The Lively Arts (redux)

Art and Music in Denver and Beyond

The Great ReOpen

Friends of Chamber Music, Denver

Courtesy of David Spira

Wednesday night, October 6, violinist Arnaud Sussman and pianist Anna Polonsky played a finely tuned program of Janacek, Dvorak, Brahms and Weinberg. It was a heady selection that displayed Sussman’s virtuosic skills and Polonsky’s sensitive playing.

In 2006, Sussman became a teaching assistant to Itzhak Perlman. Between his international appearances and work with Chamber Society of Lincoln Center he teaches at Stony Brook University on Long Island. Ms. Polonsky is both a soloist and a chamber musician who has collaborated with Emanuel Ax, and with clarinetist David Shifrin and cellist Peter Wiley in a trio.

Mr. Sussman’s spoken commentary led the audience in Gates Hall through the three sonatas that echoed one another with folk music. After the very lyrical 2nd movement, Ballada, in the Janacek, a four note figure in the 3rd movement, Allegretto, pulsed with  tension emoted by Polonsky. The Dvorak was both dramatic and expressive as a sense of longing unspooled from Sussman’s violin. His control was sublime. The program ended with Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes. While Weinberg was born in Poland his father was from Moldavia, later annexed by the Soviet Union. He carefully embedded Moldavian folk music and a Jewish klezmer tune in the piece per the Communist request for ethnic expression in music, but the 1949 premiere was anything but a tribute to Mother Russia. Just a year earlier his father-in-law was executed under Stalin’s order.  

The next concert on the series is December 13 with the Harlem Quartet and Michael Brown on piano.

Giselle at the Ellie

On October 10, Colorado Ballet opened its first season in two years with Giselle with precision and grace.  The awe inspiring evening ended with a standing ovation and three curtain calls for Dana Benton.  Her extraordinary performance of Giselle’s mad dance to death at the end of act one confirmed what Denver already knew. She is both an actress and a prima ballerina.  The corps de ballet executed a flawless second act. The wilis (ghosts of girls who died of unrequited love) were spectres as no corps de ballet could be. The dancers moved as one with perfection as they enveloped the fine principal Christopher Moulton as the besotted Hilarion who dances to his death. The wilis’ long grey and white tulle costumes from the Pittsburgh Ballet merged elegantly with the traditional choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, as revised by Marius Petipa.  

It was an evening to see familiar faces of our Colorado Ballet company. Ballet mistress Lorita Travaglia took the stage as Berthe, the beloved Gregory Gonzales appeared as The Duke of Courtland, and Kevin Thomas’ infectious smile and his defiance of gravity charmed the audience as Peasant Pas Man. 

Plan now to attend the holiday production of the Nutcracker. New sets and new costumes will make the standard’s return to the stage even sweeter. Performances will be November 27- December 24 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.


Jason Moran Bathing the Room with Blues

Courtesy Elizabeth Sweeney

There’s a cool vibe at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Step inside the Three Deuces off of 15th Street in Denver. Jason Moran, intent on resurrecting the glory of jazz clubs from the 1950’s, recreated the New York stage, an intimate space where famed performers Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Billie Holiday entertained. On my third occasion to see the exhibit I was struck by the organic way the musicians (Joanne Brackeen at  the Whitney in NY, Jason Moran with trumpeter Ron Miles, and guitarist Otis Taylor at the MCA in September, and on Saturday October 9, Derrick Hodges, harpist Annastezhaa Mitchell-Curtis, and drummer Adam Deitch) owned the curated space as if they’d been playing gigs at the Three Deuces for months. Derrick Hodges started the October set with his stand up bass and moved to his electric bass, then to the Steinway, and back to his plug in bass all while Deitch set a beat that flowed with Hodges and Mitchell-Curtis’ improvisations. Posted in the gallery surrounding the stage are Jason Moran’s works on paper that he created with a sheet of Gampi paper and “saturated pigment to track the attack” of his fingers on the keys. The blue images literally revolved around his tribute to the Blues.  

