Alan Feinberg, curator of the House Blend concert series at PS 21 in Chatham, has interesting ideas about how to bring together seemingly disparate repertory to provoke new perspectives. My second reaction to the unusual programming of the second concert was “what do these pieces have to do with each other?” (My first reaction was “Cool: I get to hear Biber, Wolpe, and Nancarrow, all in the same program?”) It makes you think as you listen, which is not a bad thing if what you are thinking about is the music you are (carefully) listening to; and the thoughts accumulate as you listen. My thought about the Biber Passacaglia for solo violin, composed in 1676 and a powerful precursor to Bach’s solo violin music, was this: Biber makes the violin sound like several voices singing in counterpoint. This is not something the violin normally does, but after Biber, it became conceivable.
The Tanglewood Vocal Fellows singing Bernstein made a marvelous display of fine technique, verbal intensity, and general cooperation that wowed me. I have always heard A Quiet Place with a sense of bewilderment, sometimes wondering where the opera came from. An adventure in newness, one must listen to it carefully, repeatedly, to find its inside. Let me say at this point that there was spectacular vocalism, particularly by soprano Elaine Daiber as Dede, whose golden voice roamed from below the staff to atmospheric heights with ease.
What is best in Aston Magna’s concerts is a complete lack of pretension, whether it is Daniel Stepner’s quiet erudition or the singing of soprano Dominique Labelle, who shows an almost childlike identification with the music she sings, this requiring of course, a superb technique. The players take pleasure in the style which they have mastered so completely. It doesn’t proselytize or force anything on you. We are a family, privileged to hear some of the greatest music there is.
Many remarkable performances, a few have stayed in my ear. Principally among them are the beautiful singing of Dominique Labelle with Aston Magna. This marvelous artist has an inborn purity to her singing which requires no special treatment. She has a stillness, in her demeanor and singing, which is second to none. I would happily hear her sing every day.
Last month I had the pleasure of chatting with Inbal Segev, a young cellist from Israel, who has been making a mark in contemporary music and the classics. She was discovered by Isaac Stern as a high school student in Israel, and he arranged for her to come the United States to study at Yale and Juilliard. On this occasion we talked about her upcoming performance of Christopher Rouse’s cello concerto with the Albany Symphony under David Allan Miller and a very interesting—and successful—contemporary music festival sponsored by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Marin Alsop. It held its inaugural season just last summer.
he announcement of this concert at St. James Place came as a very pleasant surprise. There’s no need to wait until June to hear an Aston Magna Concert! And that is certainly a event much-anticipated among early music lovers and Berkshire residents. Aston Magna regulars, Daniel Stepner, baroque violin, Laura Jeppesen, viola da gamba, Peter Sykes, harpsichord, and Andrea LeBlanc, baroque flute, will play excerpts from a central work by J. S. Bach, A Musical Offering, covering the basic styles of composition contained within it: canons, a fugue (ricercare), and a trio sonata, as well as sonatas—respectively for viola da gamba and violin, flute, and violin—by Buxtehude, Handel, and C. P. E. Bach. The selection from the Offering is especially sympathetic to the other works on the program, with the simpler ricercare (the one Bach was able to improvise on the spot, when Frederick the Great presented him with his theme and the challenge to write a fugue on it) and the Trio Sonata.
A relatively new chamber music series in our area, The Concerts at Camphill Ghent, extending through the rather sparse autumn through spring months, has just recently come to my attention, and it looks well worth a season subscription. Every concert is compelling, and they all fit together as a whole. Clearly some strong consideration has gone into the selection of both the music and the musicians. The series was founded and is managed by a musician, the outstanding pianist, Gili Melamed-Lev, who oversees the programming and participates extensively herself. This is by no means exceptional in itself, but the particular stamp she has put on it stands out.