Barber: Souvenirs, Op. 28 for piano four hands
Andres: Retro Music
Ravel: La Valse
Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring)
Finally! I've been Barged! After hearing countless raves about Bargemusic for a couple of years now, and patiently waiting for the right combination of schedule, program and performers, I decided that becoming acquainted with the four-hand version of Stravinsky's ground-breaking Rite of Spring by two young trailblazing musicians in a barge floating right underneath the Brooklyn Bridge sounded like the perfect birthday to myself, even if the concert was actually happening the day after, on Friday evening. (Fact is, B-Day was not half bad either as I excitedly treated myself to a membership to the all-around fabulous new Whitney Museum ‒ once you get past the unsightly exterior, that is ‒ with the added bonus of my friend Linden's unexpected company.)
So on Friday my fantastic five-day weekend continued with another art-filled day at a relatively uncrowded MoMA (The new Whitney's sky-high hotness level has some fortunate consequences indeed. I even got to spend a memorable, long-overdue moment almost alone with van Gogh's magical Nuit étoilée for the first time ever), before enjoying leisurely walks on Brooklyn Heights' stately Promenade and Brooklyn Bridge Park's gentrified piers. Then I headed to oh so cool DUMBO to take my seat among a sizable audience in the attractive and cozy little barge, complete with a view on downtown Manhattan's skyline at dusk, seriously wondering what had taken me so long.
My own question on how many pianos would be there got answered as soon as I got in and saw that there was only one, and for a good reason: There's no way that two grand pianos would have fit on the small stage. But preppy-looking music partners Timo Andres and David Kaplan were obviously very comfortable in each other's company and performed the five movements of Samuel Barber's "Souvenirs" with high spirits and impressive dexterity. Together, they totally brought out the carefree charm of those delightful little tunes and made sure to subtly highlight their whimsical nature, including the playful endings.
The second piece on the program, "Retro Music", had been written by Timo Andres himself and was dealing with dance music too, except that the intended traditional 19th century waltz never had a chance to get going in earnest because it kept on getting into frustratingly dissonant modern "collisions". Although Kaplan had informed us that the valiant effort "almost delivers" beforehand, the two musicians fully delivered on the imaginative composition full of surprise twists and turns.
Another piece, another deconstructed waltz, this one written by Maurice Ravel during the First World War. Although the man himself has denied it, "La valse" is suspiciously reminiscent of the turbulent times Europe was going through then. Go figure. However, no matter what the composer's true intentions were, it is unquestionably a powerful work, overflowing with tragically intense emotions as well as a touch of extravagance all the way to the all-destructive finale. The live rendition of it strongly resounded with brilliance and awe.
The second part of the program was entirely dedicated to the original version of my beloved Rite of Spring, which, Kaplan shared with us, was performed for the very first time by Igor Stravinsky and... Claude Debussy. On Friday night the duo pianists did not let themselves be intimidated by the thought of their illustrious predecessors and whole-heartedly threw themselves into an impeccably virtuosic performance that exploded with savage primitivism, vibrant colors, blazing sounds and boundless energy. As if on command, the barge started noticeably swaying with the first notes of the irresistible pounding of "The dance of the adolescents". The unusual motion, the intimate setting, the excellent acoustics, the now lit-up skyline and the terrific music all contributed to making this pared-down Rite of Spring a deliciously eerie experience. I can't wait for more.