Tenri Cultural Institute presents Wa Concert Series- The Originality of Greatness: Celebrating Elliott Carter’s 109th Birthday in Review

Tenri Cultural Institute presents Wa Concert Series- The Originality of Greatness: Celebrating Elliott Carter’s 109th Birthday in Review

Charles Neidich, Ayako Oshima, clarinet; Alexi Kenney, violin; Fred Sherry, cello; Lucy Shelton, Amber Evans, sopranos; Mohamed Shams, piano; John Link, musicologist
Tenri Cultural Institute, New York, NY
December 16, 2017


Only a musician with unforced naturalness of phrasing, total command of his instrument, and a puckish humor such as is possessed by Charles Neidich, could make an entire evening of Elliott Carter’s thorny chamber music approachable. He also assembled a team of superlative collaborators—four of the evening’s seven musicians had major experience working with Carter, including close personal friendships. This kind of advocacy is crucial if his music is to stay in the repertoire. Carter died just five years ago, a couple of weeks shy of his 104th birthday, and he was composing virtually up to the end of his long, productive life.

In illuminating remarks by John Link, it became clear that Carter viewed the lion’s share of his music as representing vivid characters. Each note had to be played with the fierce delineation that he had in mind, whether that represented one character with conflicting emotions, or interplay between several characters. Carter did not compose unless he was truly emotionally motivated to do so, even though the popular perception of his output is one of atonality and layers of rhythmic complexity (which are certainly there!). Most of Carter’s works have what I call an “arch” shape, with a satisfying sense of rightness to their endings; although some just end abruptly, like a candle flame being blown out. Carter’s curiosity was relentless, exploring literature, languages, and food with intensity and humor.

Mr. Neidich opened the evening, partnered by the evening’s excellent pianist Mohamed Shams, with the easy-to-take Pastorale, it was the earliest work on the program, showing some of the late-romantic traditions Carter would leave behind definitively. Hiyoku (Two Wings) for two clarinets had Mr. Neidich in duo with his wife Ayako Oshima, also a phenomenal clarinetist, as well as the chef behind the prodigious feasts laid out for all the audiences at these Wa concerts. Their ensemble was understandably perfect. Mr. Shams shone in the Two Thoughts About The Piano solos, the second of which, Caténaires, was a blistering perpetual motion toccata that seemed powered by nuclear energy. Duettino brought together violinist Alexi Kenney and veteran Carter specialist, cellist Fred Sherry (former artistic advisor of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, founder of Speculum Musicae and Tashi), sharing violent alternations of bowed and plucked notes with equal ferocity.

Another lifelong devotee of the contemporary music world, Lucy Shelton, shared duties with a younger soprano, Amber Evans, in the Poems of Louis Zukofsky. Here, Ms. Shelton’s years of commanding performance showed her total mastery not only of the difficult music, but intelligibility of every word; her attentiveness to the clarinet showed her fabulous attention to detail, while never removing emotion from her often witty presentation. Ms. Evans’ songs had more difficult tessiturae, perhaps that impeded some of the words, but her voice was true and powerful. I’m sure Carter was, as mentioned before, moved by this poetry, but I find that his settings often do “get in the way” of the words, my limitation I’m sure.

After the intermission of this long evening,Mr. Kenney, Mr.Neidich, and Mr. Sherry combined to present the Omaggio a Italo Calvino, as Con leggerezza pensosa was known. These players exude the Carter style with utter naturalness. Then Mr. Neidich played the brief solo Gra, which led me to wonder if the title was the Gaelic word for love. Alexi Kenney was brilliant in the solo violin work Rhapsodic Musings. I regard this as Carter’s answer to Ravel’s Tzigane, and Mr. Kenney’s intonation and style were perfection itself, with every double stop interval of a seventh (and they are cruel!) as pure as one can imagine.

