I was slowly sinking in health insurance hell ($674 a month for a $10,000 deductible, while simultaneously paying about $350/month to hospitals on payment plans for debts accrued from everything under that deductible, which we never hit). Self-employed middle-class with a family of four is a sinking ship. My salvation came when my wife reentered the work-force as a teacher, and teachers still have the best health insurance around, thanks to their powerful union. Thus, the approximately $16,000/year premium for our outstanding coverage - the cushy kind with measly $20 co-pays and such - is paid for 75% by the employer, which is the school, which means the taxpayers, including myself - and you. That's pretty much socialism I reckon. What people don't realize is that wealth transfer is already commonplace. It is conducted by the hospitals and health insurance companies instead of government. Insurance companies charge the healthy higher premiums to pay for the sicker policyholders. Hospitals charge payors more to offset services to non-payors. So what's that? Free-enterprise socialism? Private socialism? The difference between that and government-run socialism is that we have to accomodate a profit-margin in there also. In the same world where our fellow citizens will put money in a coffee can, or hold spaghetti dinners to help a kid fly to another state for an exotic medical treatment to give him a last ditch chance at survival that his insurer won't pay for, those same citizens recoil at the "horror" of all Americans paying some taxes to build a system where we can have a uniformly healthier, and therefore more productive, country. And yet we're obediently paying taxes for wars in godforsaken foreign lands and the wasteful and hopeless pursuit of drug-prohibition. I don't object to paying taxes, if there is a tangible return on investment. As for the wealthy, none of whom I know (well, maybe one) they need to realize the difference between self-interest and selfishness. Self-interest involves intelligence and foresight. It is in the self-interest of the wealthy to have an America full of healthier citizens working to keep the cow producing milk, so to speak. Warren Buffett realizes this, and has spoken on the point. It is in the self-interest of the rich to keep the middle-class and lower-class at least placated enough not to do something...very...uncomfortable for the rich. It's happened many times in history, but the lesson is never learned. Selfishness is just taking more and more and more, in blind greed, until you hear the villagers storming the gates with torches and pitchforks.
It's a lot easier to review the Orchestra Concerts than the Salon Series because there are only three works performed instead of about EIGHTEEN. Saturday's concert felt like a light dessert compared to Thursday's belt-buster. This was my seventh AMF concert this season. At one point I bragged I'd attend every single concert. But having a family, rivers to kayak, a job, and the typical mammalian need for food and sleep, I fear that's just impossible.
All the AMF musicians being great individually, when they come together in a full orchestra, they are a powerful force indeed. I like to sit in the side galleries when I can, so I can view the conductor's face, and see down the full rows of woodwinds* and brass, because one of them is always up to something. Also, the rest of the crowd (of which I was happy to see a large turnout Saturday night) usually sits elsewhere, so I have freedom of movement. Unfortunately, there's been this covered upright piano parked right in front of my favored zone this year, but I could still see over the top passably well.
Saturday night started for me with an unwelcome companion - an elderly "Earthmother" type, fond of slipping her shoes off and putting her bare feet on the back of the pew in front of her, and even in the hymnal rack on the back of the pew. She bounced in at the last moment, even as concertmaster Dennis Kim stood to call the orchestra and audience to attention. She entered through the stage door, and I had a tense moment when I expected the audience would start applauding, thinking the conductor was coming out, but it was only her with her cup of coffee in hand.
Luckily, the crowd didn't take a miscue. She swept over and plunked down next to me. She was wearing perfume of the scent-category I least like, which was quite noticeable in the still, humid air of Lorimer. I was scooched away a bit, diminishing my carefully planned view.
The orchestra began with Beethoven's powerful Coriolan Overture in C minor. I was previously unfamiliar with this piece, and I now rate it "Awesome", with the capital A. I was somewhat distracted by my seat-neighbor's habit of matching the conductor's vigorous arm-swoops. It was a great piece and a great performance. I'll have to see about getting a recording of it. I applauded enthusiastically but was completely outdone by my neighbor, who leapt to her feet, waved her hands over her head, and hooted a bit. I think one of the flutists noticed and was a bit taken aback. I was leaning to my right, away from her, trying to use body language to inform the audience that "I do NOT know this woman."
