Friday, July 25, 2014

Chamber Music Northwest delves into Romanticism in works by Del Tredici and Schubert

Photo credit: Tom Emerson
Chamber Music Northwest showed that Romanticism is alive and well in a program consisting of a newly composed “Bulllycide” for Piano and String Quintet by David Del Tredici and the “Octet” in F Major for Winds and Strings by Franz Schubert. Both pieces, played on Monday, July 21st, at Kaul Auditorium, were imbued with strong harmonic lines, and they received intense performances by the CMNW musicians and enthusiastic applause from all corners of the concert hall, which was fairly full.

“Bullycide” was commissioned by Chamber Music Northwest in a consortium that included the La Jolla Music Society and Peak Performances at Montclair State University. The piece honors five gay men who were victims of bullying. After reading newspaper accounts of the bullying, Del Tredici felt moved, in part by reflections on his own experience, to write “Bullycide.” It is a piano sextet that is split into two parts with four movements for each part. The movements flow into one another without pause, and the music follows a trajectory that runs from a spirited beginning to a tragic ending.

For the past 25 years, Del Tredici (age 77) has been the Distinguished Professor of Music at The City College of New York. In the 1970s, he pioneered neo-Romanticism as a direct counterweight to the prevailing atonal style and never looked back. Completed in 2013, “Bullycide” is a continuation of Del Tredici’s journey into the landscape of complex harmonies.

The performance that I heard featured pianist Orion Weiss, violinists Ani Kavafian and Bella Hristova, violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama, cellist Sophie Shao, and bass violinist Samuel Suggs. Weiss was the only member of the ensemble who had performed the piece before (at the premieres at La Jolla and Montclair), and his playing seemed to be the glue that made this piece very engaging. Often the Weiss created a sonic presence that cascaded over and around the strings. Lots of sweeping arpeggios and scintillating ornamentation gave the piece a lush sonority that reminded me of Tchaikovsky at times. The strings played with conviction, sometimes in conversation with each other and at other times in distinctly different corners. A muted and aggressive pizzicato section effectively suggested the violence against the five men and after two brief pauses the musicians used loud stage whispers to recite (I think) the names of each man. One of the highlights of the piece was a lovely solo violin part that Kavafian played while the other strings created a soft, undulating background. Towards the end, the music picked up tempo and later relaxed into a simple tune that was childlike and hopeful. Del Tredici was in the audience and came up on stage to join the performers in accepting the heartfelt and sustained applause.

Photo credit: Tom Emerson
After intermission, the stage was given over to the famous “Octet,” which Schubert wrote during a time in which he was depressed because he was suffering from syphilis. The six movements of this hour-long extravaganza received an incisive performance from the ensemble, which consisted of violinists Hristova and Kavafian, violist Ngwenyama, cellist Fred Sherry, bass violinist Suggs, clarinetist David Shifrin, bassoonist Julie Feves, and hornist William Purvis. The group played with an √©lan, and the mood bounced with a light foot during the dance-like sections. The liquidy-smooth sound of Shifrin’s clarinet was superb and in the last movement, his fleet fingers made several crazy runs sound like the easiest thing in the world. The rumbling tremolo from Sherry’s cello was another outstanding passages that fortunately was repeated. He seemed to inspire the entire ensemble, and, again the audience rewarded the music making with heartfelt applause.
Photo credit: Tom Emerson

Bella Hristova, Ani Kavafian, and Nokuthula Ngwenyama - photo credit: Tom Emerson

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