The Martin Building opens

Courtesy Elizabeth Sweeney -Nick Cave Soundsuits cavort with a Deborah Butterfield horse

The Great ReOpen of the Denver Art Museum, titled “Unveiled”, was timed when so many of Denver’s performing arts organizations were opening venues for live audiences. With the notes of the Colorado Symphony still in my ears, the doors of the Martin Building’s glass pumpkin opened on Friday, October 15 for patrons who contributed to the renovation of the Gio Ponti building that first opened  fifty years ago. Lanny and Sharon Martin bequeathed a sizable sum to refresh the galleries and add a sumptuous and necessary space for museum gatherings.  Previously, patrons were pressed to stand between the gift shop and Libeskind’s angular staircase in the Hamilton building. Seating for exhibit openings was limited to the small couches near the lockers. Now anyone visiting the museum can reserve seats at the Ponti restaurant. Revelers on Friday night filled the downstairs hall that once was a dining area and a space for Indigenous tribal dance performances.  The glitter of the ceiling lights in the new entrance paled in comparison to the museum guests adorned in gowns and tuxes.  The new Suited show on the 6th floor, curated by Florence Müller, showed that the museum was committed to curating an expanded fashion collection.  In September, it was announced that $25 million was gifted to form a Textile and Fashion department. $10 million will go towards a new collection. Per Christoph Heinrich, the museum director, the Textile Art and Fashion collection will “create a basis for scholarly research and exchange in ways that are engaging and valuable for our community.”  

The first of the museum’s quarterly Friday evenings, Untitled:Creative Fusions, will celebrate art and local artists on October 29 from 6-10 PM.  Enjoy music by Felix Ayodel and contemporary art by Alejandra Abad.  The theme, rightly, is The Spirit Survives.  Both the Hamilton and the Martin Buildings will be open. The event is free for kids and $13 for Colorado residents.

Featured post

CSO Opener for the 2021-2022 Season

Colorado Symphony | Denver, CO 80202
Boettcher Concert Hall –

Could you hear it in Westminster or all the way south in Castle Rock? It was the sound of a standing ovation, the kind that brings a soloist back onstage before intermission for an encore.  Friday night’s CSO opening at Boettcher Concert Hall featured conductor Peter Oundjian and the celebrated pianist Emanuel Ax, whose career spans decades of recording and performing recitals. He’s collaborated with Yo Yo Ma and the world’s major orchestras.

The CSO’s return on September 18th may well rival the rest of the season. In recognition of the lives lost on 9-11 and from COVID, Conductor Oundjian led the orchestra in a resounding transcription of the Star Spangled Banner,  For obvious reasons he requested that the audience not sing along. Everyone in the hall, except the cellists, stood for the tribute. Each musician wore a mask while they performed with the exception of those in the woodwinds and brass section who were not separated by distance nor dividers.  Audience members sat side by side in masks.  It was a valiant return that did not nod towards the Delta Variant but rather made a declaration about the healing power of live music.

The second half of the program put the orchestra under Ouindjian’s baton for Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.  It is a grand piece  of music originally written for the piano in 1874 and transcribed for orchestra by Maurice Ravel. Its first orchestral performance was in Paris in 1923.  The pieces represent an exhibit of Victor Hartmann’s art  in 1874.  The timpani pounded and roared with the brass as the intensity of the strings rose to the highest rung of seats.  The Promenade theme, revisited through the piece, intoned resilience and determination.

Hartmann’s The Great Gate of Kiev –

After the impromptu Sousa anthem, the string players remained on the stage to open the program with Barber’s Adagio for Strings, an ethereal evocation of remembrance that was especially moving after everyone in the hall observed a moment of silence.Concertmaster Yumi Hwang-Williams led the strings with a somber tone that acknowledged the presence of COVID in our lives in September 2021, nearly a year and a half after shutting down the CSO performance calendar and sending musicians to their living rooms to instruct and give occasional Zoom concerts.  Without applause they could only watch each face disappear as participants left the meeting.