Part way through the performance, I realized my mind was dwelling on her, and not the music. I knew I had to move a little farther down the pew. My ex-seatmate seemed to take no offense, as it afforded her the opportunity to stretch her legs out on the pew where I had been seated, and she could half-turn conveniently to set her coffee on the windowsill. My move inhibited my view further, but soothed my psyche.
The second piece was Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No. 2 in E flat minor. Performance - 5 stars. Composition - 2 stars. I'm just not going to be a Schoenberg-lover I guess. The conductor was correct that the finale was powerful, and I did enjoy that bit as a demonstration of orchestral shock-and-awe. I'll tell you who does appear to love Schoenberg - clarinetist Gleb Kanasevich. When not playing, he was staring at the score, swaying with the intensity of the music, and sometimes grinning as if agreeing with and approving Schoenberg's intentions. So while I didn't connect with Schoenberg myself, it was neat to see Gleb enjoying it. The clarinet parts appeared pretty challenging and during the bows I did give a standing ovation** directed at Gleb for his enthusiasm. I have no doubts about his skill after the last Salon Series concert.
It was also then that I had the thought that Schoenberg was communicating with Gleb, with the orchestra, with all of us, over the years and from beyond the grave, through those notes on the scores. I thought it amazing this system of musical notation, a true international language, has been created to allow the greatest composers to communicate with us over the centuries. For their thoughts and feelings and emotions to survive in a kind of immortality. And then my brain connected this to painting and literature, and then it seemed to be a commonplace and unremarkable thought and...oh well.
During intermission I took the opportunity to relocate entirely. I scouted the center balcony, but chose to sit in the nave. It wasn't a great seat, but I had a pretty good view of pianist Zoe Lu during Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major. The orchestra was mostly blocked from view by the grand piano. Zoe Lu was very energetic, and brought a powerful sound from the piano despite her petite frame. She earned a standing ovation and three bows from the audience and I. My own applause was targeted at her skill and in recognition of the colossal time and dedication it must have taken to master the piece.
Another fine night. It's quite an artsy summer for me, as the week after AMF ends, I'll be visiting NYC for three Broadway shows, a tour of Juilliard with my oboe-playing daughter, a visit to MOMA and more.
*I asked my wife, "Is a flute considered a woodwind?" She said yes. I sat in silence mulling this. Knowing exactly what I was thinking, she added, "Light on the wood, heavy on the wind." File under: Reasons Why I Love Her.
**On the issue of standing ovations, I am mindful of my beloved bride's disdain for standing-O pushovers, who give a standing ovation at the drop of a hat. There's really a lot of considerations for standing ovations. My family has and does view performances by little kids, junior high, and high school bands and choruses, dance recitals, music camp orchestras and jazz bands, high school plays, theater performances at Theater at Monmouth and Maine State Music Theater, and professional Broadway companies. So I usually adjust my standing ovation criteria. Sometimes it's based on the composition, sometimes the skill, sometimes the enthusiasm, sometimes what the rest of the crowd does. I'm self-conscious about being perceived as an unsophisticated pushover, but also as a grouchy hold-out. [sigh] It's so complicated. And some nights at AMF, things are so great I'd be giving a standing ovation to every piece. I guess I kind of grade on a curve.
None of the AMF musicians disappoint. They range in skill from exceptional to phenomenal. Maybe they're all phenomenal and some are just playing less "showboat" instruments. Cello vs. viola for instance. So the main distinction between the pieces I like lies in the composition itself. Sometimes, I like the skill of the musician but not the piece they're playing. Focusing again on what stood out for me in last night's 3 hour 20 minute concert (from 9 PM to about 12:20 AM), it went like this -
The program began energetically and concussively with percussionist Laura Jordan. Concussively? Hell yes. She started by donning a pair of earmuffs. Not the warm, fuzzy kind invented by Maine's own Chester Greenwood. The kind used for hearing protection. Well, I was surprised to like Xenakis. It was awesome. Some of the most blistering and driving drumming I've ever witnessed. It rocked the house...er...well, the chapel. Previously, the only Xenakis I'd heard was the completely inaccessible, anarchic cacophony called Strategie - which came on a CD with Ligeti's Atmospheres (which I sought after watching 2001: A Space Odyssey). Strategie I keep on my iPod to amuse people with the most dumbfounding piece of "music" I've ever encountered. It's the classical equivalent of death metal.
