Gil Shaham’s double appearance at Tanglewood made a powerful statement: that he was the master of both ends of the spectrum of virtuosity, with the implication that every other challenge would fall somewhere in between. On the one hand, there was a visceral, mercurial, spontaneous and totally commanding performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto, a work whose technical challenges are so great that it was supposed to have been declared unplayable by its intended first performer.
Well do I remember my first few days as a Tanglewood Fellow. The pace of it. Already in the first concert there were brilliant things from the 2013 Tanglewood Music Center. Gabriel Campos Zamora’s clarinet playing in Kodály’s Dances of Galánta was breath-taking. He commanded the time; he commanded the space. I can only call Maestro Fruhbeck de Burgos conducting of the Beethoven 5th Symphony with the Fellows a blessed occasion.
The summer festivals of the Berkshires and Hudson Valley are to a large extent about young artists. Some festivals, like Tanglewood, Marlboro, Jacob’s Pillow, Shakespeare & Company, Yellow Barn, and Norfolk, are basically music schools or have an educational institution as a core adjunct. Marlboro and the Tanglewood Music Center focus on musicians who have just completed their conservatory work and are ready to begin their professional careers. Others, like Music Mountain, offer courses for adults and students. The benefits cut both ways: young musicians, actors, and dancers get to perform, and audiences get to hear fresh talent and new insights.
Loved to dearth. Without remembering any legal documents I signed that had Satan written in the small print, just when I forget how tawdry and thin Liszt’s Faust Symphony is, it comes around again and I give it another chance. Too late. I hear the old guy cackle and the doors of Albert Hall clanging shut. The only way to overcome the symphony’s clattering banality is for the conductor to bash the score within an inch of its life. The thing won’t die — no fear of that — and if there is truly inspired leadership, as from Leonard Bernstein and Jascha Horenstein in their classic recordings, the music will bring genuine pleasure, like the circus.
It is perhaps not entirely accurate to call the Biava Quartet (named after the distinguished Philadelphia violinist and conductor Luis Biava.) a “young” quartet, since it is already ten years old. During that time they have collected an impressive array of prizes, including the Naumberg Chamber Music Prize and a first at the London International competition. Today they hold the Lisa Arnhold Quartet Residency at the Juilliard School, serving as graduate quartet in residence and teaching assistants to the Juilliard Quartet. This Juilliard connection is not without significance, since, as cellist Jason Calloway mentioned while introducing the Kodály, the Juilliard Quartet were their mentors. During the Biava’s Sunday afternoon concert, the relationship was constantly apparent, not only in their tight ensemble and disciplined rhtyhm, but in their sound, which recalls not so much the mellowed timbre of the Juilliard Quartet today, but the brilliance and bite of their earlier years. On the other hand, the Biava Quartet’s approach to ensemble textures is quite different. They are more interested in the changing, varied textures created by contrasts among the four instruments. The violinists and violist play standing, while the cellist sits on a podium, which gives them a little more acoustic space around each instrument, not to mention brilliance. This was particularly striking in the works on the first half of the program, which of course must reflect their musical interests, especially since both works are seldom played.