The A-list contains works that are already familiar to most concertgoers either through live performances or recordings. Their presence on programs means that audiences can anticipate their experience and compare their expectations with what they actually hear, for better or worse. The B-list, however, consists of works by composers which may be familiar, but which are less often performed, and therefore may offer listeners a first-time concert experience. Such was the case with the program offered by the TMC Monday night at Tanglewood. Membership in the B-list does not imply second-rate quality; it simply means that those responsible for programming (orchestra managers, conductors, commissioning bodies) have less faith in such works to attract audiences who like to know what to expect.
Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).
Many of you know that my esteemed colleague Lucy Bardo is one of the first and best American viola da gamba players through her work with such prestigious and pioneering ensembles as the NY Consort of Viols and Calliope and her concertizing here and abroad. Her long career has paralleled the growing awareness of and love for the instrument among the public in the United States over the past half-century or so. I have enjoyed the privilege of performing with her on many occasions—she is a total musician whose playing blends subtlety and nuance with power and authority.
Resident Australian Ballet choreographer Stephen Baynes just in the act of choosing Fauré’s Requiem mass for a new ballet for the (Australian) Federation Centenary in 2001 clearly stated his concept. He bravely steered to a huge and personal topic in creating a ballet around death with that intimate choral music, and his keen understanding of the music and inventive choreography insure that neither the dancing nor the musical elements step on the other’s toes, as it were. On the contrary the close marriage of choreography and music, though of course not written with the slightest intention for the ballet, sets it as an excellent example of ‘old’ music though already near perfect, benefiting from the added dancing, the choreography finding new depths, no deeper or shallower than the music’s alone, but different depths found only in theatrical arts. Indeed, Stephen Baynes’ ballet introduced me to new approaches to Fauré’s music. Beyond Bach, the other ballet in this all-Baynes double bill showing only in Melbourne, is powerful enough to stand alongside Requiem with neither overshadowing the other. It is almost abstract and shows a deep love for history and J. S. Bach.
Behind Stephen Hough’s astonishing recital in Troy, there are significant connections with two others I recently heard in Boston, both with the American pianist Jeremy Denk. In one of these Mr. Denk collaborated with the great cellist Stephen Isserlis (review forthcoming), with whom Stephen Hough often plays and with whom he has made several recordings.
The summer season began for this concertgoer Sunday afternoon on a very high level in a very good place, Tannery Pond, on the Darrow School campus, which occupies part of the Shaker community at New Lebanon, New York. A bright, warm Sunday afternoon arrived on cue to inaugurate this season of a distinguished chamber music series which began in 1991. There is no more comely place to gather for music; the acoustics are intimate, clear, and warm in this converted tannery, originally built by the Shakers in 1834; and its founder-director, Christian Steiner, a distinguished pianist and photographer, provides a uniquely enthusiastic “one-man-show,” introducing the program, arranging chairs, recording and photographing the concert, turning pages, and picking up overturned flower pots, as was necessary this afternoon.