march music moderne comes in like a lion

Free Marz String Trio | Photo: Charles Noble

Just like its eponymous month, March Music Moderne came in like a lion last night with the opening salvo (not including the first Thursday opening at Polish Hall) at the Community Music Center last night. This was the Bob Priest (festival organizer) produced Free Marz Trio concert that is often the highlight of each year’s festival. It was a concert on the longish side (close to 2 1/2 hours), especially given the density of the material, but it proved, even then, to be more than the sum of its parts, and infinitely rewarding.

If you attend a recital or concert with a musician, and you hear them remark at the close that they feel like going home to practice, then they were very inspired by what transpired during the concert. I felt like going home to practice, especially in light of Joël Belgique’s seemingly effortless traversals of two of Garth Knox’s Viola Spaces etudes for solo viola. The concert opened with the Viola Space #4, entitled Pizzicato: Nine Finger, a pizzicato tour de force of nearly unparalleled virtuosity. The audience was rapt as Belgique produced an incredible variety of tone colors, rhythms, and implied melodies using just eight fingers and a thumb, culminating at the end with both hands turned opposite their normal directions and strumming at the peg box end of the fingerboard. None of us could believe what we were seeing and hearing!

The concert closed with Viola Space #8, entitled Bow Directions: “Up, down, sideways, round”. Whereas the first work of the evening was all about plucking the strings, this work was all about the use of the bow in just about every possible, but non-traditional, way. It was truly a frenzy of bowing possibilities. At times it was feared that the friction might cause a fire, boy scout style, but a blaze never materialized from this blazing performance. He earned the most hearty ovations of the evening.

The Free Marz Trio at Community Music Center tonight. Superb playing!
The Free Marz String Trio at Friday’s concert. | Photo: Charles Noble

Bob Priest commissioned 10 local composers to write 1 minute marches for string trio based upon whatever aspect of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring most spoke to them, in honor of the piece’s 100th anniversary. And indeed, there were 10 very different marches on display. The most memorable were those by Robert McBride, Michael Johanson, and Bonnie Miksch, though all were expertly crafted and well written for the forces at their disposal. All were played with aplomb by the Free Marz String Trio, with some vocal utterances of exasperation after the particularly thorny work by Johanson.

MMM founder Bob Priest | Photo: Chris Leck Photography
MMM founder Bob Priest | Photo: Chris Leck Photography

The eight hundred pound gorilla of the evening was Witold Lutoslawski’s sole String Quartet (1964). Clocking in a nearly 25 minutes, it is a piece of astonishing breadth and power. It is unique in that it is one of the first works to combine notated music with aleatoric music, i.e., music in which some of the elements of the music are left up to chance and the performers, with a framework provided by the composer. As Meyer-Eppler said at one of the infamous Darmstadt new music courses, “a process is said to be aleatoric … if its course is determined in general but depends on chance in detail”. As Bob Priest noted in his brief remarks before the performance, this work perhaps represents an inner monologue of the Polish mind, having lived through the horrors of the Second World War and the subsequent horrors of the Soviet regime. It was given a towering performance by the members of the Free Marz Trio, joined by violinist and fEarNoMusic artistic director Paloma Griffin. As I tweeted right after the performance, I found myself “between loving and hating the piece, but with absolutely no ambivalence”.

Two brief works of Stravinsky received deft arrangements by Bob Priest and Jeff Winslow, and correspondingly deft performances.

Justin Kagan, cellist, was joined by Jeannie Baldwin for a lovely and impassioned performance of the Elegy movement from Elliot Carter’s Cello Sonata (1948). Kagan prefaced the performance by reading a letter from Carter to Kagan’s parents (his father, a cellist and his mother, a pianist), thanking them for performing his Sonata with such dedication.

Shostakovich’s youthful Piano Trio, Op. 8 was played by Inés Voglar Belgique, Kagan, and Baldwin. It is one of those works which could fool many in a blind hearing, or ‘drop the needle’ test, as it is unabashedly romantic in its outlook, and not at all containing any the sardonic wit or biting sarcasm that would soon creep into the composer’s works. It was given an assured and beautiful performance.

It was a highly rewarding evening that was very well attended, though there were few under the age of 50 to be found in the audience, which was a shame, since admission was free of charge. This was music that everyone should have the chance to hear.

mousai remix plays ivories tonight

Mousai Remix - Photo: Steve Neighorn
Mousai Remix – Photo: Steve Neighorn

Playing their continuing series of the complete string quartets of Felix Mendelssohn (along with those of Debussy, Ravel, and Prokfiev), Mousai Remix continue their sophomore season at Ivories Jazz Lounge tonight, February 24th, at 7:00 p.m. with Prokofiev’s Quartet in B minor, Op. 50 and Mendelssohn’s Op. 44 no. 3. Tonight’s show, and the final show on April 28th are fundraisers to benefit Portland Summer Ensembles – a summer chamber music program for young people. A PSE ensemble will play a prelude at 6:30 p.m.

Seating may be very limited – concerts have sold out dinner seating well in advance. Call 503.241.6514 to see if you can still get a table. There is limited bar seating which does not require a reservation and is available on a first come, first served basis.

team building

J Richard Hackman

Today’s New York Times published an obituary for J. Richard Hackman, an expert in team dynamics. In his 2011 article Six Common Misperceptions About Teamwork for the Harvard Business Journal, Hackman wrote:

“Misperception No. 2: It’s good to mix it up. New members bring energy and fresh ideas to a team. Without them, members risk becoming complacent, inattentive to changes in the environment, and too forgiving of fellow members’ misbehavior.

“Actually: The longer members stay together as an intact group, the better they do. As unreasonable as this may seem, the research evidence is unambiguous. Whether it is a basketball team or a string quartet, teams that stay together longer play together better.”

Not only sports teams or string quartets – symphony orchestras could also be considered in this statement. It’s a shame that many managements don’t subscribe to this view instead of seeing an endless supply of eager, young talent emerging from conservatories and music schools to replace higher-cost musicians.