September 17, 2018
The stunning backdrop of the Tippet Rise Art Center in the Beartooth Mountains near Yellowstone Park in Montana was the spot for the chamber music celebration OPUS 2017. The previous edition, known as OPUS 2016, became in its excerpts a worthy CD offering. Type the name in the search box above, top left-hand corner for the review of that one. And now we have access to the highlights of last year’s edition, entitled Daydreams (Pentatone 5186 736).
The unusual mix of the familiar in a vital context, the unfamiliar and the new is a winning one, as are the inspired and somewhat inimitable performances.
Pianist Jeffrey Kahane’s startlingly bold and harmonically brilliant re-composition of “America the Beautiful” manages to seem so apt a comment on our times that one literally starts up. It is exquisite, really. It has some brilliance, surely, and stands as a tribute to Kahane’s fertile musical imagination. And as we hear the minor modal transformations we feel some of what we may be feeling right now regardless, as there is uncertainty within the beauty and perhaps some true ugliness as well in the present moment.
From there we encounter something almost Romantically expressive, Modern and at times quite jazzy, namely Aaron Jay Kernis’s “First Club Date” featuring the always commanding Matt Haimovitz on cello and Andrea Lam with all the right creative energies on piano. This was a Tippet commission and it is the world premier recording. It is a cornerstone of this program surely and we are treated to some wide-ranging spans of sound that keep our ears attuned.
The following “Prelude from English Suite No. 2” finds pianist Anne-Marie McDermott in a “take no prisoners” fettle. Eugene Bozzo’s “Image for Solo Flute” centers on Jessica Sindell’s very liquid sweetness. If the music sounds a little redolent of some incidental music Vaughn Williams wrote, it is worth revisiting in any event and it forwards a sort of dialog between different stations in the recent past.
Enescu’s violin-piano “Impressions from Childhood” has genuine weight as vintage Enescu. I do not believe I have had the pleasure to hear this work before. Caroline Goulding and David Fung give us a violin-piano tandem that convinces us to pay attention. It is something I am in any event glad to hear and to return to going forward. And yes, it has some of the folksy qualities that are so endearing when Enescu chooses to bring them forward. Ms. Goulding is explosively dynamic and Fung responds with his own poetic vision of the music.
Pianist Yevgeny Sudbin’s “A la minute (Variations of the Minute Waltz)” has virtuoso clout and a hearty imaginative thrust. It makes the very familiar ever new and so we smile with some conviction when we hear it and re-hear it.
The finale is every bit as climactic as one might wish. John Luther Adams comes forward with an ambient and poetic work for piano (Vicky Chow) and percussion (Doug Perkins). It cannot be accidental that the motif put forward in Bozza’s solo flute work is paralleled and somehow echoed in the Adams work. And it is the motif that Vaughan-Williams uses in his own way as I suggest above. There is subtle use of electronic enhancements in this piece, though the instruments are completely centered in what you hear. Electronics basically put forward a piano-chord drone that enters the mix from time-to-time and feels wholly a part of it all. There is a foundational drone then. And yet it does not remain purposively minimal but instead gives out with a relative plenty. It is a fine conclusion to a rather extraordinary program.
One savors the results of this meeting of artists-curators and an inspiring setting. I find every listen drives me a bit deeper into the substance of the music. There is a great deal to sink oneself into on the program. It is no mere sampler. It is a kind of musical weather vane for where in part we may be right now. It is surely not thoroughgoingly Modern, and in so being it maps out an eclectic tonal stance that is part of where were are now. Recommended.
READ AT: Classical-Modern Music