But the piece Laura Jordan played, Rebonds B, was great. It was like chase-scene music from an African spy movie. I loved the heart-skipping thwacks on the giant drum.
Next, Timothy Hagen came out with his flute. First, he soothed our percussion trauma with Bach. But then he whirled us back into a dramatic, foot-stompy, hip-hoppy piece of his own composition, Blowout. It was a fun piece, and showed about every trick you can do on a flute, I imagine. Humming while playing, as one would to produce a rock sound on a saxophone; bursts of air as if spitting; tongue fluttering; etc.
Harps made another fascinating appearance in a duet by Colleen Potter Thorburn and Joseph Rebman. It was sonically beautiful and visually intriguing to watch the technique of the harpists in a pleasing piece by Cesar Franck. I still can't get over all the crazy foot-pedals. What ever do they do?
The "AMF Choir" came out and delivered two beautiful choral works from an opera by Aaron Copland. I was surprised to see amongst the choir several of the principal instrumental musicians and to find that they are multi-talented indeed. Having viewed many junior high and high school choir performances, it was refreshing to hear singers PROJECT. Especially the men.
Seung Hee Yang turned out a brilliant rendition of Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Major. Which is to say, her musicianship was fantastic on a difficult sounding piece. The Ravel itself, I don't see myself downloading or dialing up on the old iPod soon. But Yang was great, and I was delighted to discover yet another excellent AMF violinist to go along with Elly Suh and Dennis Kim.
And then Gleb Kanasevich came out and demonstrated EVERYTHING a clarinet can do in a piece by Franco Donatoni. It was turning into a night of show-stealing solo instrument virtuosity. Drums, then flute, then clarinet. I've noodled around on a clarinet a couple of times, and I couldn't believe how Kanasevich could oscillate between the highest highs and the lowest lows. Just as abstract-expressionist painting is not about the subject of the painting, so much as what the medium of paint can do, this piece was not about the melody, but about what a clarinet can do. It was incredible and educational.
Beethoven's Piano Trio in D Major "Ghost" was performed and I sort of expected it would be the most melodious and enjoyable piece of the evening, but I was to be surprised. In the Third Interval of the concert came my two favorite pieces.
First, Summer in Fort Tryon Park, composed by AMF violist Frank Foerster, and introduced by the man himself before he sat down to play it with his festival-mates. It was light, beautiful, and delightful. It reminded me variously of Gershwin's An American in Paris, Aaron Copland, and a tinge of Pachelbel's Canon. I leapt right to my feet for a standing ovation without hesitation - and I think my opinion should count more than all the musicians that were watching, because I am a professional audience member. Can't play anything worth a damn. I just appreciate. Very skillfully. But as it was, I think I detected in my peripheral vision that everyone followed my lead just as enthusiastically. I will seek availability of recordings of Foerster's compositions on the web soon. It featured one of the best musical depictions of a storm I have ever heard. The real "WOW" moment was with Matthew Rosenthal creating rumbling thunder on the double-bass by bowing on the tailpiece. Incredible effect. Who thought of that? (this is of course another example of an instrument playing "outside the box" - a prevalent theme throughout the night)
The night closed out with Sheridan Seyfried's Sextet. I'm starting to recognize some of the AMF musicians and developing favorites, and this sextet included three - Dennis Kim and Elly Suh on violins, and Carlos Avila (I'm having a hard time finding a link to a good bio) on piano. I have no familiarity with the composer, but I will seek out more exposure online because I really liked the Sextet. The performance was a strong ensemble effort. This group of musicians is very expressive and interact wonderfully with each other. Another standing ovation enthusiastically ensued.
All in all, another wonderful night with the Salon Series format. Great thanks to AMF and the musicians for coming to our community and sharing their talent with us.