Emanuel Ax – official Facebook page

When Maestro Ax strode onstage in his N-95 mask the audience greeted him as the returning prodigal son.  It was a wonder to see him sit at the Steinway side by side with the violin section while Ouindjian raised his baton and swept the orchestra into the opening notes of Chopin’s Concerto #2 in F minor Op. 21.  In 1829 Chopin was either in love with a young singer or he was simply in love with being in love. Whichever was to blame didn’t matter because the passion that he felt stirred him to compose his 2nd Concerto,  which he wrote before his 1st concerto.  It was the Larghetto, the 2nd movement, that silenced the one audible cough.  The sweetness turned melancholic like a fading September rose with petals like memories that carried so many of us through the absence of family.  The rush of runs and Chopin’s signature intricate figures still linger in my mind. This performance by one of the preeminent pianists of our time made the late summer evening all the more precious with the valiant return to Boettcher.

Manny, as many call him, left the audience with a parting gift after a lengthy standing ovation.  His eyes sparkled above his mask and then he sat back down on the bench and played an elegant Chopin Nocturne. The familiarity of it was like sitting at the table with extended family.  And, aren’t we connected like family when we listen to live music?  Welcome back CSO.  Welcome back live music to Boettcher Concert Hall.

Hypercube plays Iceberg

The expectations weren’t clear for ‘Iceberg Music with Hypercube’, a name that suggested the frigid February temperatures outside New York’s Tenri Cultural Center. Hypercube, presented genre-bending chamber music by six young composers on February 15th. The Iceberg New Music collective, founded in 2016, celebrates new music with concerts and awards to pre-collegiate composers from under-represented backgrounds. Iceberg’s first album recorded with Jenny Lin from Sono Luminus records was released last year.

Many shy away from contemporary music fearful of abrasive sounds without a melody, but on Saturday night the music was meditative, compelling and had elements of rock. The chamber quartet Hypercube is comprised of a percussionist, a saxophonist, a guitarist and a pianist. The percussionist relied on a drumset and a xylophone.  During one piece the pianist left her keyboard to beat the timpani. Composer Drake Anderson appeared on stage with his laptop for his Courses. 

Featured composers:

  • Reverence, Lost is Derek Cooper’s response to his mistreatment as a teaching fellow at Manhattan School of Music.  He is a doctoral student whose music has been performed in New York and Pennsylvania. The Allenstown Symphony Orchestra gave him an honorable mention for his work, Daybreak.
  • Peal by Max Grafe relies on a refrain that he expanded organically. He received a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and teaches in the pre-collegiate division at Juilliard where he is working on his doctorate.  His music has been performed by the New York Philharmonic, the FLUX quartet and the Tanglewood Music Center.
  • HYPARTITA by Stephanie Ann Boyd is a dance suite in three movements: Slow, Last and Break.  She wrote Open House, New York, for the opening of the TWA Hotel at JFK Airport. The NY City Ballet has commissioned her work as she’s written 5 ballets.  Her violin sonata Amerigo has been performed in nearly all 50 states.  In April the Wyoming Symphony will perform her Suffragette Symphony which will celebrate 150 years of women’s suffrage in Wyoming.
  • Poison Comes in Small Bottles by Jug Marković is a quick intense piece. For a Dublin choir festival, Serbian poetry served as the text for his composition. The European Network of Professional Chamber Choirs awarded him a Young Composers Award. He is working on a chamber opera, Eurydice in the Underworld for the Festival D’Aix Provence
  • Courses by Drake Anderson allows the performers to shape the piece with “new paradigms of interaction” with “software algorithms.” He’s a sound designer for theater and dance and a doctoral student at CUNY.  His music is often electronic and improvisational.  
  • Bosquejo Bop Serio translates as Serious Bop Sketch.  Victor Baez, a native of Mexico City, studied in piano and composition in Vienna.  A Fullbright Scholarship brought Victor to New York. His work as a composer is to translate “impulse into the language of sound.”

  Members of the Hypercube chamber ensemble:

  • Erin Rogers, Saxophone
  • Jay Sorce, Guitar
  • Andrea Lodge, Piano and Accordion
  • Chris Graham, percussion

Miró String Quartet celebrates 25 years in Denver

Photo credit Richard Replin

Miró String Quartet, winner of the 2005 Avery Fisher Career Grant, celebrated their 25th season in Denver with their third appearance with Friends of Chamber Music. They first appeared with pianist Shai Wosner in 2009 and again in 2012.  The Texas based quartet, formed in 1995, has been in residence at UT Austin’s Butler School of Music since 2003.  Violinist Daniel Ching is a founding member as is cellist Joshua Gindele. Violist John Largess joined two years later. In 2011 violinist William Fedkenheuer replaced Sandy Yamamoto, Daniel Ching’s wife and current professor at Butler.  Fedkenheuer was a Canadian national fiddle champion before studying at Rice and Indiana Universities.