Finally came the staple of Carter’s chamber offerings, the great Sonata for Cello and Piano from 1948 (revised in 1966). This four movement behemoth was dispatched with firm command and a wide variety of colors by Mr. Sherry and Mr.  Shams. It doesn’t sound nearly as forbidding as it looks on the page, and even makes sly nods to tonality (heavily disguised) and the old Dies Irae that had so fascinated composers from Berlioz to Liszt and Rachmaninoff. Forgive me, Elliott, for noticing! The work is also cyclic, that is themes from the first movement reappear at the end, adding to the work’s comprehensibility, as did this perfect performance. The enthusiastic audience really hollered its approval after it was over.

Tenri Cultural Institute presents Wa Concert Series- Emotion & Intellect: Robert Schumann and Max Reger in Review

Tenri Cultural Institute presents Wa Concert Series- Emotion & Intellect: Robert Schumann and Max Reger in Review

Charles Neidich, clarinet and artistic director
Mariko Furukawa, piano
Tenri Cultural Institute, New York, NY
November 10, 2017


Charles Neidich displayed several facets of his immense talent on Friday night during one of his well-curated “Wa” concerts. “Wa” is a word that means “circle” or “harmony, completeness,” and these values were abundantly in evidence, from the intelligent programming of works by Robert Schumann and Max Reger, to the divine performance, the genial verbal introductions and context-setting, and the pre- and post-concert feast and wine by his wife Ayako Oshima (also a fine clarinetist). The intimate setting of the Tenri Institute was perfect for this event.


Interestingly, all the Schumann pieces were transcriptions, since he didn’t really create for clarinet and piano duo. Mr. Neidich and his superb collaborator Mariko Fukuwara opened with Fünf Stücke im Volkston, Op. 102 (Five Pieces in Folk-style), originally for cello. They imbued the set with all the verve it requires and were seamlessly coordinated in every nuance.


Then followed the huge clarinet and piano sonata by Max Reger, Op. 49, No. 1. When one hears Mr. Neidich, one really doesn’t think about the instrument, only the music, so unified is he with the clarinet that it is never an issue. I can’t imagine a better performance than this one of this complicated piece, every whisper and yearning was conveyed with utter sensitivity, from both players. Again, Ms. Fukuwara handled the difficult piano part with complete transparency, no easy feat in this repertoire.


After intermission, they lightened the tone a bit by sampling two of Reger’s shorter works, the delightful Tarantella (WoO II/12) and Albumblatt (WoO II/13). This is a distinctly German interpretation of the tarantella from Reger, indeed, no one is going to dance out their spider venom with this one, but it is lovely nevertheless.


Then after some pointed introduction, Mr. Neidich and Ms. Furukawa performed a virtually unknown Schumann sonata (Op. posth. WoO 2) that was originally composed for violin, re-using the two movements Schumann had contributed to the joint F.A.E.- Frei aber einsam (“free but lonely”) sonata, adding two prior movements of his own, very late in his life. As Mr. Neidich poignantly reminded us, Clara Schumann was such a zealous guarder of her husband’s legacy and reputation that she burned the work, thinking it beneath Schumann, though she did perform it a few times with Joseph Joachim. A sketchy manuscript copy of those first two movements was located recently in a library, hence it does survive. It has all the Schumann characteristics, the way he “behaves” in A Minor, one of his favorite tonalities. The fourth movement is a veritable hell-hole of difficulty, stemming from its violinistic figurations—this inspired Mr. Neidich’s most overtly virtuosic playing of the evening, and earned him well-deserved uproarious applause.


For an encore, the pair reached into another obscure Schumann corner: the Abendlied, Op. 85 No. 12, originally for piano four-hands. It was a lovely way to end a rare and valuable evening.

