As complex as they are on the page, Ives’s violin sonatas need powerfully imaginative interpretations to come fully alive, ones finely attuned to the composer’s unique sensibility, background, and musical idiom, ready to embody a spirit of exploration, experimentation, and even improvisation. Performances can err on the side of a traditional, European (i.e. Brahmsian) approach, such as the recording by Rafael Druian and John Simms, made in the ‘50’s, a streamlined modernist approach e.g. Paul Zukovsky and Gilbert Kalish, from the ‘60’s, a showy, virtuosic approach, like that of Hilary Hahn and Valentina Lisitsa from 2011; or they can find a balance among these that incorporates American vernacular fiddling traditions, like Gregory Fulkerson and Robert Shannon from 1989. All of this is required if these works are to cohere and succeed in communicating their emotional contents to an audience.
The adventurous Momenta Quartet will make a return appearance at Bard College at Simon’s Rock’s South Berkshire Concerts on Saturday, February 28 at 8:00 p.m. in the McConnell Auditorium of the Daniel Arts Center. A pre-concert conversation with the performers in the Liebowitz Black Box Theater at 6:45 pm will give concertgoers the opportunity to hear a discussion of the works beforehand.
I am happy to let you know that I will be collaborating with Emily Kalish in an afternoon of music-making that is sure to be fun, both for you and for us. We are doing a program of American music for violin and piano, some brand-new, and some American by virtue of style and place of composition.
We will play serious works by Dvorak (but made in America!) and Charles Ives (including “In the Barn”), along with a new piece I composed for Emily called “Fiddling Alon(g/e)” (read that any way you like). There will also be some piano ragtime by Lamb and Bolcom, arranged for our two instruments. We perform on Sunday afternoon, October 27, at 4 pm in the Stockbridge Congregational Church next to the Town Offices.
For music to make sense, the performer has to be able to display its structure, discover its rhetorical gestures, and properly inflect its musical expression. The performer has to have the understanding, emotional sympathy, and musical ability to do all this. Two of the canonical twentieth century works on this program have offered serious challenges to both performers and audiences: are they arbitrarily constructed to shock and confuse us, or do they make sense? Despite the fact that they continue to raise such questions, both works have become relatively familiar in recent years, and are accepted as modern classics. Arkivmusic.com lists sixteen recordings of the Ives and nine of the Schoenberg; they turn up regularly on orchestral programs. Have audiences gotten to the point where they truly understand these pieces as presented? Have they caught up with Ives and Schoenberg? I think the answer is “not quite.” These remain challenging works, and the extent of the performers’ comprehension remains the critical factor. How well did the TMC Orchestra do under its two conductors? Let’s take each work separately.
Greeting guests were James Barton, a Trustee of the Board of Glimmerglass, and Michael MacLeod, General and Artistic Director. MacLeod has, in five years of his term, maintained an enviably high artistic level of production, while at the same time bringing a much needed marketing facelift. For example, program books, brochures, mailings, and the Website have undergone extensive and attractive redesign.
Next week the Tanglewood grounds will be teeming with people, who will have come to usher in summer season, dress up a little, enjoy fireworks, and to hear some more than promising Tchaikovsky, a composer Levine understands well…and it’s a sin to miss a performance by Yefim Bronfman. The pre-season weekend will also have had its crowd, fans of Garrison Keillor’s meticulously branded lapsarian humor and self-consciously down-to-earth American music. In this first weekend the traditional Prairie Home Companion is bookended with chamber music,
Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata is without a doubt one of the great monuments of American music. It is not heard often, because it is difficult for both the pianist and his audience, and perhaps that is a good thing. It would be a pity if, like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, it were played too often in unworthy performances. It embodies the highest principles of American thought and American music, and a performance of it should remain a special occasion, as if it were a secular Missa Solemnis.