Archive for October, 2010

The Emerson String Quartet appeared for the first time last Sunday at the distinguished international festival in Guanajuato, Mexico.  Through the festival, the quartet experienced the vibrancy of the Mexican arts scene first-hand, made new friends, and played to a cultured audience that included a crowd of eager, star-struck music students.

In David’s words

Having traveled through the Leon-Guanajuato airport several times on the way to concerts in nearby San Miguel de Allende, I was doubly curious to finally visit the storied town of Guanajuato.  Told of its charms by many, I was still not quite ready for the town’s historic beauty, manic energy, incredible festival, and its young, enthusiastic audience.

The Festival Internacional Cervantino(so named after the Spanish author as he supposedly visited here) lasts three weeks in the fall and hosts musicians of all kinds, and dancers and theater companies from around the world, in the style of the Edinburgh Festival.   Other artists at the festival this year: the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra;  the Kodaly String Quartet (who came all the way from Budapest for one concert); pianists Conrad Tao, Lilya Zilberstein and Ivo Pogorelich; the Cloud Gate Dance Theater from Taiwan; and the Deutsches Theater Berlin.

In 2010, Mexico celebrates the 200th anniversary of its independence from Spain.  A special route traversing the country’s historic cities is designated Ruta 2010, and the festival and the town are bristling with pride and happiness.   Guanajuato was central in the uprising that led to independence, many of its old buildings and neighboring towns wrapped up in the history.  Under the city, pedestrian and vehicle tunnels, formerly rivers, keep the cars off the quaint streets above.

Our concert was presented in the suburb of Valenciana, just north of the city, in the magnificent Templo de la Valenciana, a church whose ornate bell tower can be seen for miles.  What is not seen for miles is the incredible gold work in the interior, dazzling to the eye.  As the Guanajuato area was once the world’s leading producer of silver, the church was built with money from the nearby mine, and rumor has it that the rich, red mortar contains both silver and wine.

Young musicians were lined up on the steps of the church even before we arrived for rehearsal, a touching sight. Some of them had journeyed over nine hours to attend. We were given the warmest of welcomes.

The gold-leafed altar

The program – chosen by the presenter – was far from festive, with two of the quartet literature’s most depressing pieces, the Bartok 6th and Shostakovich’s 8th, closing each half.  The little 2-movement Haydn Op. 103 (ending angrily in d minor) and Mendelssohn’s final work, the Op. 81 Andante and scherzo (also ending softly in minor) did little to dispel the inescapable atmosphere of doom.  Coincidentally, three works on the program were actually the composers’ last quartets, and the Shostakovich could have been if the Shostakovich had actually gone through with his veiled threat of suicide, written about at the time.

From the way we greeted after the concert, however, you would have thought we’d played the most lively, happy music ever composed.  A throng of young musicians, including some who had travelled nine hours to hear us, crowded the doorway as we emerged into the bright afternoon sun.  I don’t think any one of them left without both an autograph and a picture.

Gene was selected by the television crew to stand in front of the cameras and say “The excellent expressivity of the Emerson Quartet, brought to you by WGXR” (I don’t recall the exact station name), which he gamely did in front of the entire crowd, and us, which didn’t make it any easier.

Heading back to New York on the same evening, we will long recall the faces of the enthusiastic young listeners, and wait and hope for an invitation to return to this incredible festival.

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Music@Menlo and Stony Brook University honored pianist Gilbert Kalish at a concert by him and the Emerson String Quartet, marking the legendary pianist’s 75th birthday and his 40th year on the Stony Brook faculty.  In addition to creating a scholarship in his name, the University underwrote a special edition Music@Menlo Live 2-CD set of Kalish’s performances of the three Brahms Piano Quartets.

in David’s words…

Birthdays are inevitable, but the building of an artistic legacy is largely optional, the responsibility held primarily in the hands of the artist. Gil Kalish has formed his not only through a vast number of concerts, but with every single relationship he has had, with performers, composers, educators, and notables of the music industry.  He is known to all of us as a true servant of the art, someone in whose hands classical music has made progress in many ways.  He is a pianist of the highest rank, with sound and technique equal to anyone of his generation.  His skills as a collaborator are unsurpassed, and he has enjoyed long partnerships with some of the most distinguished vocalists and instrumentalists of our time.  He is the most thoughtful of musicians, endlessly respectful of the composer and knowing his place as an interpretive artist.  Yet his sense of music as a living art – one that requires daring, spontaneity, and change – is ever-present in his performances, no matter what the repertoire.  These qualities have made him, over the years, the most desirable of pianists, and he still commands the stage, as he did in the Brahms Quintet with us in this concert, like no other.

The surprise celebration was largely the inspiration of Philip Setzer, who brought all parties on board to support the event, the scholarship and the CD production.  Present in the hall were many former students of Gil; University and Music department administrators, and Wu Han, who came especially to pay tribute to Gil from the double perspective of pianist and artistic administrator.

After speeches by Stony Brook faculty and administration, including Music Department Chairperson Judith Lochhead, University President Samuel L. Stanley, and Wu Han, the entire audience joined Gil and his family in the Staller Center lobby for cake and more speeches.

Judith Lochhead and Gil Kalish

Samuel L. Stanley and Gil Kalish

The Brahms Piano Quartet CD idea was a long time coming.  Ever since we first heard Gil play one of these works, at Music@Menlo 2003, we knew that we were hearing something incomparable.  We decided right away to schedule him, in succeeding summers, to play the other two, so that eventually the festival would have a complete set from him. With his performance of the g minor in the summer of 2009, the cycle was complete, and, growing impatient, we cut at a dedicated set of two CD’s at home from the various Menlo Live box sets.  The result was so compelling that it became obvious that sharing these performances with the world, in honor of Gil’s artistry, was something we had to do.

World-class performances of classics by the great composers are truly hard to come by.  In the case of Brahms, one must either possess or muster up strength of character, an uncompromising integrity, which comes close to equaling that of the composer. With one foot in the romantic age, and the other in the classic, Brahms wrote music which contains all the warmth, tenderness and full-bloodedness of composers such as Schumann and Dvorak, yet the importance he placed on the tenets of the classical age – balance, reason, economy and structure – demand that his music be  played with clarity and discipline.  Far too often, performances lack one side or the other.  It is rare to find musicians who not only understand this, but can actually do it. Gilbert Kalish is one of them, and for that reason, we recommend these performances as definitive.

Wu Han presents the CD to Gil

The CD was produced by ArtistLed in cooperation with Music@Menlo and the State University of New York, Stony Brook. The recording and mastering, as well as the cover photo, are by Da-Hong Seetoo.  The participating musicians graciously donated their performances gratis to support the scholarship fund. The CD will be available through the Stony Brook music department and through Music@Menlo’s website as of later this week. We will post the ordering details here once they are confirmed in the coming days.

with fellow piano faculty member Christina Dahl and former students

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