, with Louis Langree looking on, after she sang the Schumann songs.

As noted both by Gerstein and Langree, the main program also threw Brahms and his relationship with the Schumann’s into the mix.

The variations were written by Brahms in 1854, a year of great difficult for Robert (he was already in an asylum) and Clara (pregnant with their seventh child); and Brahms was developing an infatuation for Clara, to boot.  A year earlier, Clara showed Brahms a set of variations she wrote based on a subject written by Robert.  Brahms then composed these variation with the inscription “Short variations on a theme by Him, dedicated to Her.”  By the time the music was published, it was certainly not short (lasting close to 20 minutes).  I don’t remember ever hearing it before, but it was quite enjoyable, and I am sure the enjoyment will increase as I get to know the music and its structure.  The Clara variations will be performed at another Mostly Mozart event.

The Schumann piano concerto was clearly a piece written for the virtuoso, and Gerstein delivered.  Our seats were on the right front part of the orchestra, so we saw mostly his face as he was playing, but the piano sound came through clearly.

For encore, Gerstein played the slow movement of a piano sonata composed by Clara but orchestrated by Robert .  The cello was the only instrument (exception for the last part where the timpani was added) used and Gerstein described it as a love duet between Clara and Robert.

Brahms’s first symphony took a mere 22 years, if one counts as the starting point Brahms’s first sketches for the work.  Much has been said about how this work was in the tradition of Beethoven’s Symphonies – including Brahms’s own remark “any ass can see that.”  I can certainly get that similarity, but do not have enough understanding of Beethoven’s symphonies to called this the “tenth.”  Except for the theme of the last movement, I was mostly unfamiliar with this work.

Our seats so close to the stage reminded me of some of the shortcomings of the orchestra.  Today it was hearing the individual string players “too clearly.”  The orchestra roster has a few impressive names: Cobb is NY Phil’s principal bass, Rhoten is the principal timpanist, Finkelshteyn is the principal cello of Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Kirill Gerstein after the Schumann Piano Concerto.

Perhaps this is the summer season, or perhaps of my lower expectations, I really enjoyed this concert, not losing patience like I did with the last concert.

We had a simple dinner at Europan.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra – Andrew Manze, conductor; Thomas Zehetmair, violin. August 11, 2017.

David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat V109, $50).

Pre-Concert Recital
Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 (“Pathetique”) (1797) by Beethoven (1770-1927).  Vikingur Olafsson, pinao.

Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 (1806) by Beethoven.
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550 (1788) by Mozart (1756-1791).

The auditorium was quite full when we walked into it for the recital a few minutes before 6:30 pm, which was not expected.  Perhaps it also demonstrated the enthusiasm of the audience for these summer concerts.

Pathetique is a well-known sonata, and I certain enjoy listening to it.  Today was no exception.  The sound was crisp, the parts distinct, and contrast superb.  I do wish the pianist had approached this in a more mechanical way.  Beethoven’s music speaks for itself, there is really no need to exaggerate the fast and slow, in my opinion.

Given he took over from Martin Frost the clarinetist the music directorship of a Swedish music festival, I was surprised at how youthful the Icelandic pianist looked.  He was born in 1984, making him 33.

Somehow the Beethoven Violin Concerto is in vogue in recent years; I heard recent performances by James Ehnes, Nikolaj Znaider, and Pinchus Zuckerman.  Today’s performance unfortunately didn’t measure up to any of them.

The problem again was the soloist was trying to take too much liberty with what Beethoven intended (of course no one knows, but the score is a pretty good indication.)  Actually, it was close to disastrous when he first came in with the octaves, the sound was so poor that my first reaction was did he forget to put resin on the bow.  (To be fair, the sound improved as the performance continued.)  He was trying to start really soft and then build up the volume, it sounded tentative instead.  Throughout the concerto he made attempts to put his interpretation on the music, which were mostly ineffective.  The sound of the violin didn’t have the brilliance of a Stradivarius or the subtlety of a Guarnerius, although my ears could fail me.

