Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fred Sherry and friends shine - critic gets hit with vomit

I know that some folks have a problem with Arnold Schoenberg's 12-tone pieces, but projectile vomit is not something that I usually associate with his music. Yesterday evening (Saturday, July 12th at Kaul Auditorium), I attended a special Chamber Music Northwest concert that celebrated the 30 years of performing that cellist extaordinaire, Fred Sherry, has given at the summer festival. Sherry and his ensemble were deep in the waters of Schoenberg's "String Quartet No. 3" when I heard a noise and felt something warm and wet on my back. I couldn't quite believe it at first and sat stunned for a few seconds before turning around to see who could have spewed their supper all over the back of my shirt. I saw a woman who seemed to have collapsed towards the back of her seat - perhaps in relief of having delivered a direct hit on a music critic who was poised to pen something profound about Schoenberg's music. Right after I got up out of my seat another woman got up to wave me away from the scene, so I - plastered with the residue of an oatmeal dinner - made my way as quietly as I could to the bathroom. I thought of going home directly, but I had a meeting with David Brewster, the publisher of, set up during intermission. Fortunately, a savvy CMNW team member gave me a CMNW polo shirt to wear and a plastic bag for my shirt. That was good enough for me, so I laughed off the situation and heard the rest of the concert with no more fuss.

Back to the music!

The first piece on the program was the "Fantasias Nos. 3 and 4 for String Sextet" by Orlando Gibbons, one the foremost composers of Jacobean England. The Fred Sherry Quartet (Sherry plus violinists Jennifer Frautschi and Jesse Mills and violist Richard O'Neill) collaborated with violist Paul Neubauer and cellist Michael Nicolas to apply a silky tone to this Renaissance-early Baroque piece. The music was very pleasant, especially when the sextet down-shifted to delicate and soft passages. But pleasantness aside, this kind of music had no climax and didn't seem to go anywhere in particular.

Next came the Schoenberg "String Quartet No. 3," which Sherry prefaced by remarking that Schoenberg had connected this piece to a picture that used to hang above his bed when he was a child. The picture was of a pirate captain who had his head nailed to the mast of his ship. That got some chuckles from the audience.

This four-movement work started off with some intriguing sounds in which part of the quartet would pluck all sorts of seemingly random notes while the other players skittered about. From one moment to the next the instruments were like a scramble of disconnected voices in a dark forest. I recall the second movement ending with a brief and eloquent question and the third movement contained some interesting pairings of the violins versus the viola and cello.

Well,up until I was disrupted, I would have to say that the Sherry Quartet nailed this number.

After intermission, I got to hear Charles Wuorinen's "Sextet for Two Violins, Two Violas and Two Cellos." This works completed in 1989 as a commission from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and dedicated to Sherry, who was at that time the artistic director of the CMSLC.

The ensemble played this work with thrilling conviction. There were lots of stinging attacks, sudden stops, slightly languorous moments, and furious swells. Sherry seemed to enjoy every minute of the music making. He tore some horsehair from his bow, because he was playing so hard. Then ensemble won over the audience, which responded with tremendous applause.

The last work on the program was a world premiere of "A Set of Arrangements for Two Violins, Two Violas and Two Cellos" by Jesse Mills. Members of Sherry's Quartet chose four selections from this diverse set. The "Russian Maiden's Song" contained a sweet, yet melancholy melody that ended very poignantly. "Moving Past" featured Mills with some bluesy/jazzy sounds. I loved the thick viola parts in "The Stormy Morning" and "The Inn." And "Funiculi, Funicula" had the perfect zing to end the evening.

Still, the next time I hear some music by Schoenberg, I'll have to bring an extra shirt.
At noontime today I received a sympathetic phone call from Linda Magee, executive director of CMNW. I asked her if the woman who spilled her beans on me was ok. Magee replied that her staff offered to get a doctor for the woman, but she didn't want one and told them that she felt fine and would ride her bicycle home.

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