In 1998 The Miró won first prize at the Banff International String Quartet Competition and in 2005 they were awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant, the first for an ensemble.  They reflected on their longevity with the Archive Project that celebrates the lineage of revered string quartets like their mentors, The Juilliard String Quartet.  In November they released a new recording of all of the Beethoven string quartets.  While the Friends of Chamber Music program was conservative, audiences at the 2019 Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival heard Home, a new quartet written by Kevin Puts for the quartet’s anniversary.  When I spoke with Joshua he said he could be content to just play Schubert.  His favorite quartet by Schubert is Quartet #15 in G Major. Although it isn’t performed often, he referred to it as an explosive work.  

Despite an unfortunate occurrence with John Largess’s viola and the heel of someone’s shoe before another performance, the group credited their ability to simply get along for their longevity.  When asked if they ever took retreats together to reignite their energy, Joshua confessed that they had met with a psychologist and he felt it really helped their connection. Now they have plans in the middle of February to perform and stay at a Wellness Retreat in Baja California, Mexico at Rancho La Puerta for chamber music.  A difficult assignment!

The Denver audience was swept to their feet at the end of the first half by Beethoven’s String Quartet #10 in E Flat Major, Opus 74, known as the ‘Harp’ quartet for the composer’s use of plucking in the second movement.  This resounding performance was preceded by Mozart’s Quartet #17 in B flat major, K. 458, “The Hunt,”  that was elegant and eloquent as expected from a quartet dedicated to Haydn. 

The members of the Miró were as a married couple celebrating their 25th anniversary in  Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet #14 in D Minor,  finishing one another’s sentences as they anticipated the others’ breath and bowing.  The second movement of the Schubert was both persuasive and tender. The Maiden vehemently defies Death, protesting her secret understanding of Death’s tender touch.  The tension propelled the push and pull that was unleashed in the final movement. Daniel’s violin led the Presto movement with fervor. It was a march that unleashed Schubert’s conflicting emotions about Death and exhibited the finest quartet playing Denver audiences have heard this season.  

Q & A with Dazzle’s Matthew Rathkey

When did you start piano lessons?

While Matthew isn’t clear he knew he was quite young. Sometime in his teenage years, he became “irrevocably obsessed with music.”  He credits great teachers including his piano professor, Kenneth Huber at Carleton College and saxophonist Kenyon Brenner at the University of Northern Colorado for helping him focus on technique and musicianship.

Why switch from classical piano to a sax?  And why switch from sax to booking agent?

In 4th grade, Matthew had the chance to play a band instrument. “I can’t remember why I chose the saxophone, but I know at least that I wanted to play an instrument that would allow me to perform in both the symphonic and jazz bands.” He admitted to not practicing the sax as often as the piano despite his love of jazz band.  After graduating from Carleton Matthew found work as an actuary in Chicago but “missed music too much to continue working in that field. After slogging away at a job you don’t want for 15 months, what you do want can suddenly become crystal clear.” Without a piano in his studio apartment saxophone became his outlet and jazz became his genre. Trained as a classical musician he took on the challenge and was accepted into UNC’s graduate school as a jazz saxophonist. He performs with various groups in Colorado.  After Dazzle hired him as a booking assistant and to update the website, the owner “tapped me to be in charge of booking classical shows and creating this new series.” 

Why a weekly classical music series in a jazz club?

“I believe the demand is there. We’ve got loads of great classical musicians in Denver,” but not many chamber concerts allow diverse programming for “curious first-time listeners.” At Dazzle’s supper club one can sit at a  table with friends “against the stage” instead of being distanced from performers in a concert hall. He strives “to create a cozy, relaxed vibe.” Matthew insists that “art is communication — nothing more, nothing less” and should be savored like “a fireside chat with an old friend.”  “We’re very invested in forging a sense of community and shared experiences through this series, which is why we’re actively booking excellent local and student performers alongside national names. We want the Dazzle stage to be a symbol of community — a watering hole of sorts where musicians and music-lovers from all walks of life can come together and comfortably and enthusiastically share in the inborn joy of human expression.”