And now, in the course of writing this review, I've been looking up and reading all of these musicians' biographies (follow the links)...and I feel like a naive twit. Wow. Wow. Wow. WOW. These people are like classical superstars. So I feel a bit stupid reviewing them, and embarrassed if any of them are reading this (well, that from a man who posts video of himself deporting squirrels with a British accent on his Facebook profile). But, these are "reviews for the common man", designed simply to help spread the word in my community about this wonderful opportunity to see the best. And also to provide myself with a journal of these experiences, for I have a lousy memory for details of literature, film, and concerts for some reason. I have better recall for overall impressions.
It's like I went to a rock concert in a small local bar and afterwards I'm talking with the friend who took me, and I say, "Those guys were pretty good. They seem to know rock music pretty well. I didn't hear any flaws. What's the drummer's name?"
"Larry Mullen, Jr."
"Huh. And the bassist?"
"How about that guitar player? He was great."
"Oh yeah. That's The Edge."
"Wuh? That's a weird name."
"Yeah, well, the lead singer's name is Bono. How 'bout that?"
Okay, look. Pretty much everything about the AMF concerts is great. I could go on and on. To keep things reasonable, I've gotta focus on just the stuff that has the biggest impact on me. Thursday night, though I was totally exhausted, I made a last minute decision to drive on up and catch one of the Salon Series concerts. As evident from the attached program, it's a smorgasbord of short musical delights.
I was about one of about 5-10 members of the general public in Lorimer Chapel. The rest of the audience were other musicians and singers participating in the festival. The Chapel was largely empty. The temperature was much cooler than the preceding week. Even slightly chilly near the window. So I pretty much had my choice of seat and moved around a couple of times. I started out in my favorite seat in the side gallery. Again, it was as if I was some rich guy and all these performers just come to my own living room and play. Of course, I guess in my own living room I'd have some nice wingback or club chairs instead of pews.
The night opened with Elly Suh on playing Bartok's Sonata for Solo Violin. Bartok, and a lot of the music, was not the kind I listen to for pleasure. It's very dramatic, but not very melodic - or perhaps the melody is so complex my proletariat mind can't grasp it. But it is interesting music to watch being performed live. Elly Suh was amazing, playing the entire sixteen minute piece from memory. It was clearly very, very challenging in complexity and just pure physical effort. Here she is playing the last movement of the piece.
I also learned a lot about the harp, an instrument I had never really paid much attention to before. It has foot pedals - surprise! And they cause the tuning pins, or bridge pins, I couldn't tell which, to turn. The rigid hand technique of the harpist, Colleen Potter Thorburn, was interesting and looked very challenging. I still can't believe harpists can play for more than a couple of minutes without their fingers bleeding.
Ian Gottlieb played a cello piece of his own composition. He coaxed some very interesting sounds from the cello, at times generating a metallic sound. I couldn't quite discern how. Maybe it was the slant of the bow. Then, for the second portion of it, he put down the bow and took up a wooden baton, using it to strike the cello's strings, bridge, and body, while fingering notes on the strings. It was intriguing. He explained it was inspired by a Brazilian martial art that employs some kind of one-stringed instrument/weapon.
And finally, the night rounded out with Jonah Kim and Carlos Avila playing Rachmaninoff's Sonata for Cello and Piano. I had been looking forward to seeing Jonah Kim play again since I saw him play the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1 on 7/14/2012. As I said, I had my choice of seating, and I migrated to the front row of pews where I could see the details of both Kim's cello work and Avila's hands upon the keyboard. It was simply stupendous. Both musicians played in fits of intensity, sensitivity, and rapturous joy. At times, Kim's face, cast up at the ceiling, took on a beatific smile, which would be corny showmanship if it didn't appear so sincere and wasn't accompanied by such skillful musicianship. During pauses in the cello part, he would listen to Avila's playing with closed eyes. You could see the anticipation and then satisfaction and approval play across his visage as his expectations were fulfilled and he seemed to be giving his spiritual approval to Avila's performance. The cello seems to be an extension of Jonah Kim's body - his nervous system - and not separate wood and strings.
