methow preview, part one

The only piece on my Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival swing this year that I’ve performed before is Robert Schumann’s gorgeous Piano Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 47. I think that it’s at least the equal of his famous Piano Quintet (also in E-flat major). Schumann had a chamber music banner year in 1842, when he wrote his three string quartets, his Piano Quintet, and the Piano Quartet. All are masterpieces, and a great challenge to bring off in performance. Schumann doesn’t make things easy for his performers. He tends to change moods very quickly, often mid-phrase, and even when you do get to play an entire phrase without interruption, it’s often irregular in its construction. You can’t go on autopilot with Schumann. But his rewards are great. The melodies in the Piano Quartet, in particular in the slow movement, are yearning and aching and gorgeous.

At Methow, I’ll be performing this work with Brittany Boulding, violin; Meeka Quan DiLorenzo, cello; and Ryan McEvoy McCullough, piano. I can’t wait!

Here’s a complete performance of the Quintet by Menachim Pressler (92 years young) and an all-star group of musicians. Enjoy!

third angle & gabby

Third Angle String Quartet with Gabriela Lena Frank. Photo: Tom Emerson Photography
Photo: Tom Emerson Photography

We had two nights of terrific concerts at Third Angle this Thursday and Friday, and this is a photo from the finale of Friday night’s concert. Pictured are (L-R) Susan DeWitt Smith, Gabriela Lena Frank, and the Third Angle String Quartet. Gabby is just a force of nature, full of life and enthusiasm, and it was a joy for us to get to know her and her music together.

criticizing the critic

In today’s New York Times Anthony Tommasini reviewed pianist Stephen Hough’s recital at Carnegie Hall. A major component of Hough’s recital was a piece of his own invention, his Piano Sonata No. 2 “Notturno Luminoso”.

My problem with this review is that there seems to be no critic alive (with the possible exceptions of Steven Smith and Alex Ross) who is not afraid of praising a work or a performance without also giving some sort of sly, backhanded dressing down of same. Here is what I mean:

At 51, Mr. Hough has established himself as an extraordinary pianist, a thinking person’s virtuoso. Whether he is a towering composer is another question. Music history usually takes some time to make those calls. And, from this one hearing, I cannot claim that Mr. Hough’s Second Sonata is destined for a slot in the repertory.

But it is an exhilarating and inventive piece, brilliantly conceived for the piano. Mr. Hough, a polymath who also conducts, paints and writes poetry, is a lively writer on music who contributes a blog to The Daily Telegraph in London that is essential reading. Not surprisingly, he wrote a vividly detailed program note for his sonata.

The title “Notturno Luminoso” is meant to suggest the experience of a fantasy on a sleepless night in a brash city setting. As the piece, loosely organized in three parts, opens, we hear steely chords thick with clusters, like Messiaen’s harmonies but with a touch of bracing Copland or early Carter.

Now, what was wrong with saying it was an ‘exhilarating and inventive piece, brilliantly conceived’ without saying that it also might not be ‘destined for a slot in the repertory’? Is it too much to simply enjoy a piece without also downgrading its chances at entering the repertory? How many of Liszt’s piano works were criticized at their premieres because the critics were concerned with whether any other pianists might not be up to their virtuoso challenges? I would guess that contemporary critics of Liszt were more concerned with the performance of the great pianist/composer, and with the novel techniques he may have introduced in his compositions, rather than if pianists would be playing his works fifty years hence.

Does this seem strange to anyone else but me?