Debussy: Sonata for Cello and Piano
Adès-Couperin: Les barricades mystérieuses
Adès: Life Story"- Abigail Fischer
Janacek: Sonata for Violin and Piano
Adès: Court Studies of The Tempest
Adès-Christopher Foreman and Cathal Snyth: Cardiac Arrest
Just as my musical season was finally getting going with upcoming concerts like Angela Hewitt at Le Poisson Rouge and the Lang Lang & Friends benefit at Carnegie Hall, Mother Nature apparently decided that she was sick and tired of being relentlessly used and abused, and wrathfully sent Big Bad Sandy our way to remind us who the boss is. As was to be expected, the fast and furious super-storm wasted no time destroying coastlines, flooding entire neighborhoods, cutting power to countless homes and businesses, even leaving a crane dangling right across the street from Carnegie Hall, prompting the closing of the block and the cancellation of numerous performances. Over a week later, i.e. last night, just as structures and people were slowing recovering, came Athena with high winds, freezing temperatures, rain, snow and sleet. I am so ready for spring right now.
In the middle of it all, Thomas Adès' The Tempest has appropriately enough been the unofficial event of the city's opera season. In the priceless company of William Shakespeare for inspiration, Robert Lepage as the audacious producer and Simon Keenlyside as the magnetic lead, the only contemporary composer that I can not only stomach, but actually like, occasionnally even a lot, originally seemed well poised to take New York City by storm until he got somewhat upstaged by the actual meteorological phenomenon. Current status: While Mother Nature may have won in terms of media coverage, Adès has definitely won the popularity contest.
Since art, unlike the NYC Marathon, must go on, and while patiently waiting for my opera date with my visiting friend Nicole at The Tempest on Saturday afternoon, I eagerly went for an eclectic sampling of Adès' œuvre, with the composer in attendance among the packed audience, on Monday evening at the cozy little Advent Lutheran Church on the Upper West Side, conveniently located a couple of blocks from my apartment.
Written when Adès was only 19, "Catch" starts with not very pretty but certainly exciting dissonances, which quickly create some control chaos among the violin (Miranda Cuckson), cello (Julia Bruskin) and piano (Aaron Wunsch) while the clarinet (Todd Palmer) makes a couple of physically fleeting appearances. Even when things calm down, it is an uneasy calm, which will eventually turn into another melee of all the instruments, including the final reappearance of the clarinet. Not the easiest introduction, but intriguing and rewarding.
After the prickly unpredictability of "Catch", Debussy's Sonata for Cello and Piano came out in all its luminous simplicity, expertly enhanced by the cello and the piano whimsically playing off each other.
Couperin's "Les barricades mystérieuses" received a gentle yet assured treatment by Adès. Thanks to the large but tight ensemble made of clarinet, bass clarinet (Meighan Stoops), viola (Miranda Cuckson), cello and bass (Kris Saebo), the short piece gently oozed all the ephemeral mystery that has famously made it so mesmerizing.
Inspired by Tennessee Williams' poem "Life Story", Adès' work by the same name boasts of smooth jazzy overtones while a mezzo-soprano narrates the irresistible combination of funny, sad and tragic moods. On Monday night, Abigail Fischer was obviously having a good time describing first-time post-coital protocol, even though her solid, powerful voice was too often unceremoniously covered by the bass clarinets (Meighan Stoops and Alicia Lee) and the bass.
Janacek's Sonata for Violin and Piano is one of Adès' favorite pieces, and who could blame him? Unabashedly earthy and deeply atmospheric, it has everything going for it, especially the truly lovely melody in the second movement. Violin and piano were perfectly in tune for a lively rendition of it before ending it in a quiet whisper.
Then came some miniature excerpts of The Tempest that described politicians slowly mutating from abstract figures into three-dimensional characters (Who knew that breed could do that?!) with the help of clarinet, violin, cello and bass.
Adès' "Cardiac Arrest" concluded this concert with a short and devilishly rhythmical work brought to life with brilliant efficiency by a septet including two sets of hands on the piano, including Taka Kigawa, clarinet, bass clarinet, viola, cello and bass. An inspired take on the hit song "Cardiac Arrest" of the British band Madness, Adès cleverly preserved the driven tempo and totally brought home the inescapable manic pace of modern life.
Is is Saturday afternoon yet?