We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Monday, October 24, 2016


Maya Lahyani, Ben Laude, and Elad Kabilio

In six seasons, Elad Kabilio's MUSIC TALKS has become a most important feature of the music scene in New York City. If you have ever listened to chamber music in a large hall, feeling removed from the action and baffled by the academic language of the program notes, you will appreciate the unlimited pleasures of sitting in a casual and comfortable environment within a few feet of the performers and experiencing all the intimacy the composer intended.

We seem to be in the middle of a movement to bring good music to a new audience, an audience comprising people who love music--not just people who buy tickets to see someone with a "big name" or people who want something to do on a Saturday night.

We are not sure where this trend began but several years ago we attended several series of Rob Kapilow's WHAT MAKES IT GREAT? in which Maestro Kapilow took apart a beloved piece of music to teach us why it is great.

Mr. Kabilio is similarly an educator but he is also a fine musician with a great touch on the cello; he clearly adores performing and communicates this enthusiasm to his loyal followers. Every single show we have attended has taught us something about music and gotten us to hear it with fresh ears.

Now Mr. Kabilio has found just the right performance space with great acoustics and flexible seating, a place where one can feel right at home and relaxed in a way that fosters better listening, not note-taking.

Last night we learned a great deal about Debussy, a composer we have enjoyed but sort of taken for granted.  That has changed. We have been made aware of Debussy's place at the beginning of the 20th c., as part of a movement to connect with real people and life as it is lived, a movement seen in the visual arts among the Impressionists and in opera among the verismo composers.

The first piece performed by Mr. Kabilio and the versatile pianist Benjamin Laude (who also writes about music) was a Scherzo for Cello and Piano dating back to Debussy's student days (1882). The work is filled with enthusiasm and playfulness as the simple melody is tossed back and forth between the two instruments. There is much staccato playing on the piano and pizzicato playing on the cello. At this point, the young composer still had one foot in Romanticism.

The second offering was a piano solo from Preludes Book 1 of 1910 which was clearly inspired by Impressionism and by the wealth of new colors and rhythms Paris had been exposed to from the 1889 World's Fair.

From Preludes Book 2, composed shortly after, we heard "Brouillards", a subjective depiction of thick London fog in which the white keys are used to depict the image with the black keys used to illustrate the obscuring fog. The overall effect was one of anxiety. The pianism of Mr. Laude was outstanding.

These points were illustrated before the performance so that we in the audience would know what to listen for.  This pedagogical strategy was most effective!  Even understanding how a spacious feeling can be conveyed by intervals of an octave or fifths was helpful.

A waltz from 1910 was discussed in terms of nostalgia for the past vs. mocking of the past. Just listen to the delicious schmaltziness of the right hand and the subtle irony in the left! Another subtlety we would have missed!

This was all gravy to us, since it was mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani's performance of Trois Chansons de Bilitis that attracted us to attend this event. From her intense performance we learned something that went beyond words. We were familiar with the history of the poetry--poet Pierre Louÿs invented the fiction that his poetry was from Ancient Greece and written by a woman named Bilitis.

Debussy selected three out of 140 poems to set. They are snapshots taken from three periods in a woman's life. (We are reminded of Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben). In "La flûte de Pan" Ms. Lahyani conveyed the innocence of a young girl's first flirtation. The piano writing is in the Lydian Mode giving the work a mythic feel.

In "La chevelure", the sensual colors of her voice let us know that this woman was embarking on a serious romantic adventure. The chromaticism of the piano writing suggests the sensuality of the woman's cascading hair.

 In "Le tombeau des Naïades", there was the disillusionment that is felt when a man mocks his partner's dreams. It took Ms. Lahyani's consummate vocalism and dramatism to show us all this and we wondered why we'd never heard it before. We loved the way she colored her voice when the man was speaking. We were moved to tears by the universality of disillusionment springing from this very particular event. Major wow!

But the major wows were not over!  Oh, no! An original event occurred that left us wide-eyed in wonder. Israeli actor/dancer/mime Ido Rozenberg created a piece choreographed to the final selection on the program, Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor from 1915.  The character of Pierrot from commedia dell'arte was, at that time, somewhat of a cliché; Arnold Schoenberg had already written Pierrot Lunaire three years earlier. But from the pen of Debussy and the artistry of Mr. Rozenberg, everything seemed new and fresh.

In the Prologue, Pierrot contemplates the moon, for whom il est tombé amoureux.  Part II is a sérénade, in which the besotted but untalented Pierrot tries to win her love. Mr. Kabilio's cello is obliged to imitate some bad lute-playing. The finale is written in a pentatonic scale and shows Pierrot's disappointment and frustration.

To the best of our knowledge, this work has never before been performed with a dancer.  Leave it to Mr. Kabilio to come up with fresh ideas that help us hear music differently.

We have already cleared our calendar to attend the next Music Talks on November 30th. We have thrilled to soprano Larisa Martinez and the quartet of cellos that join her; but we hear this program of Bach in Brazil will be a new one.

(c) meche kroop

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