Toby Saks, founder of the Seattle Chamber Music Society and an acclaimed cellist, died early on Thursday (Aug. 1) — sending waves of shock and grief around the world as music lovers got the news. She was 71 when she lost a short battle with fast-moving pancreatic cancer, a diagnosis she met with bravery and calm.
The Boston Cello Quartet, comprised of four young cellists from the Boston Symphony, will release its debut disc on February 5th. The BSQ was founded in 2010 by Blaise Déjardin, Adam Esbensen (formerly of the Oregon Symphony, and a Corvallis native), Mihail Jojatu and Alexandre Lecarme. They rotate lead players for each piece they perform, and each player is brilliantly suited to the task at hand, showing the virtuosity and flexibility of the quartet, both collectively and individually.
The album’s title is ‘Pictures’, and this is undoubtedly due to the fact that the centerpiece of the disc is a virtuoso arrangement of selected movements from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The arrangement, by Blaise Déjardin, is quite breathtaking in its simplicity and ingenuity. Listening to each of the movements, I found myself quite forgetting Ravel’s virtuoso orchestration, and simply enjoying the tonal possibilities of the four cellos, and the beautiful playing throughout.
There is a wide selection of material for just about any mood on this disc – from the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, to Debussy’s Clair de Lune, to Piazzolla’s La Muerte del Angel. And the piece de resistance may be the final encore selection by Déjardin, his Mozart Variations, which has the temerity to combine Mahler, Mozart, John Williams, Rossini, McCartney, and Haydn into a delightful bon bon.
The sonics of the disc are as superb as the playing. I recommend this disc most highly!
Pioneer Place in downtown Portland. A place abuzz with all manner of people doing all manner of things. People hurrying to catch a movie, a bus, the last hours of a sale at a favorite store. Soccer moms talking on cell phones, businessmen tapping out emails on their Blackberries, a clutch of school girls cruising the mall after school, chattering raucously…
A man playing the cello with the grace and simplicity borne of utter mastery.
Small children on their parent’s lap, in wonder at the sounds and the vision of seeing this mysterious and beautiful instrument only a few feet away. A high school violist, sitting with her case, utterly absorbed by the great Bach suites for solo cello. Oregon Symphony members, relaxing and enjoying the music. Music lovers of all kinds, sitting closely together, huddled against the gale of noise that swirls about the atrium, seeking shelter in the music of JS Bach – speaking anew after over 300 years.
This was the magical atmosphere of Alban Gerhardt’s one-hour performance in a unique public venue – a busy mall in downtown Portland. It was part of his six day residency with the Oregon Symphony. As my wife (a cellist) and I watched from the level above, she turned to me and whispered “when I see the faces of the people listening, it makes me feel good about what we do”.
After this observation, I spent as much time looking at people as they entered the space as I did Alban when he played. Some people were drawn as though by a gravitational field – the power of the music was like a giant celestial body that they were powerless to ignore. Others looked on briefly, but their other concerns were greater than their curiosity, and so they passed on to wherever and whatever they were going to do next. Still others seemed to consciously look away in a gesture that seemed to say that they were almost overpowered by what was going on, and they couldn’t invest the emotional capital to get involved. But most often – I saw this especially among the teens that were going by – they were immediately intrigued by what they were seeing and hearing. They would text their friends, take a photo on their phone, or a short video, and take a minute or two just to absorb what was happening.
This reminded me of the basic truth about our young people that is often trivialized or ignored: they are voracious in their appetites for everything musical or novel (or most of all, both). They are also drawn in by quality, passion, and commitment. These things Alban Gerhardt has in spades, and so does the Oregon Symphony. I can’t help but think that we can pull these succeeding generations into a lifelong love of classical music if we aren’t afraid to talk to their level, or even challenge it a bit. We need to stop dumbing down and worry if they’ll ‘get it’. They will if what I’ve seen today is any indication.