It was great to have the opportunity to view and listen from so close - a circumstance I suppose the idea of a Salon Series is built around. I was somehow reminded of a scene from, I think, Kerouac's On The Road, where Dean Moriarty is going head-to-bell with a saxophone player in some jazz bar. He held his head close to the horn taking in the saxophonists blasting improvisations and egged him on with "Go! Go man! Yeah!"-type exhortations. At least that's the way I remember the scene. Well, this was sort of the classical version, and I wasn't drunk, and I'm sure Jonah appreciated that I kept my distance.
While writing this post, my curiosity was growing about exactly who these young artists are that grace our tiny community with their talent each year. I started Googling names, turning up a wealth of reviews, websites, and YouTube videos. I discovered they have very, very impressive backgrounds, training, and experience, and that yes, I think I am seeing some of the most talented musicians in the world. I thought to myself, "Jonah Kim reminds me of Yo-Yo Ma," but dismissed my own opinion, as I am under-educated and amateur in my musical knowledge. So I was pleased to come across a review wherein the music writer for the Washington Post ventured the exact same opinion.
From its inception, the Festival has cited a quote from Leonard Bernstein for inspiration - "This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before." Previously, this conjured up images of Holocaust-scale war and genocide for me. But in light of the recent tragedy in Colorado, I now realize this reply can be to the smaller violences that jolt our nation and world continually. And more than ever, I appreciate the accessibility to spiritual inspiration and healing offered by the Atlantic Music Festival and thank the musicians for their devotion to their art.
I can sum it up in two concepts:
1) The Purpose of Humanity
Why are humans here? If you believe in God, why did he create us? Or why did whatever divine force you believe in make us?
If you said, "To build fast cars and race them," I say "Nah." If you said, "To war against each other and kill each other in vast numbers," I'd say "I hope not." If you said, "To build tall and gigantic buildings that reach the sky, to develop complex monetary systems, to make things out of plastic, to play video games, to have sex, to play football, to engage in feats of strength, or to brew and drink beer," I'd say "God, I hope there's more to it than that."
So what thing that we do is so moving, so pure, so magical, that it could be the motivation for creating this universe and putting us in it?
If you said, "To make music," well...I can believe that.*
2) The Magic Portal
I am sitting in the side gallery at Lorimer Chapel. The pew is very upright. The cushion is not so soft as I would like. I am a mere ten feet from the closest musician. They are young, most probably in their mid to late twenties. They are dressed predominantly in black. Having completed the meandering, humming, seeking of the tuning, they sit quietly, awaiting the conductor’s entrance. Someone coughs in the upper gallery. The door opens and the conductor strides in. The audience applauds steadily until he reaches the podium. After a quick quarter-bow to the spectators, he turns and steps up onto the platform. He opens the sheaf of music and immediately raises his arms to shoulder level, his white baton pointing towards the high ceiling. His eyes scan the orchestra, with eyebrows raised in a non-verbal “ready?” With a nod of his head, his arms suddenly leap into the rhythm and the orchestra is launched into sonic synergy.
No matter how many times I’ve witnessed it before, I am again surprised at the tone and power of the music. The Magic Portal has been opened again. The musicians are not playing the music. They have torn open the fabric of space and time, and they are channeling the essence of another dimension, possibly heaven, bending and shaping it as prescribed by the mystic symbols on the manuscripts before them. The musicians are no longer ordinary persons with the same daily problems as the mortals they were when they entered the building. No bad breath, no aching joints, no divorces, no financial troubles, no breakups, no stomach aches or colds. Suddenly they are angels. Supernatural beings imparting to me a small piece of the mind of God, or a Creator, or the Grand Unified Theory.
My body physically reacts to what should be mere wavelengths in the sound zone of the electromagnetic spectrum. My pulse quickens, the muscles of my ribcage tense slightly, a light sweat arises. How can my emotions and my psychology be affected by variations in the wavelengths of sound? How can my mind find meaning without words? How can an instrument crafted from trees and plants generate sounds that seem not to come from it, but from everywhere at once, or from within my mind?
It is simply a miracle.
