|Shmuel Katz, Ilya Finkelshteyn, Philipp Marguerre, Friedrich Heinrich Kern, Max Blair, and Jasmine Choi|
Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival had us in their grasp for five hours last night, with a compelling evening of music. We do not customarily indulge our ears to such an extent with non-vocal music, but we had a very good reason. We wanted to hear as much as possible of the glass harmonica, and what an opportunity this was!
Most of you have probably had the experience of rubbing a damp finger on the rim of a wine glass and hearing an unusual tone. Probably this is what inspired the polymath Benjamin Franklin to invent the glass harmonica. Until last summer, we had really only heard this instrument playing a chilling duet with the eponymous Lucia in the Donizetti opera Lucia di Lammermoor. Whenever a company substituted a different instrument we recall being greatly disappointed.
Last summer in Santa Fe, we heard glass harmonicist Friedrich Heinrich Kern play in a recital and were thrilled to learn of the versatility of this exotic and unique instrument. It is almost as exotic and unique as the theramin, another instrument which has captivated us.
Mr. Kern gave us an up close and personal look at his instrument and a demonstration of how the sound is produced and we were hooked. When we heard he was performing with the Mostly Mozart Festival we were overjoyed at the opportunity to learn more. One of the things we gleaned is that this is an instrument that "plays well with others". Another is that it has a two and a half octave range.
Our evening began with a brief recital involving Mr. Kern and his colleague Philipp Marguerre. We sat on the front row the better to observe the techniques involved in producing the ethereal sound, one which makes us think of fantasies and outer space exploration, especially when detached from Lucia's chilling fioritura in the mad scene where it suggests a state of unreality.
We observed how color and dynamics can be varied as well as the length of the notes. Even staccati can be produced, although, for the most part, the plentiful overtones hang in the air for prolonged periods of time. The two artists performed an Adagio Mozart wrote and we found the harmonies to be particularly eerie. We do not think Mozart wrote the piece for two players; we read that he wrote it for a blind artist.
We also heard a Sonata by Johann Gottlieb Nauman, a contemporary of Mozart. Apparently, the instrument was popular in the Classical period. Mr. Marguerre performed a solo by Théodore Lack from a later period that was adapted for the glass harmonica and Mr. Kern played a 20th c. solo by Fred Schnaubelt.
The second event of the evening featured Maestro Louis Langrée in summer casual attire leading the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra. The concert began with a rather brisk rendition of the Overture to Bernstein's Candide, a concise and tuneful work, energetic and almost raucous.
The centerpiece of the evening was Emanuel Ax's splendid performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, a work beloved by Bernstein. The applause was so insistent that Mr. Ax rewarded his fans with a Nocturne by Chopin, a piece of unsurpassed loveliness.
And then came the work we had been anticipating--Mozart's Adagio and Rondo in C minor for glass harmonica(s), flute (Jasmine Choi), oboe (Max Blair), viola (Shmuel Katz) and cello (Ilya Finkelshteyn). Even without the glass harmonicas, this combination of instruments would be interesting and unusual! Our ears were in an extraordinary state of shock, a pleasant shock.
The final work on the program was Gershwin's 1928 work An American in Paris, performed in a new critical edition by Mark Clague. We would have had to hear both versions side by side to detect the differences. Suffice it to say we enjoyed it immensely and allowed each of the many varied episodes to evoke memories of our own time spent in Paris. There is all the chaos of a large city alternating with quiet moments which, for us, represented The Tuileries and the quietness of l'Orangerie and Monet's water lilies (prior to the museum's renovation).
Then it was Maestro Langrées turn to reward the enthusiastic audience for their fervor. He sat at the piano and played Gershwin's final composition from 1937--music for the film Shall We Dance. He was accompanied by a string quartet, a bass, and a wild clarinet solo. Wild, but not as wild as the audience! A happier exit crowd we have never seen!
But our night was not yet over. We moved on to the Kaplan Penthouse for a post-concert recital. To any reader who has not attended an event there, please accept our encouragement. One gets to sit at tables with some very interesting music lovers, sip wine, and experience live music up close and personal, just the way we like it.
We enjoyed Mr. Ax even more in this venue. His sensitive performance of Debussy's "Pagodes" was luminous. The Piano Sonata in F major by Mozart held our attention throughout from its Bach-influenced Allegro movement to the final Rondo.
The most unusual piece at this late-night recital was Piazzolla's "Tanti Anni Prima"; this was not a tango but a delicate and sensitive duet played by Mr. Ax and Mr. Marguerre. Mr. Kern also got to play a duet with Mr. Ax--Gershwin's glorious "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess. Y'all know how we favor anything related to the opera!
Mr. Kern and Mr. Marguerre also played an Adagio by Haydn and Mozart's "Ave verum corpus".
But the encore rang the most bells for us--the deeply moving lied by Mozart--"Abendempfindung". This always makes us weep when we hear it sung. Last night we heard the words in our head whilst the artists gave it a different flavor.
We hope more composers will write for this rare instrument. Mr. Kern and Mr. Marguerre are part of a group called Sinfonia di Vetro, a glass music ensemble.
(c) meche kroop