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.