The cadenzas were different from the ones usually performed with this concerto. Turns out Beethoven arranged this concerto for the piano as the soloist (first I heard of it), and wrote a cadenza for the arrangement.  The piano cadenzas were then arranged by Wolfgang Schnedierhan for the violin.  To me they mostly highlighted some of the techniques not demonstrated in the concerto proper (harmonics play a prominent role, for instance), but oftentimes it was difficult to see how they relate to the concerto proper.  Anne thought they were easier than the usual ones, although I am sure Zehetmair would have no trouble with them.

Zehetmair taking a bow as Manze looks on after the Beethoven Violin Concerto.

To compound my disappointment, the orchestra wasn’t at its top form either.  The horn had problems when it came in at the beginning of the slow movement.  Not the end of the world, but not the mark of a great orchestra either.

The audience was enthusiastic in its applause.  Zehetmair played an encore; I didn't get the title, and have no recollection of it a few days after listening to it.

Perhaps because of the Beethoven piece, I began to notice problems with the orchestra during the Mozart symphony.  One of the earliest problems I had with the MM Festival Orchestra was I could hear the individual players in the violin sections.  The problem had mostly disappeared in recent years, a testament to how the musicianship of the ensemble has improved.  Today some of that came back.

Mozart’s 40th Symphony is well-known, and usually enjoyable.  Many of the passages get repeated (especially the middle movements), but it felt longer than usual.  Again I attribute that to the quality of the performance.

Manze was his usual dependable self, conducting with quite a bit of vigor.

I do need to qualify all my comments with this being an enjoyable evening.  We had an early dinner at East Szechuan with Vivian and her parents, who were visiting from Hong Kong.  And the concert was of good quality.  At their best, a MM concert can rival that of a top orchestra, today they weren’t quite there.

Anne and I stopped by Hoboken to drop off something, so we got to New York at around 4:30 pm.  I made two separate purchases on Goldstar.com, but they were considerate enough to put all of us in the same row, which is great.  Parking was surprisingly easy for a summer Friday afternoon.  There were no problems coming back either, Anne and I did get some street food before we headed back.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Argus Quartet. July 26, 2017.

Princeton Chapel, Princeton University, New Jersey.  (Free)

String Quartet Op. 76 No. 5 by Haydn (1732-1809).
Satellites (2015) by Knox (b. 1956).
String Quartet No 15, Op. 132 by Beethoven (1770-1827).

Quartet Members
Jason Issokson, violin; Clara Kim, violin; Dana Kelley, viola; Joann Whang, cello.

The day before the concert, we got a call from PUSCC that the venue would be changed from Richardson Auditorium to the Princeton Chapel.  When the Series’s Artisti Director Melissa Bohl spoke at the beginning of the concert, she explained that a fire at the auditorium made the change of venue necessary.

The chapel is impressive, and quite large.  Attendance was quite good, filling a great part of the auditorium.  But alas, the place may be right for organ music – and we see a large organ – but for chamber music it doesn’t work.  There is simply too much echo in the cavernous hall, you can hear the reverb seconds (well, some exaggeration) after the playing stops.  While we got to the Chapel close to 30 minutes before concert start, we were about 15 rows from the stage, and could barely see the musicians.

I listened to the Haydn quartet quite a few times before the concert, so I had no trouble following along, even with the echo.  It was a pleasant start to the evening.  The movements are (i) Allegretto; (ii) Largo: Cantabile e mesto; (iii) Menuet: Allegro – Trio; and (iv) Finale: Presto.

The violist talked about the next composition.  Unfortunately she wasn’t miked up, and I could hear only part of what she was saying with my hands cupped behind my ears.  The first movement is Geostationary, Garth Knox wanted to describe geosynchronous satellites, they look stationary to someone on the ground, but both the satellite and the earth are moving at incredible speeds through space. Spectral sunrise describes what astronauts see while at the International Space Station.  One would think in this context “dimensions” would be along the lines of the grand unification theory where 11 dimensions are used.  Instead here they refer the different ways the bow can be used: across the strings, up and down, in circular motion, et.

