Some of the most rewarding musical experiences I have enjoyed this season have been with small chamber organizations of recent mint. It is no coincidence that all three of the concert series feature ambitious offerings of food and drink. As Ruth Sommers, founder and director of yet another series, Festival Chamber Music, which I have already discussed in these pages, the rationale for this is as much social as culinary. She attributes the extraordinary success of her series in part to this social element, and the series discussed here are no less successful and equally lively as an environment to meet like-minded people, including the musicians. This does in fact enhance the music directly, as only conversation can. As for the food and drink, I can say all are excellent, without going so far as to review them, as if they were restaurants. The point is the social encounter, which above all helps attract newcomers to classical concerts and does wonders in making the events more relaxed and fun for everybody.
Articles by Michael Miller
I recently spent an afternoon at the 92nd Street Y, listening to Angela Hewitt play the Goldberg Variations, the second recital of a pair which began with the First Book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. The hall was packed for both concerts. The audience remained raptly silent during both. This afternoon every single member of the audience who was capable of standing was on his feet, expressing sincere gratitude for the great music they had just heard. There was a kind of religion in this, and it brought Jews, Christians, agnostics, and atheists together to hear the greatest of all music, which people who know it regard with spiritual fervor. This is the third year of Ms. Hewitt's Bach cycle, which will continue next season, overlapping with Garrick Ohlsson's traversal of the complete piano music of Brahms. That is how J. S. Bach is cultivated in the neighborhood where I live.
I have already given a detailed account of what was (then to be) heard during the Bard Music Festival 2017, Chopin and His World, but it always seems different after one has actually experienced it all, and there were a few changes. The panel discussions were both enlightening and brilliantly organized. With some exceptions the music-making was on the customary high level, if in places more uneven than usual. What stood out was the basic experience of hearing a representative survey of Chopin's work played by a variety of pianists—superbly, for the most part, especially by the Bard regulars, notably Piers Lane, Danny Driver, Orion Weiss, and Anna Polonsky, as well as the newcomer, Hélène Tysman, who earned long and loud ovations from the audience with her brilliant performance of Chopin's Piano Concerto in F Minor, Op. 21 (1829), and Nimrod David Pfeffer, a conductor as well as an excellent pianist.
In preparing a review of last year's Bard Music Festival, Chopin and his World, I was especially struck by the ability of a festival to present his oeuvre in such a way that the audience could clearly perceive the course of his development as a composer. Jim Samson, one of the preeminent Chopin scholars, I found, had an especially convincing view of his development, which he published in his The Music of Chopin (London, Boston, 1985). The organizers of the Board Festival presented a rather different, but not irrelevant, selection of Chopin's works. I still thought it worthwhile to put together musical illustrations to Professor Samson's outline of the points de repère, the landmarks of Chopin's development. In my review I suggest that an extra concert devoted to Chopin might fill some gaps. This offering, with multiple performances of some of the works, is more of a Chopin orgy than a concert, but you can listen anywhere and pick and choose.
There are not so many opportunities left to see Rodrigo Nogueira's The Ideal Obituary (at The Tank, March 16, 17, 22, 23 and 24), and, in the interests of getting the word out as soon as possible, this review will be shorter than this rich, multifaceted play deserves. Returning home directly from the performance, I find myself buzzing with thoughts and feelings about what I have just seen. Mr. Nogueira has an impressive track record back in his native Brazil, with 15 plays and 5 musicals, as well as books and screenplays. Now he has decided to move to New York. This is his first play since his move, which he wrote in English, as a complete rewrite of a rather different play he wrote some years ago in Portuguese. He manages his adopted language brilliantly, most impressively in the doubles entendres which are not only a major part of the play's diction, but the resulting misunderstandings become pivots on which the story turns.
The Canadian-American conductor and concert organist, Justin Bischof, whose performances of Beethoven's Seventh and Ninth Symphonies impressed me greatly last year, has returned to New York City after several years working in Westchester County, where he successfully designed and funded a splendid mid-sized organ at the Church of St. James the Less in Scarsdale and led numerous concerts with the Canadian Chamber Orchestra of New York. Recently he conducted an outstanding concert with William Byrd's Mass in Four Voices and Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli. Now, he moves to the 20th century with two of its greatest works for chamber orchestra, Richard Strauss's Metamorphoses for 23 solo strings and Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony, which is in fact Rudolf Barshai's arrangement of the composer's String Quartet No. 8.
Whether one reads W. B. Yeats' The Only Jealousy of Emer as a closet drama or sees it in a convincing (indeed outstanding) production like the one mounted by Torn Page Apartment 929 this winter, one gets a strong feeling that the action and speech are unfolding on two levels: the mythic and the experiential, i.e. biographical, in relation to Yeats. As stated in the program note, "Yeats is a poet as much of fact as of feeling. Every work of his has a source—whether from folklore, legend, mythology, the occult, or history: each a source that for him had a definite objective reality. The demands of this world and of that other world of Yeatsian spiritual reality often conflict. His verse play The Only Jealousy of Emer, particularly in its early drafts, offers a vivid portrayal of such a struggle."
Stephen Hough remains one of the most engaging personalities in the world of virtuoso pianists. He makes his wide range of interests—literary, visual, and religious—known to the world at large with grace and modesty, out of a genuine desire to contribute things that others with find enjoyable or helpful. He is even able to compose pieces, mostly of a light nature, which he sometimes interjects into his concert programs. Early in his career he built a reputation with his impressive technique, as he built a list of outstanding recordings of forgotten concerti and solo pieces which were too difficult for others to learn for the rare occasions on which they would be called for in concert. In recent years he has turned more to established classics in his concert programs, approaching them with a consistent style founded on attractive tone and a vision of the coherence of the works he plays.