Articles written for AUFBAU by Leonard J. Lehrman

Ways of Saying Goodbye: Prey, Stolzman, Garth, Stenn
AUFBAU 64:7 March 27, 1998 p13
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman & AUFBAU
1129 words

Prey at the Y
[The End of The Schubertiade]

An eleven-year effort known as The Schubertiade came to an end March 11 with Hermann Prey's performance at the 92nd Street Y of Franz Schubert's last songs, including the 14 lieder his publisher grouped together posthumously under the title Schwanengesang. The series did not manage to present every single work of Schubert's, though it can claim, as Prey said, to have presented "more Schubert heard here than ever before in this city," and this was a fitting farewell.

The group of 7 Rellstab songs, 6 Heine, and one Seidl, is not really a cycle, and many interpreters have used other Schubert settings of Rellstab and/or Seidl to fill it out, so to speak. Prey took the unusual step of beginning the program with five other songs from Schubert's final, unbelieveably productive year (1828), including two von Leitner settings, one von Schlechte, and two Rellstab, the climax being the latter's "Auf dem Strom," for which he brought on French hornist Joseph Anderer--and collegially even moved his music stand and chair into place for him!

An occasional lack of support on a few unaccented notes was more than compensated for by the numerous moments of great loveliness and intensity in the singing. James Levine's piano accompaniments were always fluent and never obtrusive, though the final Rellstab song, "Abschied," seemed just a tad too fast for the 68-year-old Prey's voice to keep up. Then again, any farewell would have seemed too fast: the audience stood and applauded for five minutes, but there were no encores.

The San Francisco Symphony
at Tilles Center

It only took two curtain calls to get Richard Stolzman, bobbing as he bowed, dancing as he played, to perform an encore after closing the first half of The San Francisco Symphony's program at Tilles Center with the Copland Clarinet Concerto. The added piece was a dreamy jazz bonbon by Gordon Jenkins entitled "Goodbye," originally written for Benny Goodman--as was the Copland--in an arrangement by Bill Douglas, and it seemed to delight the audience almost as much as the entire second half: the complete Stravinsky ballet, The Firebird.

The program opened with Copland's 1957 Orchestral Variations, based on his 1930 Piano Variations which, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas explained, were actually based on a very Russian-AmericanJewish theme that, with its diminished fourth interval, once seemed terribly "modern." He might have mentioned that Leonard Bernstein, who knew the Variations by heart, used to boast that he could empty a room in minutes just by sitting down to play them during his undergraduate years at Harvard! And Elie Siegmeister used the same four notes that begin the theme (E B# D# C#) as a kind of signature in virtually every piece he wrote. The musi--and the style--maintains its vitality, even as its modernity has become a thing of the past.

Eliza Garth at Merkin

Copland, Bernstein, and Siegmeister never completely said goodbye to tonality, but that seemed almost the subtext of Eliza Garth's piano recital, presented March 17 to around 100 people at Merkin Hall by The League of Composers/International Society for Contemporary Music, now in its 75th year. The one classic work on the program was Arnold Schoenberg's Suite, opus 25, the first piece in which he made use of his twelve-tone technigque throughout the work. Garth's approach to it seemed bemused and whimsical; without the strong rhythmic drive of the baroque dance forms in each of the six movements, the piece loses shape.

Arthur Berger's 1969 Five Pieces used a wood-screw and a rubber felt (inspired by John Cage in the 1940s) to create percussive color on two notes in the first two movements. The last three movements, more "organized," as the composer put it, seemed less colorful by contrast. Donald Martino's Twelve Preludes, despite an allegedly eclectic set of inspirations including various pop composers, also came across as curiously homogeneous.

Garth's most convincing and coherent performances opened and closed her concert: Hayes Biggs' homage to his composer/pianist colleague Eric Moe, "E.M. Am Flgel"--a short piece with Romantic gestures and echoes of Berg and Stravinsky; and Perry Goldstein's polytonal and quasi-tonal powerhouse of a piece, "Of Points Fixed and Fluid." Based in part on materials "left over" from his 1994 bass clarinet piece, "Total Absorption," the work is a perpetuum mobile with lyrical sections in the middle that fulfill the ever-important need for contrast. "Nothing is what it is except by contrast" is an apt mantra of Herman Melville, quoted by the composer in the post-intermission symposium led by Eleanor Cory, and it certainly explained the success of his own work.

"Sequitur" at Merkin

Contrast was not lacking in the group kno Sequitur's
March 18 concert of Music on Judaic Themes[[, also at Merkin]. Artistic Director Howard Meltzer opened the program conducting a woodwind quintet in his own music underscoring three passages from Arnold Wesker's 1977 play Shylock, a modern retelling of The Merchant of Venice. Actor David Melville popped up from a seat in the audience and performed most of his lines as Antonio walking from one part of the auditorium to another, while tenor Paul Sperry in the title role stood at a music stand on stage, speaking in rhythm and singing--all of four notes. The play, which closed quickly after its star, Zero Mostel, died following the first preview performance, may deserve better.

Four moving texts in Italian by Primo Levi could hardly have received a better setting than they were given by composer Simon Bainbridge, performed movingly by mezzo-soprano Mary Nessinger, accompanied by Jo-Ann Sternberg, clarinet; Daniel Panner, viola; and Sara Laimon, piano. Panner, Laimon, bassist Jeremy McCoy, and other members of the Magellan Quartet also put their heart and soul into the performance of Jonathan Kramer's Remembrance of a People, inspired by the poetry of Roger B. Goodman and--at least indirectly, musically--by the teacher of Kramer's teacher Leon Kirchner: Ernest Bloch. The music itself is full of dramatic indications, enabling the players to extract by association human emotions from pure, absolute music. The poet read the poems himself, in a dry tone that, for this listener at least, did not enhance their dramatic quality.

As the finale, with the Magellan Quartet off to the side, solo dancer and choreographer Rebecca Stenn stole the show in Osvaldo Golijov's Yiddishbbuk[, as she had in Peter Maxwell Davies' Vesalii Icones at the Sonic Boom last November], by dancing uninhibitedly all over the stage in a transparent slip which, when it rode up, revealed nothing but panties underneath. A pert little wave "goodbye" before the final blackout brought cheers and whistles from the amused, nearly full auditorium.

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