–Where can I hear you play?

“I lead my own New Orleans-style brass band, No Hands Brass Band, and we’ll be playing Mardi Gras (February 25th) at Dazzle.”  The band will also perform on February 22nd at the Tilt Pinball in Louisville.

What is on the lineup for 2020?

  • January 20th: Students and alumni from Lamont will present a tribute to black classical composers. A string quartet will perform pieces by  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Florence Price, and George Walker who according to Matthew are “criminally underrated composers!”
  • January 27th: CSO concertmaster, Yumi Hwang-Williams and pianist Hsing-ay Hsu will perform Beethoven.
  • February 10th: MAS Eclectic Concert Series will host a tribute to composer, conductor and performer David Amram, who is nearly 90. The evening of Chamber Music Duos featuring CSO Concertmaster Yumi Hwang-Williams, pianist Sara Parkinson, Principal, flutist Brook Ferguson, flutist Lausa Schulkind, and saxophonist Ken Radnovsky and pianist Yoshiko Kline.
  • February 17th: Duo970 with UNC Flute Professor James Hall and Susie Maddocks on piano.  Hall debuted at Carnegie Hall in 2004. He’s performed with legendary saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and violinist Jennifer Koh.

Now weekly in Denver: Classical music in a Jazz club

On Monday night January 6th, Matthew Rathkey inaugurated Classical Mondays at Dazzle on Curtis.  The Chandelier Stage welcomed the talents of Jason Shafer, Principal Clarinetist of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Joshua Sawicki, who recently performed with cellist Silver Ainomäe at Englewood Arts and Lamont adjunct faculty member Ian Wisekal.  

The Trio invited the January wine and dinner crowd at Dazzle to leap into spring with a pastoral program with settings by Schubert, Saint Saëns, Klugardt, and contemporary composer Loren Loiacono. Schubert’s song, Shepherd on the Rock, was originally written for soprano and clarinet. Ian’s transcription of the vocal line for the oboe blended with Jason’s clarinet and the piano like an English garden filling with the scents of lilac and roses. The program took a more serious tone as Jason and Joshua performed Saint Saëns’ Clarinet Sonata in E flat Major, Opus 167. The Sonata was composed in 1921, the last year of his life, for the virtuoso Auguste Périer. It is reflective but not morose.  The theme recurs as an echo throughout the four movements. Even in the third Lento movement when the piano and clarinet descend to their lowest registers, the composer seems to see the grassy slope of his life as sundrenched. The dense contrast with the last movement’s lighter tone lent a meditative quality to the final hushed notes.

Ian returned to the stage for the 21st-century composer Loren Loiacono’s setting of three Edna St. Vincent Millay poems, “Some Figs from Thisles” that he and Jason commissioned her to write. The first, My candle burns at both ends… , was jazzy with a drumming rhythm from the percussive piano.  Despite being mostly restricted to a single note Josh built tension throughout the short piece.  When asked later how he managed, he explained that he used his index and middle fingers to control the volume and the consistency of his touch.   

The Trio took the audience to the banks of the Danube with Klughardt’s 1872 composition, Schilflieder – 5 Fantasy Pieces for viola, oboe and piano. Without a viola in the Trio,  Ian transposed the viola part for Jason’s clarinet. Each piece was based on a poem written by a tragic Austrian poet. The first of the five, Langsam, träumerisch sounded like spun cotton candy, both melodious and sweet but not cloying or sentimental.  Ian’s oboe expressed tender longing. The demands on the clarinet were met deftly by Jason’s fine playing. Klughardt’s meeting with Lizst around the time when the piece was composed may have contributed to the texture of the five pieces that were an assortment of after-dinner dark chocolate truffles.  

Watch these youtube videos featuring members of the Sawicki-Shafer-Wisekal Trio. 

