Tuesday, November 5, 2013

CONTACT! at SubCulture - An Evening with Esa-Pekka Salonen - 11/04/13

Salonen: knock, breathe, shine for Solo Cello
Nathan Vickery: Cello
Salonen: Memoria for Wind Quintet
Yoobin Son: Flute/Alto flute
Keisuke Ikuma: Oboe/English horn
Dean Leblanc: Clarinet
Kim Laskowski: Bassoon
Arlen Fast: Contrabasson
Howard Wall: Horn
Salonen: YTA III for Solo Cello
Sumire Kudo: Cello
Salonen: Second Meeting for Oboe and Piano
Robert Botti: Oboe
Steven Beck: Piano
Salonen: Homunculus for String Quartet
Sharon Yamada: Violin
Hae-Young Ham: Violin
Dawn Hannay: Viola
Patrick Jee: Cello

The pleasure of having Esa-Pekka Salonen in town has been too rare for too long, so the opportunity to enjoy his prodigious talent not once but twice within a couple of days truly felt like an irresistible early Christmas present. That’s why after hearing him lead the New York Philharmonic and Leila Josefowitz into an impeccable concert featuring his violin concerto and Sibelius’ Symphony No 5 at the sedate Avery Fisher Hall on Saturday night, I was particularly excited at the prospect of discovering some of his lesser-known compositions last night at Subculture, a brand new but already buzz-generating live performance venue in NoHo, on the occasion of the first ever CONTACT! at SubCulture event co-presented by 92Y Concerts and the New York Philharmonic.
The staff was very friendly and the space wonderfully intimate. Moreover, the casual and artsy vibes of the attractive place made everybody in the packed audience - from the just curious to the die-hard connoisseurs - feel totally at ease. In short, one could not have expected a more auspicious environment for a close and personal encounter with Mr. Salonen The Cerebral Composer and The Genial Host.

The range of works on the program spanned a couple of decades and got a royal treatment from musicians straight from the New York Philharmonic and other distinguished guests, starting with the solo cello piece "knock, breathe, shine for Solo Cello", written for the ARD International Music Competition in 2003. The strong personality of each of the three movement came masterfully through in the hands of Nathan Vickery, whether it was the playful assertiveness of the opening pizzicatos, the thoughtful spirituality of the middle movement, dedicated to Salonen's late manager, or the final expansive showcase of the countless possibilities of the cello.
After this stunning cello-driven voyage, we moved on to his "Memoria for Wind Quintet", which finally came out after a 20-year gestation and many radical changes. For this project, the goal of the six (indeed!) musicians was to create a common surface so that they would eventually all become one hybrid instrument. This intricate tapestry of various winds sounded like an on-going conversation among friends, including the shared thoughts and the occasional tiny outburst. The stirring choral part, dedicated to Salonen's late friend Luciano Berio, ended the work on an ethereal note of limpid beauty.
Next, another mighty cellist from the New York Philharmonic, Sumire Kudo, got a solo turn, which she quickly turned into a dazzling tour de force. Inspired by Scriabin's "Vers la flamme", the early "YTA III" vividly tells the story of a moth that gets too close to the flame and unceremoniously fries. This split-second fatal moment has been extended to six minutes of virtuosic agony and features all the elements of a convoluted death. Kind of repulsive, yet totally fascinating.
The "Second meeting", from 1992, takes place between a oboe and a piano, which may not be readily associated in most people's minds, but Robert Botti and Steven Beck made it work seamlessly, the piano staying faithfully in the oboe's high range, even if it allowed itself a small detour once an a while.
The last offering was probably the most traditional one of the whole evening, which of course still did not mean that it was completely straightforward. Dutifully in line with the ancient spermists' theory of the "Little Man", the "Homunculus String Quartet" was an immediately engaging, vibrant little piece that stubbornly kept on trying to be a big piece, not even bothering to make a pause between the packed-to-the-brim movements. It eventually may not have had enough time to fulfill its wish, but it certainly had enough staying power to delight everybody in the audience and prove one more time, if need be, that size really does not matter.

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