Interestingly, shortly after I wrote this, I happened to pull my copy of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion off the shelf and started skimming the first chapter and was shocked to recall that it basically retells the Creation story cast as a grand choral performance. From the singing of Iluvatar and the Ainur, the universe is born, and then Melkor creates a dissonance and competing theme, introducing discord and evil into the Creation. Tolkien must have felt a bit like I do.
Tonight, I continued gorging on music at the AMF smorgasbord. It was a night of opera and songs, but accompanied by 1-3 instruments. It was again wonderful. I usually prefer instrumental music to vocal when it comes to classical. And today, I was continuing to suffer from some sort of head pressure/sinus malady and feeling very tired after a day of challenging title problems in my current files and just a generally long day. So I was on the fence about going up to Colby tonight. However, after I ate a dinner of leftovers and did the dishes, and since my wife and older daughter were at her driver's ed class, and daughter #2 was not in the mood to go out, but all set to spend the next hour or more doing ballet/dance stretches, I decided to drive up.
Every time this occurs, once the music starts, I can't believe I even contemplated not attending. Well, tonight I was again impressed by Allison Stanford as she opened the concert with a heartfelt excerpt from Bach's Cantata BWV 82. The heartfelt part was an excellent counterbalance to the mathematical meanderings of Bach provided by piano and flute.
Following this were two of my favorite performances of the night. Kari Ringgenberg won the power contest tonight in my mind, with a strong clear voice singing a piece from Bach's Magnificat. I loved the oboe accompaniment, particularly since my older daughter plays it, and I have become aware of the difficulty involved, and the unique voice of the double-reed.
This was followed by William Goforth, who in two nights has become one of my favorites. The guy has a really unique and expressive stage presence, and his delivery of "Geduld, Geduld" from Bach's St. Mathew Passion was widely varied in dynamic range and feeling. And I LOVED the double bass accompaniment by Matthew Rosenthal. Sonorous and solid and plodding. Very cool. (that's official music critique terminology)
There was so much to like, I can't cover it all. And I have not the mastery of music terminology to really offer insight into the details, but a few rapid fire thoughts - throughout numerous pieces, Mira Magrill was fantastic on the flute, and the AMF festival last year and this has done more to make me a fan of the flute than anything else. The Festivals flutists, all around, are not "breathy" players. They sound strong, clear, and sharp, and give the flute a weight I hadn't attributed to it before. I also loved the trumpet by Daniel Miller in a piece by Scarlatti.
I was surprised to find my favorite song of the night was "How Cold The Wind Doth Blow" by Ralph Vaughan Williams. I've always wanted to like Vaughan Williams because I like his name. And I like pronouncing Ralph "Rafe". But I have A Sea Symphony, and have tried listening to it several times and just can't quite get into it. It may have something to do with my aforementioned preference for instrumental music. When I listen to Italian, German, French, and Russian singing, I have no clue what it means and just appreciate the melody like wordless instruments. But when it's in English...I don't know. It just seems awkward. Or feels less authentic. Like when Italian and German operas are converted to English. Or when the movie Das Boot is overdubbed with English.
But anyway, Joseph Olson, who had been playing piano accompaniment on several songs, came out and blew me away with this very touching, sad, and beautiful English folk song. It was awesome and gave me another Vaughan Williams piece I like besides Fantasia on a Theme By Thomas Tallis. Oh, and I could totally imagine it being performed by Florence + The Machine. How awesome would that be? I may have to post that suggestion on Flo's Facebook page.
And the whole thing wrapped up with a hilarious dueling song-piano-flute piece by Mozart - "Ah! Vous Dirai-Je, Maman." I am not educated on this, but I recognized, of course, the core melody of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", which was performed in a very grandiose manner. The acting of vocalist Laura Snow and flutist Timothy Hagen was hilarious as they shot offended looks at each other and clashed in fits of virtuoso singing and...er...fluting? The audience loved it and it was a wonderful light-hearted end to the evening.
It was just what a lawyer needed to unwind after a long day.