Jason Shafer:

Ian Wisekal:

Josh Sawicki:

Englewood Arts: Silver for the Holidaze 12/14/19

Sharon Park – violin, Andrew Giordano – violin, Josh Sawicki      – piano Silver Ainomäe – cello and Leah Kovach     – viola

Silver Ainomäe, the former principal cellist with the Colorado Symphony, came back to Denver for some snow and a concert with friends. The Artistic Director of Englewood Arts and associate principal cellist with the Minnesota Orchestra was absolutely celebrated by a sold-out audience. The afternoon performance featured some of the finest musicians in Denver.  Sharon Park is Executive Director of the Denver Chamber Music Festival that launched last June and returns in 2020.  Andrew Giordano plays in the Altius String Quartet and Leah Kovach is a violist with the CSO.  Josh Sawicki performs with the CSO, the Greeley Philharmonic and other regional orchestras. 

Silver’s first gift was Prokofiev’s C Major Sonata for Cello, Opus 119 which was composed in 1949  for a young Mstislav Rostropovich. The first movement, Andante Grave, began with a melancholy question that yearned for an answer.  The movement continued with broad dissonant gestures as the melody tenderly veered away from C Major.  The C Major of Prokofiev is not the C Major of Mozart or Beethoven. Never have I heard C Major yield to such lyrical resolution. Silver matched Prokofiev’s required athleticism while Josh’s keyboard skills kept the music grounded with undulating chords. The second movement opened with staccato notes from the piano and pizzicato from the cello.  Josh’s understanding of 20th century Russian music was especially intelligent when the instruments blended in unison. After a standing ovation, the pair offered an encore of the Fauré’s dreamlike Apres un Reve.  It was a sigh like the quiet of a winter morning.

Violinists Sharon Park and Andrew Giordano and violist Leah Kovach joined Josh and Silver for César Franck’s infrequently performed Piano Quintet in F Minor. Throughout the three movements,  Franck explored his central motif of a single note, then a half step up, a return to the original note, a whole step up and another return. The Quintet began with strident chords that dissipated into off-kilter arpeggios. When the movement concluded with somber tones the audience was prepared for the meditative notes that introduced the Lento con molto sentimento.  The piano’s lower register lent a rhythmic repetition beneath Silver’s long up bows and the other strings in a waltz perfect for ice skating.  In the final movement, the violins’ and viola’s short bows fluttered with tension that culminated in the final chords. The immediate rupture of applause praised the performers and Silver’s commitment to showcasing fine musicians on the Englewood Arts stage.  He will return for a Leap Year concert on February 29th that will include a Boccherini String Trio, a Beethoven String Trio and Dvorak’s Terzetto in C Op. 74.  Based on how packed the room was with standing room only I’d secure those tickets now.

musicAeterna at The Shed

Verdi’s Requiem – musicAeterna Orchestra and Chorus, The Shed, Hudson Yards, NY, November 2019

The Shed: Industrial components; enormous wheels locked into place at the ready to roll back and open the roof to the sky, welded steel staircases and stadium-style seating inside the McCourt Theater. The factory appearance, the bronzed shell and the darkened theater felt cold and unsettling. Onstage, music stands outnumbered the chairs. None of these prepared me for a single blue light to guide the entrance of Teodor Currentzis, the very fine conductor and founder of musicAeterna Orchestra and chorus noted for their authentic performance practices of Baroque and classical music. Somehow the black-cloaked musicians and chorus found their spots on the stage and on the risers in the dark where all but the bassists and cellists would stand for the 90-minute performance. The first notes of the Kyrie began with the faint voices of the chorus pleading for mercy, like the shallow breath of the dying. The audience sat supplicant and this performance was anything but a penance.  In the triple pianissimo, Currentzis exerted control with his outstretched hands while the tension that Verdi intended steadily grew. The act of listening was a physical feat to pay attention and allow the sound to wash over me.  

All four soloists were standouts.  The Agnus Dei paired the mezzo and soprano voices of Clémentine Margaine and Zarina Abaeva in a prayer.  Their voices were not two but one that floated above the orchestra and the audience like angel hair.  Bass, Evgeny Stavinsky commanded the room in the Dies Irae when he sang, “When the damned are silenced and given to the fierce flames, call me with the blessed ones..”  The tenor soloist, a last-minute substitution, sang with exquisite control at his top.  In the Dies Irae the soloists, chorus and orchestra elevated the holy sound in the large hall so carefully designed by architects, Diller, Scofidio and Renfro. Projected above the musicians two screens displayed in duplicate a film of nature and flowers, humble imagery, shot with an iPhone by Lithuanian Jonas Mekas who was a leading filmmaker of avant-garde cinema and author of the “Movie Journal” column in the celebrated Village Voice. He was 96 when he made the film.  He died on January 23, 2019.  