It is always interesting to see how these ideas get realized in the actual composition.  One could argue, in this case, with some degree of success.  The question that remains, though, is: why?  From what I can remember of the piece, the first movement was indeed chaotic, but it didn’t go anywhere – that was perhaps the idea.  The second movement evokes Strauss’s Sunrise in Also Sprach, which was the idea?  But it certainly didn’t have the same dramatic effect.  All kinds of bowing were used in the third movement, and the players shook their bows a few times.  I was a bit worried that the bows might break.  Kim was in the first violin chair for this piece, but probably didn’t matter as each player seemed to be doing his/her own thing.

The bad acoustics really ruined the Beethoven quartet. Written a couple of years before Beethoven’s death, it belongs in the composer’s late period.  Even after listening to a couple of movements before going to the concert, I found the music difficult to grasp.  The rhythms were “unconventional,” the contrasts not as great as what one finds in the more familiar Beethoven works, and – for a quartet – it was very long at over 40 minutes.  Perhaps that is a characteristic of Beethoven’s late period during when the composer – per our friend David – wrote for future generations.  The Choral Symphony, completed a year before, was certainly easy to get.  All that added to a difficult 40 minutes.

We had trouble seeing the quartet members from where we sat.  We could barely see them when they stood up to acknowledge the audience's applause.

The Argus Quartet is in it fifth (or so) year, and was under the mentorship of the Brentano Quartet.  All the musicians are quite young.  It was too bad that their debut at Princeton was marred by the unfortunate change of venue.

We brought along the parents of Vivian, and had dinner with them and the Yees at Panera Bread.  It was pleasant conversation to and from Princeton, even though we got home quite late as we had to drop the Choys off.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra – Louis Langree, conductor. July 25, 2017.

David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat X02, $50).

Program – The Singing Heart
Kyrie, K.90 (1772) by Mozart (1756-1791).
Symphony No. 35 in D major, K.385 (“Haffner”) (1782) by Mozart.
Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal (traditional, arr. Alice Parker).
Tres Cantos Nativos dos Indios Krao (traditional, arr. Marcos Leite).
Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel (spiritual, arr. Moses Hogan).
Ah vous dirai-je, maman (traditional, arr. Francisco J. Nunez).
Fantasia in C minor for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra, Op. 80 (“Choral Fantasy”) (1808-09) by Beethoven (1770-1827).

Bernadette Peters – Host
Kit Armstrong, piano; Janai Brugger, soprano; Brandie Sutton, soprano; Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano; Jack Swanson, tenor; Miles Mykkanen, tenor; Adam Lau, bass
Young People’s Chorus of New York City, Francisco J. Nunez, artistic director
Concert Chorale of New York, James Bagwell, choral director

Tonight was the opening night of the MM Festival, and there were several things unusual about the program.  For one, Bernadette Peters, better known as a Broadway singer and actress, was the host.  On the program were also several traditional songs sung by the YPC, backed up by the full orchestra.  The entire program was done without a break, although there was a short pause so the piano can be brought onto the stage for the Choral Fantasy. Finally, other than for the symphony, I would be listening to the pieces for the first time.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with Peters as the host.  It worked out okay.  She read from her notes, and didn’t claim to be this expert trying to teach the audience something, although I found what she said quite informative.  One time she stumbled a bit while leaving the stage, and made the audience laugh by taking a bow; sense of timing still intact, even at age 69.

I had a chance to study up on the Mozart and Beethoven pieces, so was quite prepared for them.  The Kyrie was written by Mozart when he was 16 (and numbered K.90 already), and is quite straightforward.  As with the Vivaldi piece we heard earlier this summer, it had only the phrases “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.”  What was unexpected was this was done a cappella by the YPC.  And they sounded great!  One thing that remained puzzling to me was how these people got the pitch correct for the several pieces they sang during the concert.  I am quite sure not everyone had perfect pitch.