On the drive home I needed something just to play quickly so I hit play on the iPod and found I had been in the midst of Shostakovich's String Quartets. Too heavy. I bounced over to one of my favorite composers - Schubert - scrolled a bit and landed on his Impromptus, not really remembering what they sounded like until I heard that familiar soft yet inexorable melody of #1 in C minor - which made me gesture in a slow conducting manner as I drove through the darkened, deserted streets of tiny Waterville under ominous clouds.
The Atlantic Music Festival is a festival of about 22 classical music performances over about 24 days. The concerts are held at Lorimer Chapel, Strider Theater, and Bixler Auditorium on the Colby College campus, but is not the brainchild of Colby. Entering its fourth year, the festival is still an unguarded secret. The performances are free. I love it because it makes me feel like Louis XIV or something. On the evening of a concert, I read the summary of what will be performed on the web. I make a spur of the moment decision to go or not. I announce it to my daughters and go "I'm going up, wanna come?" I tell them what's being played. Thirty minutes later we're seated in the 1st or to 4th row taking in this incredible gift, as if we are kings and queens and can summon up our own personal orchestra.
As near as I can glean, the musicians are post-college classical performers of professional accomplishment. It's great to see young, vital classical musicians in their late 20's and early 30's. Watching major orchestras like the NY Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic would otherwise lead you to believe that the classical world is aging out and not being replaced. Quite the contrary. I put the quality of the music right up there with what you hear when you buy a CD of classical music by an "established" orchestra. The faculty and rotation of guest artists are professional players of world-class skill. The music director is a young composer named Solbong Kim. And it was a composition of his that opened the concert on Saturday.
It was fantastic. It's easy when describing the AMF to run out of superlatives. Forgive me if it gets tediously exuberant. Anyway, Kim's piece Excerpts from the Book of Nightmares contained four segments. Three dramatic, like segments from the soundtrack to an action film, and one peaceful and blissful. The music was all over the place, calling for outbursts and accents by various instrument groups, but not in an alienating way. The percussion was widely varied and there was a huge drum enthusiastically pounded for cannon-like punctuation that I really enjoyed. It made the walls of Lorimer Chapel shudder. There was a moment during the Interlude when mid-range strings come in with a sweeping beauty that gave me chills.
Next, was Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1. Here AMF provided me with education. I had this on my iPod, but was not familiar with it. Thursday night, knowing it would be performed Saturday, I gave it a preview listen. I liked it. But it sounded really, really challenging. Both for the cellist, and the orchestra. Having sat through many of my daughter's cello lessons, I was wondering, will someone from AMF pull that off?
Oh yes, is the answer. And now, having seen them perform it live, this piece is pretty much embedded as a classical favorite of mine. Jonah Kim played the cello and was, again, AMAZING. He insanely attacked the strings, a fevered intensity on his face. It was really, really hot and humid in Lorimer Chapel, which is inexplicably not air conditioned. Sitting still, I had sweat dripping down my sides and neck, and a sheen of moisture on my arms. I, knowingly from prior concerts, had worn shorts and a polo shirt. Jonah Kim was undaunted by these conditions. Have you ever seen sweat literally fly from the brow of a classical musician. I have now. Clad in dress pants and a jacket and seated on a vinyl piano stool, he sawed at the strings. Sweat dripped from his nose upon the wood of the cello. I wondered if his fingers would slip. And it was apparent that, yes, the Shostakovich is DIFFICULT. He was incredible, playing with near psychotic (but not off-putting) passion. It was almost like a rock concert or something. The audience leapt to an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end, applauding until he and conductor Jonathan Schiffman came back out to appease us with more bows. The orchestra, too, was phenomenal, and I was especially captivated by the clarinets and French horns in this performance.
It was interesting, as pointed out by a fellow attendee, that the audience was fanning themselves with their programs during rapid movements, yet all stopped during the Moderato. For the playing was so calming and blissful that it actually affected our physiology and cooled us.
After an intermission, the orchestra gave a skillful rendering of Brahms' Serenade in D Major. It is another work I was unfamiliar with, but greatly enjoyed. I may, in fact, need to purchase a recording of it.
All around, it was one of the most enjoyable concerts I've ever attended. Well worth sticking it out through the cloying heat.
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