As much as concerts rely on the artistry and skill sets of the performers, it’s what goes on the menu that is a special art all to itself. More and more it seems these post-recession days (it is over, right?) the box office figures disproportionately into the mix. “Safe” repertoire (Beethoven symphonies, Mozart concertos, La Bohème, Die Fledermaus …) is enjoying a spectacular renaissance even as new music (or challenging “old” music) is relegated—once again—to the novelty rather than staple category.
Lucky Buffalo: With A Musical Feast, there’s the perfect storm of financial stability (relatively, sponsors and donors are always very much needed), free tickets, a versatile hall and—most importantly—the artistic integrity of Charles Haupt.
How else could this program have come together without his vision and experience?
The first half was an eclectic collection of music from our time. Four of the five works—including one world première—were solo compositions; the fifth was a duo. Safe to say few of those in the room had heard any of these pieces before. After the interval, an unabashedly romantic sonata for violin and piano was the sole offering. Beloved by many who knew every bar and an instant hit with neophytes, the brilliance of the programming was immediately reinforced.
Much of this success has to do with how music is created: then and now. Since the “death” of traditional classical music (many a date can be suggested, let’s just generalize and say post WW II), composers have tried all manner of methods, systems and philosophies to become the next Beethoven. Arguably, none have (bring on the mail!). In the compositions presented before intermission, one couldn’t help notice the preponderance of curious sound compared to “expected,” readily understandable substance. The intellect was frequently delighted while the emotions struggled to find their groove. From the opening measures of Part II, the converse occurred as wave after wave of angst, drama and inner feelings flooded the hall and seized the crowd. With so many connections to University at Buffalo’s Music Department participating in various ways, surely Haupt’s uncanny appraoch to repertoire selection should form the basis for someone’s PhD.
To the music.
Pianist/composer Amy Williams readily kindled Brigid’s Flame, bringing it engagingly to life. A fascinating mixture of impressionistic vagaries and minimalistic construction, the work was notable for its overall arch and wide-ranging touches of colour.
Immediately more esoteric was Morton Feldman’s Durations 2 for cello and piano. Joining Williams, cellist Jonathan Golove was the perfect proponent for the purposely flexible (performers are given free rein as to how long a note, chord or “punctuation” will last) essay that, necessarily, will never be heard quite the same way again. Highlights included deft pizzicati and harmonics from the cello; Williams’ discretion and specially-warmed chords fit like a glove; lowlight: the family behind—three generations—who didn’t fall under the spell like most of us, ruining many of the finest moments with idle chatter, program flapping and brutally timed coughs.
Golove returned to the stage for nothing short of a miraculous reading of Iannis Xenakis’ warrior-rich Kottos (from Greek mythology: one of three Hekatoncheires, or hundred-handed beings). The formidable challenges of the score (delighting many with siren-like slides and gritty bridge grinds while the intrepid cellist literally peered from behind his music stand’s overflowing script), were tossed off with the greatest of ease. One wonders how many others heard a somewhat veiled reference to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” or revelled in the singular trill heralding the final assault.
Ruth Wiesenfeld’s Inflexionen is a phonic-infused study of contrasts and moods. Flautist Alice Teyssier found extra meaning in the music, demonstrating complete mastery of its technical aspects and a fine sense of line for the less frequent melodic moments (these ears managed to see a subtle link to the famous flute writing in Claude Debussy’s Prélude de l’après midi d’un faune). Here’s a welcome new addition to the solo flute catalogue.
Haupt completed the set with Moshe Shulman’s Secret Messages. Purposely without a program note (so as not to reveal any secrets), the performance, nonetheless, managed to unmask a few. The composer’s affinity for Beethoven’s mighty Fifth Symphony was frequently revealed; Haupt’s savvy ability to find the music within an effect-laden soundscape (with delectable double stops, slinking slides, bouncing bows and spot-on left-hand pizzicati)—not a secret to many—was once again confirmed; some listeners made no secret that they couldn’t quite keep up with the near constant shifts of sound. What then, is the secret of holding an audience’s interest?
Claudia Hoca and Charles Castleman served up a performance of César Franck’s only contribution to the form that reminded everyone just why live concerts can never be replaced by any technology. Seeing the music-making—Castleman’s incredible bow arm, his weaving through the chromatically driven melodic heights; Hoca’s unrelenting thrust and parry, taming the Baldwin and ensuring that the ensemble became a four-handed singular entity—greatly enhanced the constant pleasure of hearing it.
The “Allegretto ben moderato” magnificently set the stage for the road ahead. Beautifully sculpted lines had everyone intrigued and entranced at once; spectacular was the build-up and then gritty execution of the con tutta forza—the emotional gloves were off. Unforgettable from stem to stern was the following “Allegro”—one feared Castleman’s bow wouldn’t just lose a few more hairs but actually burst into flame. The spontaneous “incorrect” applause was greeted with a knowing wink from the artist.
Quite rightly, a vrai standing ovation greeted the final bar. This truly shared experience was the perfect finish to a concert that most successfully dared mix the unfamiliar with instantly accessible art. Can’t wait for Haupt’s next “feast.” JWR