August 22, 2011
For the second evening in the inaugural season of Philip Glass’ DAYS AND NIGHTS FESTIVAL, chamber music was again presented at Hidden Valley Music Seminars Theater, which, incidentally, turns out to be a wonderfully appropriate and intimate setting.
The first half of the program featured a work by Mr. Glass, the West Coast Premiere of ‘Pendulum’, originally written for Piano Trio and premiered in 2010, but then revised for Violin and Piano in 2011. The revision really turns it into a work for solo violin plus piano, and when performed by the extraordinarily talented violinist Tim Fain, the logic of this arrangement becomes immediately clear. Monterey Peninsula audiences have been fortunate to hear Mr. Fain several times recently and each time we have been impressed by his virtuosity, musicianship, communicative skills and, above all, his intense artistic charisma. This was again on display in the performance of ‘Pendulum’, a work whose connections to the usual Glass musical motifs seem perhaps more distant. What was somewhat surprising to a listener who was introduced to Mr. Glass’s works in the 1980’s with film scores like Koyaanisqatsi and who is not as familiar with his more recent works, is the sheer, unbridled romanticism of this piece. There is certainly never a question as to the identity of the composer, and there is a minimalist armature of a structure at its core (supported very competently here by the composer at the piano). However, built upon this is a lyrical romanticism in the virtuosic violin part. Mr. Fain’s playing was full of passion, and his animated body movements seemed to reflect his involvement with the music and not generated for showy effect. This enhanced his communication with members of the audience, who burst into immediate, enthusiastic applause after the exciting and climatic end of the work.
The second piece on the program was Phillip Glass’ String Quartet No. 5. String quartets are often the most personal and intimate, not to mention experimental and boundary-pushing mediums for composers. Perhaps there is purity to the instrumentation which frees a composer from extra-musical issues (whether it is the plot of an opera or the need to fill seats for a symphony orchestra in a large concert hall). The evolution of the genre has proved that two violins, viola and cello can express the most complex and intricate musical feelings. Thus, for a composer who is so well known for his film scores, operas and use of electronic instrumentation to write for such a traditional genre, is an interesting challenge. I found this quartet to be one of Mr. Glass’ most successful and beautiful compositions.
The work begins with a slow, poignant theme played in harmony by the instruments together, evoking a feeling of nostalgia along with a touch of anticipation. This theme is then reintroduced later in the work and woven into other musical strands. Then, the cello begins an oscillating ostinato of a major triad, with one-note accents from the violins and a propulsive theme. The familiar Glass sonic world appears and within this traditional grouping of instruments it still sounds very much at home. The third movement Scherzo is also delightfully pure Philip Glass with dance-like dotted rhythms, repeating bass lines, the one-note accents, up and down scales as well as contrasts of low bass lines and leaps to high flourishes from the violins. The slow fourth movement begins by giving the cello a solo line beautifully played by Matt Haimovitz, who had been providing an interesting rhythm section for most of the piece. The middle section of this movement picks up the tempo and once again allows Mr. Haimovitz to shine. It has to be said all the players —violinists Tim Fain and Maria Bachmann, violist David Harding and cellist Matt Haimovitz, were exceptional in this work. The final movement maintains some of the “Glassian” elements but is altogether original. After some exciting flourishes of unison scales, the theme from the first movement leads into a new exalted and climatic section played in notes of repeated rhythms by all instruments. Again the beautiful first movement theme appears, becomes quieter and is interrupted by, and then ends with, an ostinato bass line from the second movement played pizzicato. Its fantastic ending left me with an appreciation of this piece as a totally convincing and compelling work, one that is extremely well-crafted and received a wonderful performance on this occasion. Whenever contemporary music is paired on the same program with venerable masterworks one has to ask the question — will these new pieces still be performed for audience s after hundreds of years, as the older masters’ works are performed today? I think with the first half of this concert the argument can be made that these works are among the best in Mr. Glass’ oeuvre and can take their place in the repertory of classical musicians for many generations to come.
It’s interesting that one of Mr. Glass’ truly personal and intimate works has been paired with what I think is one of the most personal and intimate chamber music masterworks — Schubert’s great Piano Trio in B-flat, Op. 99 with Jon Klibonoff, piano, Maria Bachmann, violin and Matt Haimovitz, cello. The trio began well, but it wasn’t until the middle of the first movement that I felt the players became more involved and more communicative with each other. Once the musicians hit their stride, the playing continued at this high level throughout and produced one of the very best performances of this work I have heard. The intimacy of the piece comes from the dialog that goes on between the players, with each instrument taking a theme and expressing it in his/her own way to the others. In this performance, the communication became more and more nuanced and expressive as the work progressed. It is not, “anything you can do, I can do better” sort of play and response. It is more “you played that so beautifully, let me play it just as beautifully, but the way I feel it” — almost egging each other on to play even more sensitively. Mr. Klibonoff, after having his performance on Friday night of two Impromptus described as “mind-blowing” by editor/pianist Lyn Bronson, proved himself again to be a truly exemplary Schubert player. His musicality, subtlety, nuanced expression and commanding control of his instrument were wonderful to behold. Ms. Bachmann’s played with beautiful intonation and incisiveness. Mr. Haimovitz again produced throughout a gorgeous, full, resonant sound. The bottom line was that the exalted levels of artistic music-making these musicians achieved as an ensemble was what made this performance so impressive and enjoyable.
The evening was a splendid combination of masterful musicians and music in an intimate, appealing setting (with an attentive, enthusiastic audience), which produced an extremely satisfying evening.
Don’t miss the rest of this Festival! The amazing quality of tonight’s performances promises that the two evening concerts next Friday and Saturday, where Mr. Glass’ works will be paired with other great chamber music masterpieces, will be events you won’t want to miss.
by Erik D. Dyar
View article at Peninsula Reviews