New York Concert Review Round-Up for 2009-10

New York Concert Review Round-Up for 2009-10

Even the best-intentioned reporter cannot cover all the concerts of the New York season. Here are some highlights that got left behind

Two violinists presented spectacular recitals: Joshua Bell with his frequent partner Jeremy Denk, and Augustin Hadelich with the esteemed collaborative artist Rohan De Silva. Hadelich, making his New York debut, played in the Frick Collection’s intimate auditorium; Bell played in Carnegie Hall, whose size hardly suited his program of sonatas by Bach, Saint-Saëns, Schumann and Ravel. But his brilliant technique and glorious, intense tone came through, as did his elegance, romantic ardor, and passionate involvement. Hadelich, winner of the 2006 Indianapolis Violin Competition, is every inch a virtuoso. He reveled in the fireworks of Ysaÿe’s “Ballade” and Saraste’s “Carmen Fantasy,” and filled Prokofiev’s second Sonata with sunshine and charm.

The American String Quartet played Beethoven’s daunting Op. 127 with admirable technical and tonal control, poise and expressiveness. With violist Michael Tree, Brahms’ G major Quintet sounded rich, romantic and exuberant; the Finale had true Gypsy abandon. The Orion Quartet also performed Brahms in G-major (the Sextet, with violist Hsin-Yun Huang and cellist Barbara Mallow), along with Beethoven, Bartók, Mozart and Smetana. Perhaps influenced by the prevailing fashion, they have been over-projecting recently, but their playing is always deeply felt and beautiful.

The Tokyo Quartet continued its Beethoven cycle with a warm, serene performance of Op. 59 No. 2, notable for the seamless continuity of its lines. Formed 20 years ago, the Leipzig Quartet displayed remarkable transparency in Haydn’s “Sunrise” Quartet; wrenching grief in Mendelssohn’s F-minor Quartet; longing and passion in Janácek’s “Intimate Letters.” The Panocha Quartet, founded in 1968 at the Prague Conservatory, is distinguished by its limpid tone, simplicity, and unaffected eloquence. An early Mozart Quartet was lovely; Martinu’s cheerful No. 7 (1947) incorporated both his native Czech and jazzy American idioms. In Dvorák’s great Op. 106, the players relished the luscious melodies and spiky Slavic rhythms while weaving a tapestry of independent voices.

Festival Chamber Music, a rotating group of freelance musicians, presented an unusual program in delightful performances: Milhaud’s humorous Suite for clarinet, violin and piano; Beethoven’s lyrical, exuberant Trio for clarinet, cello and piano Op. 38, transcribed from his Septet; songs by Amy Beach with violin and cello obbligatos, and Schubert’s “Shepherd on the Rock.” Cellist/director Ruth Sommers, violinist Theodore Arm and soprano Amy Cofield Williamson were excellent; pianist Hélène Jeanney and clarinetist Charles Neidich, the program’s busiest participants, captured the music’s diverse moods and styles with soloistic brilliance and collaborative sensitivity.

To celebrate his 85th birthday, Pierre Boulez conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in two concerts featuring Béla Bartók: the Concerto for two pianos and percussion, splendidly performed by Pierre–Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich, and “Bluebeard’s Castle,” sung with mesmerizing impact (in Hungarian) by Michelle DeYoung and Falk Struckmann. The orchestra’s principal flutist Mathieu Dufour played Marc-André Dalbavie’s Concerto brilliantly; the orchestra showed its virtuosity and wonderful sound in works by Ravel, Boulez, and Stravinsky’s “Firebird.”

Boulez shared conducting duties with Daniel Barenboim when Carnegie Hall invited the Vienna Philharmonic to open its season with three concerts. The orchestra sounded glorious; intonation and balance were perfect; the playing was rich and homogeneous, yet clear. Except for two Beethoven symphonies, the programs departed from the orchestra’s usual fare with substantial works by Schoenberg, Webern and Boulez. In the first concert, Barenboim’s “Pastoral” Symphony was expansively lyrical; juxtaposing the lush, sensuous finale of Wagner’s “Tristan” with Schoenberg’s Variations demonstrated the birth of a new style from the ashes of the old one. A noisy exodus of disgruntled listeners midway caused Barenboim to announce an encore “for those who stayed” – a fast and furious Johann Strauss Polka.