A lot has happened since last I posted. I’m still deep in the heart of the Chamber of Music and really enjoying the process of building ensemble and rapport, learning the works, stepping away and coming back to discover something new or unexpected. Since last time I’ve had the great fortune to receive coaching by a world-class string quartet, the Vogler Quartett, who individually provided another layer of thought and clarity to the trio works by Beethoven, Milhaud, and Libby Larsen. Them being German and me still having the heart of a linguist, it was very interesting to see and hear their individual musical perspectives as filtered through their cultural lenses, by way of a second language, in Ireland, to groups whose members ranger from Argentinean, Italian, South Korean, Spanish, and German. It’s truly fascinating and I found myself stepping out of myself to, in a way, acting as observer to my own education. I can’t recall any other musical/educational moment like that.
As a slight departure from hardcore chamber music, or perhaps on a smaller scale of chamber music, I’ve begun working with Italian pianist, Annalisa Monticelli, on my solo recital program. It’s been incredibly difficult to narrow-down and ultimately finalize a program, but I think I can say that I have. Currently the program includes the clarinet sonatas of Bernstein and Poulenc, Francaix’s Tema con Variazioni, Bassi’s Rigoletto Fantasy, and another Libby Larsen trio but this one for clarinet, viola, and piano entitled Red Hills, Black Birds and inter-semiotically translates selected paintings by Georgia O’Keefe. The energy and direction of this piece have given me so many ideas for concert programming which leads me to the other development since last we spoke; Vivre Musicale is coming to Ireland and will be giving a series of concerts at the Royal Irish Academy of Music starting in April. This quietly unfolding development has given me a renewed sense of purpose, leadership, and creativity for Vivre. The programs are mesmerizing and the artists equally as such. It’s now just a matter of staging and production for the events so that they come of flawlessly, professionally, and with a hint of magic.
Beyond all of that, this weekend I took part in Music at Brighton Road’s “Emerging Professionals” concert that featured Villa-Lobo’s Jet Whistle, Shostakovich’s 3rd string quartet, and Beethoven’s septet. I can’t overstate how spectacular the playing was. It was really really good and I felt so proud and a little intimidated to place myself amongst their ranks. Amy Gillen and Gabriele Dikciute played what I know to be a crazy difficult piece, with such control and confidence as to make the listener think it was merely a C- Major scale. I could tell they knew not only their part but the other person’s as well. There was never a moment when I was worried that it would fall apart or where it seemed unplanned, unrehearsed, or whatever. Brava! Amy’s always such a poised musician with such grace and ebullience for the music she’s playing. It’s impossible not to hear her and think, “Wow!” After the Villa-Lobos, the string quartet, headed by Richard Thomas took to the Shostakovich. Now, I know these people, I see them everyday and have played with most of them at one point or another, but I have to say that I was mesmerized by their ensemble. All of the colors, from Colma Ni Bhriain’s second violin, to Gabriele’s cello, to Josh Warren’s viola, were so exquisitely blended as to suggest that we weren’t listening to merely Emerging Professionals but the present and future of classical music. I never say this sort of thing and will deny it if you ever bring it up, but I think they could have a really incredible career as a string quartet. Let’s pick this part.
First, you have Josh on viola and if you’ve ever heard him play you know he gets the fullest, richest, warmest sound that truly serves as the tonal bridge between violin and cello. I’d dare say that his warmth and tonal palette informs that of the ensemble because let’s be honest, when the violist is serving it the cellist and definitely the violinists better pick it up, and serve it he did. Gabriele had already prepared me in the Villa-Lobos for her daring and control, here in the Shosti all of that was superseded by her resonant and enveloping blanket of sound that allowed the pointed and bright melodies of the first violin line to sing through while cushioning its decent. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at the front of the house during the performance to see their connection during the performance, but I did get moments during their dress rehearsal and from what I saw then, Gabriele with her towering stature and long flowing hair is a dynamic and engaging force within the ensemble. Often times the 2nd violin goes unnoticed playing literally second fiddle to the first, however, in the Shostakovich, Colma shined and magnificently. With much of Richard’s part being way up in the troposphere, Colma grounded the violin sound and helped tether the group to a core, vibrant violin color. Her supporting role was not without merit. She met Richard’s virtuosity toe-for-toe while passing at times jagged, bouncy, buoyant lines to the other strings, matching articulations and bow strokes with panache and a little cheek. If Josh is the color, Colma is indeed the rock. Precise, incisive, and meticulous, she’s the surgeon with passion, transforming the science of music making into art and poetry. Last but certainly not least, there was Richard. For me, Richard stole the show perhaps because I had no idea he had that kind of command, performance, leadership, you name it, in him. I had just heard Gabriele and I’ve played in groups with Josh and Colma so I was prepared for their genius, but with Richard, I was gleefully blindsided by his charisma, control, musicianship, and like I said before, leadership. Watching Richard play I felt validated in my private thoughts that there are essentially two kinds of violinists in the world, first and seconds, neither of which is a pejorative, nor one better than the other. They’re both equally necessary and wonderful, but require a very different skill set. Often times first violinists make terrible seconds and seconds tend to acquiesce to the demands of the first violin role, of course these are just my observations, but seeing Richard in action, it felt truer to me. It isn’t so much about the level at which he plays but the way he plays, the personality and character that he channels when sitting in the hot seat. In the Shostakovich he bounded headfirst into the treacherous bits making light work of what could otherwise be intense labor. His phrasing was effortless and not affected. His dominance over the musical line allowed the other members to dig in confidently, knowing that Richard was up to the task of picking up whatever musical schmuckery they could lay down. It was communicative, styled, and appropriate for the style and character of the work. Richard was clearly the master of his domain and it was a joy to hear him hold court. Stellar job you guys. My only regret is that more people weren’t there to hear what really was a momentous occasion. I was pleasantly reminded that the Royal Irish Academy of Music doesn’t just boast world-class vocalists. Now if only the powers that be would pick my brain on how to showcase and propel it.
I won’t get into the Beethoven because I was a part of that group and I feel like any comments I make will either be misconstrued to inflate or overly criticize our performance since I know intimately the behind the scenes workings. That being said it was a lot of fun and I look forward to performing the work again in Vivre Musicale’s Samuel Beckett concert April 8th.
Now go practice!