The Haffner Symphony wasn’t performed as a single piece, but rather in three sections: Allegro con spirito; Andante; and Menuetto and Presto.  Interspersed between the sections were the songs sung by the YPC.  From what Peters said, this was supposed to be how concerts were performed during Mozart’s time, and the songs (traditional and spiritual) were all written at around that time.  Overall it was a well-performed piece, and – despite the practice during Mozart’s time – I probably would have preferred the movements played together.  (Similarly, performing Mozart on period instruments is certainly interesting, but I’d rather listen to a modern orchestra.)

The few short songs interspersed in the program were quite enjoyable.  There was a lot of (coordinated) movement during the singing, and balance was always good among the different parts.  “Tres Cantos” is based on a melody sung by the Krao tribe of northwestern Brazil, and included many sounds of birds.  I thought the words must be Portuguese, but according to the Playbill “the meaning of the text is not known, it is treated here as a group of phenemes.”  The tune we know as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (and other children’s songs) was first sung as “Ah vous dirai-je, mamam” (“Ah shall I tell you, mother”) in France, a song describing a young woman’s awakening to love; it has been adopted by various composers such as Mozart and Beethoven.  Nunez made tonight’s a cappella arrangement to “continue the distinguished tradition” (per Playbill, and what chutzpah, per I).  For this song the YPC was joined by the Very YPC, making for a rather grand sight with them holding up little lights.  Despite my dig at Nunez, there is a lot of reason to be proud of these young and very young singers.  I had recorded the group in my blog before, in an ABT ballet performance, but didn't comment at all on how (or what) they did.  The New York Times review didn't talk about them either.

The structure of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy is a bit usual.  Per the Playbill, in a December 22, 1808 Beethoven led a concert that premiered the fifth and sixth symphonies, and the fourth piano concerto (with composer at keyboard), plus other works with vocalists and chorus.  For good measure he threw in this 20-minute piece with an unusual structure: it begins with a solo piano playing in an improvisation style, then introduced the orchestra, and concludes with vocal soloists and a chorus (excerpted from Playbill.)  The vocal section is very short, less than 5 minutes in total length, and is considered by many as a precursor to “Ode to Joy” in the ninth symphony.  Here there are six soloists instead of the four in the symphony.

After the performance of the Choral Fantasy.

I had listened to the piece a couple of times before tonight, and I still enjoyed it very much.  Kit Armstrong was born in 1992, but evidently started his music life at a very young age.  The Wikipedia entry on him contains some amazing information, including starting college at age 9 (although he didn’t graduate until he was 22.)  He is quite small, yet generated a great sound from the piano.  The choral part wasn’t as grand as that in the symphony, yet it was no less inspiring.  But I do pity the chorus, they had to sit there from the beginning of the concert.

As we were about to leave the auditorium after the conclusion, we found out there was going to be an encore piece.  It didn’t sound as good listening to it at the door.

The New York Times came out with a review soon after the program (not much work during the summer), and was generally effusive about the program and the performance.  One dig, though: "If the concept lacked focus, the rewards were many."

We bought tickets to three MM concerts this season, at a discount from Goldstar.com.  I still remember panning the sound of the orchestra a few years ago, they have certainly made great progress since then.

We left home early, worried that traffic would be bad during the summer.  It was not bad at all. Not feeling that hungry, we got takeout and ate next to the Julliard School.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Lysander Piano Trio. July 18, 2017.

Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University.  General Admission (Balcony Left, free).

Intermezzo from “Goyescas” by Granados (1867-1916), arr. Cassado (1897-1966).
Around a Cauldron (2016) by Cohen (b. 1980).
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9 in E-flat Major by Liszt (1811-1886).
D’un matin de printemps by Boulanger (1893-1918).
Piano Trio in A minor (1914) by Ravel (1875-1937).

Liza Stepanova, piano; Itamar Zorman, violin; Michael Katz, cello.

