Articles written for AUFBAU by Leonard J. Lehrman

AUFBAU 66:2 January 28, 2000 p.14

A Round of Chamber Music in January
Conversations, Premieres, and Some Rare Beethoven

[A Plethora of Chamber Music
String Quartets at the Y
String Trios at Kosciuszko
Parnassus at Merkin]
by Leonard Lehrman
867 words

Coinciding with the annual meeting of Chamber Music America in New York, there was a plethora of chamber music in New York in January. Ned Rorem hosted chats with four (Jewish) composers whose string quartets were then performed at the 92nd Street Y. Veteran Michael Tree teamed up with two string players the sum of whose ages was still 20 years less than his, to form the Divertimento Trio and perform Beethoven's rarely-heard string trios at the Kosciuszko Foundation. And Parnassus began its 26th season, featuring an ambitious work by its founder and artistic director, Anthony Korf, at Merkin Hall.

[String Quartets at the Y]

Composers Lukas Foss, George Perle, Ezra Laderman, and David Diamond engaged in repartee with Ned Rorem at Kaufmann Concert Hall in a program taped for future broadcast by The Jewish Television Network on WLIW and other PBS stations, responding to questions like "What is American music?" and "What attracts you to a Teutonic form like the fugue?" Before David Diamond could protest that not only Germans and Austrians wrote fugues, the audience piped up with examples from Franck to Boulanger, ending the discussions.
v All but the Diamond were New York premieres. The Muir Quartet (Peter Zazofsky, Lucia Lin, Steven Ansell and Michael Reynolds), together since 1979, gave dramatic readings of the delightfully diverse five-movement suite-like Foss Quartet #4, and the six-movement self-styled "operatic" Quartet #9 of Laderman, of which the eloquent central Andante is indeed, as Rorem put it, a song without words.

The four men of the four-year-old Chicago String Quartet struggled to bring continuity and coherence to George Perle's fourteen-movement Quartet #9, subtitled "Brief Encounters." They were more successful in David Diamond's Quartet #8 of 1964, chosen for this performance by the composer as his most "economical, expressing structural ideas best" of all his eleven quartets. In their "emotional, energetic impulse, string quartets are a kind of musical autobiography," the 84-year-old Diamond almost professorially explained to Rorem, forming along with his songs the compositions of his that lie closest to his heart. Capstone Records, funded in part by the Maldeb Foundation, plans to bring out the first CD devoted entirely to his songs this coming fall.

[Divertimento at Kosciuszko]

The chamber music appetite of 66-year-old Michael Tree would seem to be inexhaustible. As violinist with the Marlboro Trio, then violist with the Guarneri Quartet since 1965, now he has formed the Divertimento String Trio with 23-year-old violinist Soovin Kim and 22-year-old cellist Margo Tatgenhorst. Their first public concert, under the auspices of The Lyric Chamber Music Society of New York at the Kosciuszko Foundation, featured the first two (of five) works for the medium by Beethoven: the String Trio in E-flat, op. 3 and the Serenade in D, op. 8.

The first, in six lengthy movements, recalls the spirit of the three piano trios, op. 1, while the second is so rarely performed that series director Dr. Joan Kretschmer boasted, "Even Lukas Foss has never heard it." Its seven movements included an Allegretto minuet with a charming pizzicato ending, followed by a central movement in minor mode almost Jewish in inflection, followed by a spirited "Polacca" that could and perhaps should have served as a suitable encore, especially given the Polish context of the hall.

Though a few imprecise attacks belied a slight lack of assurance, and one or two high notes were blown, with violist Tree as the rudder, this is a group worth hearing again. Their next concerts in the New York area begin in December. Watch for them.

[Parnassus at Merkin]

Anthony Korf's new music group, Parnassus, has been at it since 1974, having commissioned over 50 and premiered over 150 new works since then. Its opening concert this season at Merkin Hall on a very cold winter's night was attended by a sparse but warm crowd of well-wishers.

Only two of the works performed required more than two players: Robert Martin's 1998 "Charred Beloved" for flute/alto flute, oboe/English horn, guitar, violin and cello, which afforded the opportunity for some beautifully expressive playing, especially by violinist Cyrus Stevens, and Korf's own "Presences from Aforetime," for oboe/English horn, cello, guitar, harp and piano, inspired by Thomas Hardy's poem "The Two Houses," and receiving its New York premiere. An expansively lovely work in two movements, it seemed to this writer to need a quick third movement to wrap it up, but the composer's response to the suggestion was the humble: "I think it's long enough...."

Cellist Christopher Finckel and pianist Christopher Oldfather acquitted themselves well in the U.S. premiere of Marius Constant's affecting "Trois Portraits," while Elliott Carter was represented by his three-movement Trilogy (1992) for oboe and harp--one movement for each, and then one for both. Guitarist Oren Fader opened the program with Mario Davidovsky's Synchronisms #10, unusually sweet, though wonderfully varied in textures and timbres, live and on the accompanying pre-recorded tape. As an extra bonus, the second half of the program opened with a surprise 5-minute tape piece by Maurice Wright, "Broadcast with Gunshot," a mildly humorous satire on Y2K.

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