Herbert Blomstedt is that rarity: a modest maestro. His most conspicuous distinction is his obvious love of music and music- making. That love is so substantial and sustaining that it has kept him on the podium operating at full throttle into the eighth decade of his career (and the tenth of his life). It is so intense that he conducts the entire standard repertory from memory and apparently does not need a baton; his formidable equipment consists of his arms and his face. These are enough for him to communicate in the most subtle and refined ways to his players, and, more importantly, to communicate his own inspiration directly to them. This is not only a general phenomenon, but one particular to every note and phrase.
Ax and Ma chatted about their relationship over the years and the personal idiosyncrasies that sustain or annoy them both. To engage novice listeners, the Beethoven’s sonata became the subject of some slightly nerdy talk about the tonic-dominant-tonic arches that propelled the Beethoven’s sonata. Finally, somehow, they drifted to discussing chef Jacques Pépin’s freaky tolerance for seizing hot skillets its supposed relevance in interpreting the piano attacks in the scherzo.
Off-season musical life is not as thin in the Hudson Valley as it is in the Berkshires, but, whatever the general situation, the Concerts at Camphill Ghent, founded and directed by pianist Gili Melamed-Lev, stand out for their exceptional quality, one month after another. As I have mentioned elsewhere, these concerts, which usually sell out weeks before the concert date, take place in the intimate performing arts hall of Camphill Ghent, a residential community for elders in Chatham, New York. This particular article will offer a preview of the upcoming March concert, which is actually based on an abbreviated version of the program the Lev-Evans Duo played at a house concert in Stockbridge last month, and reviews of two previous concerts at Camphill Ghent.
It is perhaps best to begin this review with a word of practical advice. This concert was sold out. The hall at Camphill Ghent is rather small. Seating is general. So for future events, you would do well to buy your tickets early and to arrive early. But that should be no hardship. It will give you all the more opportunity to meet members of the Camphill Ghent community and others who live in the area, and that can only add to the pleasure of the concert. As far as seating goes, all the instruments in this program, with their wide but compatible range of color and dynamics came through with clarity, warmth, and strength, and I got the impression that that obtains in every part of this intimate space.
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.
By now everybody knows that the renowned Tokyo String Quartet will retire at the end of the 2012-13 season. The quartet was founded in 1969 at the Juilliard School of music by graduates of the Toho School of Music in Tokyo, where the founding members had studied with Professor Hideo Saito, who left a profound mark on their approach to music. They came to New York for further study with members of the Juilliard String Quartet. Since then, as one of the first Asian performing groups to acquire an international reputation, they have not only set the example for Japanese musicians in the world at large, they have set an international standard for chamber music playing and the string quartet in particular. The extraordinary efflorescence of string quartets today doubtless owes much to their example. Their playing has been distinguished by its beauty of tone, accuracy of intonation, and precision of ensemble, but, for all this perfection, they never fail to project a fully thought-out and felt conception of the composer’s intentions and the inner content of the music. Their playing is never dry, detached, or emptily virtuosic, and I have never left one of their performances feeling they had failed to go the limit with the music at hand.
These people look too thin to be from Cleveland!,” growled a reptilian voice behind me. A pretty safe comment to make about almost any American city these days—but as the Cleveland musicians took the stage last Sunday, I couldn’t help thinking there was something inherently unified, lean and reserved about their demeanor.
Marlboro Music—once again—is celebrating its 60th anniversary, which I have already celebrated in an extensive retrospective article last year. The revered summer music school and festival has a peculiar double anniversary, because its inaugural year was very small indeed, and rather precarious. In the second year, everything was more organized, both in scheduling and financially, and the cherished summer event took off, to become what it is today—which, miraculously, is not terribly different from what it was sixty years ago. It is larger and more professionalized, but it still retains its original feeling of intimacy. The younger participants—they are not called students—still have the same extensive rehearsal time with their mentors. And the public can still look forward to concerts of the highest quality, in which seasoned masters and their less-experienced colleagues make splendid music together.