When I stood to applaud the riveting performance I was no longer cold.  The components of the Shed from the layers of steel to the utilitarian seating seemed just right.  The massive sound from the Currentzis’ musicAeterna Orchestra and Chorus had filled all the corners of the McCourt theater. Director Alex Poots’ vision for The Shed as a radical new space swept away the unnecessary elements for the public to experience the highest quality performances.  Plan a visit in 2020.

Photo credits – David Spira

Newport Music Festival – Francisco Fullano Bach’s Long Shadow

Francisco Fullano, who grew up on the Iberian island of Mallorca, stitched together a program in inspired by Bach on a 1735 Guarneri del Gesú ‘Mary Portman’ that was owned by Fullano’s idol Fritz Kreisler with steel strings and a more modern instrument with gut strings.  He began his July solo recital on the stage in the Newport Art Museum with Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D. Minor BWV 1004. The six movements with their repeats shone with his extra flourishes.  The Guarneri sounded bell-like, so clear as the Courante spilled off his bow.  There was no fourth wall in the room as he did not use a music stand for the Bach.  The Gigue expanded the joyful tone established in the initial Allemande. The Chaconne belonged to Fullano: fully expressive and rapturous as Bach can be.  Only the Rhode Island humidity disrupted the flow of the evening as he often needed to adjust the tuning of the fine instruments.  

After the Bach, he switched to his contemporary instrument with a darker sound for Korean-born composer Isang Yun’s Königliches Thema (King’s Theme) written in 1976.  The theme that rooted Yun’s piece was improvised and performed by King Frederick II for Bach. It uses all but one note in the chromatic scale.  Each variation of the theme relied on a serial technique. Yun was kidnapped from his adopted home country of West Germany in 1967 and sent to a Seoul prison for espionage. The torture and forced confession do not enter into the piece that worships at Bach’s feet. Yun’s mathematical feat of building on the variations was flashy fun in Fullano’s hands. He filled the corners of the room and exposed light with his unwavering up bow added to the contrapuntal line that mimicked a partita.

The Paganini Caprice No. 24 lived up to its virtuosic reputation in Fullano’s passionate playing. The Guarneri was his tool for digging into the edges of the showstopper.

The balance of the second half of the solo recital was weighted with Eugune Ysaÿe’s Violin Sonata Op. 27. No. 2 for Jacques Thibaud which Ysaÿe dedicated to the legendary violinist who performed with Pablo Casals and pianist Alfred Cortot  Ysaÿe’s six Sonatas were inspired by Bach’s six Partitas and each is dedicated to a different musician.    Sonata No. 2 began with the first bars of Bach’s Preludio from the E Major Partita, then Ysaÿe’s voice emerged with Fullano’s harplike plucking in the Sarabande, the 3rd movement. Two of Bach’s themes  – Dies Irae and Preludio – recur in the piece,   

The final Partita No. 3 in E Major BWV 1006 transported me. Fullano’s elegant playing on the Guarneri was precise and expressive. The winner of Austria’s 2014 Brahms International Violin Competition closed the program with a showpiece that displayed his virtuosic power, Fritz Kreisler’s Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice, Op. 6. He played ferociously as if to give homage to his idol on the violin that Kreisler may have used during his 1910 premiere of the piece.

Fullano studied wth Midori at USC Thornton School of Music after studying at Juilliard. He received the Avery Fisher Career grant in 2018.  In 2018 he recorded the album Through the Lens of Time with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and conductor Carlos Izkaray.  In 2018 he was chosen as a CMS II artist in residency with Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center which has booked him for a Rose Studio Concert on October 24, 2019.  He’ll appear with the fine clarinetist David Shifrin and violist, Paul Neubauer. He will again play with Shifrin at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall on November 19th.

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