This was another concert in the Princeton Summer Chamber Series.  I lamented in my last post that by the time I tried to get tickets on the web, they were all gone.  The website mentioned that some would be available at 6 pm on the day of the concert, and we decided to give it a try.  Anne was told there were a few tickets available, and she got two – I was trying to find a place to park the car.  We had a simple dinner a Mamoun again.  While the concert was well-attended, there were quite a few empty seats in the balcony (about 2 sections worth.)  I wonder how many who wanted to hear the concert didn’t show up because of this ticketing policy.  Today they scanned the tickets, which really wasn’t necessary.

The trio was formed while the musicians were in Julliard together in 2009, and has managed to snag a few prizes in the meantime.  I looked up Itamar Zorman on the web, he is the son of a composer father and a pianist mother, lives in Israel, was the recipient of an Avery Fisher grant, and plays a Guarneri violin.  Impressive credentials.

The musicians took turns remarking about the pieces on the program.  The Intermezzo was written by Enrique Granados as part of a Catalan opera based on Goya’s paintings so there would be time for scenery changes.  It was arranged into a piano trio y Gaspar Cassado.

Gilad Cohen got his doctorate in music from Princeton, and now teaches at Ramapo College.  His thesis and research seemed to concentrate to Pink Floyd.  On his website he refers to himself as an Israeli composer and pianist.  He was on hand to describe his composition, based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth: dark forest night, cricket sounds, three witches (perhaps the trio?) dancing around a cauldron.  The piece has 7 scenes: In Dusk, Pounce, Transmutation, Boiling, Witches Waltz, Newts’ Lament, and Sacrificial; the last scene recalls some tunes – such as they are – from the first six.  While the scenes are self-explanatory, I found it difficult to tell where they were as the piece was played without a break.  There was a lot of screeching in the string instruments, and at some point the pianist stood up and did something to the sound board as she hit the keys.  This is a piece I would listen to again if I have the chance, and also perhaps to understand its structure in more depth.

Gilad Cohen joined the Lysander Trio after performance of his Trio "Around a Cauldron."

According to the cellist, Liszt was considered a superstar in his day.  The Hungarian Rhapsodies were originally written for the piano, but Liszt transcribed No. 9 for the piano trio as well, and this is the only known chamber music the composer wrote.  The piece is longer than I would expect of a Rhapsody, and presented a lot of challenges for the musicians, which they tackled with ease.

Lili Boulanger was from a musician family.  She was considered a prodigy at age two, and was the first female winner of the Prix de Rome composition prize in 1913.  Unfortunately, she contracted bronchial pneumonia at that age also, and lived only to age 24.  The symphonic poem “One Spring Morning” was composed during the last year of her life.  She transcribed the work into different forms, including a piano trio.

Ravel’s piece was quite long at about 30 minutes.  It consisted of four movements Modere; Pantoum: Assez vif; Pasccacaille: Tre large; and Finale: Anime.  Zorman didn’t use the provided microphone when he described the piece, so I missed some of it.  The first movement is marked 8/8, but the structure of the measure is 3-2-3.  I had a look at the music beforehand, but the sound wasn’t as unusual as I expected.  The second movement is Malaysian in character, although I couldn’t tell.  The third movement is a Passacaglia.  The last movement describes a dawn that was both glorious and terrifying. 

For the encore they played Joseph Suk’s Elegy.

As I looked over the blog, I noticed there was much discussion about the music, but not much about how it came across.  The musicians met the challenges, and overall the sound balance was very good.

However, in the middle of Ravel I felt a bit tired.  Not physically tired, but I didn’t find the piece engaging.  That could be the length of the program, or how the pieces were ordered in the program.  For instance, trying to grasp the Cauldron piece required a lot of mental energy, and I might have decided not to work as hard at getting the Ravel trio.

Oh, we were wondering how the pianist turned the pages on her iPad.  We noticed from its blinking green light the foot-switch used for that purpose.