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?"